In Okinawa!

Would you believe this is Okinawa? I certainly didn’t have this largely colourless cityscape in mind when I booked my whirlwind trip to Japan’s southernmost islands, but this is the view from my hotel in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. I’m here to visit a friend but as she was at work all day, I entertained myself by visiting some of the main tourist spots. Fortunately they’re a lot more attractive than what I can see from the hotel window!  

These shots are all from Shuri castle and its surrounds, which have been damaged several times throughout its long history, so the castle is actually a replica. Being a tropical climate though, buildings age quickly, so it looks pretty authentic to me!

Here’s a shisa, a kind of lion-monster guardian deity which is everywhere in Okinawa. Most houses have a pair guarding their gates or gambolling on their roof. Apparently if the mouth is shut, the shisa is male, and if it’s open, it’s female. I’m guessing the original stonemasons must have been quiet types with nagging wives??!

Lots of palm-type trees everywhere, which really set Shuri apart from other Japanese castles where pine trees are pruned within an inch of their lives.

The outskirts of the castle are all free to visit, but once you reach this earthy red coloured area, it’s ticketed (you get a discount if you have a monorail pass and it’s only about $8 anyway, probably one reason why this castle appealed to me, haha).

The staff all dress in traditional outfits like the man on the left in the photo below.

I love the colour combinations in this section of the courtyard – so typically Japanese and very reminiscent of urushi (lacquerware).

 I wonder if I can somehow replicate these shutters once I get an apartment?

Although the exterior of the castle buildings are a mix of Oriental styles, the inside seems to take its inspiration from mainland Japan – I love these inner gardens.

Having said that though, the throne room had a distinctly Chinese flavour…

 This is a replica of the king’s crown…not sure what influences shaped it as it doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen!

I continued being a real tourist even at lunch… I don’t think I ever took pictures of food when I actually lived here! 

The castle restaurant was surprisingly cheap and they offered a lot of traditional Okinawan dishes such as goya chanpuru (bitter melon stir fry) which is quite possibly an acquired taste, but I love it! Goya are meant to have all kinds of healthy properties – apparently the seeds can help with weight loss, but you probably have to eat hundreds to see any effects. The seeds are seriously bitter, so you’d have to REALLY want to lose weight to even attempt eating them.

I wasn’t the only one being a tourist – check out this couple posing in traditional dress!

 Apparently there used to be a kind of bunker on the castle grounds during World War II but you’d never know now, it’s so tranquil.

After the castle I headed back into the city and wandered through the arcade in Heiwa Dori (Peace Avenue). 

 Although lots of the shops are very touristy, some are quite interesting, like this one which sells gourmet soy sauce, crackers and other delicacies…

 … and this one, which sells salt products from around the world, including ice-cream with salt and beauty products like salt soap and scrubs. Yes, a whole shop devoted to salt!

 And then there’s shops like this, which sells T-shirts for humans and dogs. No further comment.

 I was exhausted after all that wandering around but it was impossible to stay tired for long around my friend Marie and her kids. Here she is with her daughter Sky, who is wearing a necklace I made for her. What a couple of lovely ladies!