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February 15, 2018 - Southern Odyssey - Okinawa Day 1
The history of Okinawa is quite interesting and is not as black and white as that of the mainland. Up until 16th century, the Ryuku Kingdom was independent but also paid tribute to the Chinese court. This can still be seen in some Chinese characteristics which are more prevalent in Okinawa compared to mainland Japan. The Satsuma clan then made Okinawa a protectorate in 1609 but it came a part of Japan in 1879. After the fall of Japan in 1945, the US did not cease ownership of the island until 1972. For the next 5 days, I'll be exploring this beautiful island while exploring it's rich culture and history.
For today, I travelled from Naha in the South up to Motobu in the North West. The locations visited included:
(1) Nakamura Residence (500 yen entry)
(2) Nakakusugu Castle Ruins (400 yen entry)
(3) Futenmagu Cave Shrine
(4) Zakimi Castle Ruins
(5) Ryukyu Mura (1200 yen entry)
Located close to the Nakakusugu Castle Ruins, the Nakamura Residence costs 500 yen to enter (with free tea and desert) and is an excellent example of a traditional Okinawan residence.
The residence is not huge - but is pretty sizable and shows the wealth of the family. It should be noted that only families with enough status were allowed to build homes with the traditional Ryukan red tiles, instead of the normal thatched roof.
My second stop for the day was Nakakusugu Castle Ruins (400 yen entry) which is located on top of a hill overlooking the ocean. During quiet days, an electric bus takes all tourists up to the main entrance. This works out quite convenient as most of the castle is downhill from this point.
First built as a fortress in the 15th century, the castle increased in size significantly to what it is today. It's also meant to be one of the best preserved castles on Okinawa - but it seems as though a lot of faithful repairs have also occurred along the way.
Located close to the castle ruins and Kaneda Airbase, the Futenmagu Cave Shrine is a highly touristy location (for locals) which has a sacred cave which you need to ask to see. No photos are allowed - and I decided not to ask to view it on this occasion.
My fourth location for the day was Zakimi Castle Ruins, which is not as large as the first castle ruins but is much larger than what is normally seen on mainland Japan. It should be noted that there is a lot of works occurring at the foot of the castle (mainly the museum which will be closed for over 2 years for renovation - started in 2016) and the street has been made a one way street.
One of the great things about this castle was because it's less known than some of the other castles, it was virtually deserted. Note that I did visit during the middle of winter on a weekday which also limits the crowds. It would be extremely hot here in winter, but it does have sweeping views.
My last stop for the day was Ryukyu Mura, a theme park of a sorts which includes old residences, performances, shops and activities. It costs 1200 yen to enter, but it promises a couple of hours of tackiness and fun. The site has been well set up for speakers of English, Japanese, Chinese (Traditional & Simplified) and Korean languages.
A recreation of a Ryukyu village. It's interesting to see how similar they are compared to what I have seen on Jeju Island (it's similar to Okinawa for South Korea).
There are four different types of performance which occur throughout the day. Normally, there is a performance of some sort every 30 minutes. I suggest you take a photo of the location of each performance at the entrance as many of the signs inside say the times but not the location.
If there are a couple of things I've learnt today, it's that Okinawa is much more built up than I was expecting. There is also a much larger Chinese and American presence on the island than I was expecting. Some of the bases are absolutely huge and there are restaurants like A & W which are not found commonly in Japan. Even though - I've highly enjoyed today and look forward to possibly visiting a small island tomorrow.
Nakamura Residence: http://www.vill.kitanakagusuku.lg.jp/site/view/contview.jsp?cateid=6&id=114&page=1
Nakakusugu Castle Ruins: http://www.nakagusuku-jo.jp/en