tea

Things I’m Loving – April 2017

It’s May already? What?! That doesn’t seem possible! I had hoped to have a routine down by now but that is not the case…I’ve had several days where I’d get into a routine and think I’ve got this mommy thing figured out, but then there is a growth spurt or tummy ache or something that makes a joke of my ‘routine.’ I guess babies laugh at schedules. 😉 May’s arrival means I’ll be heading back to work soon. But first, a look back at some of the things I’ve been loving! (more…)

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Okinawa Travels: Shurijo Castle Park

Last week my husband and I traveled to Okinawa for our anniversary and we had such a wonderful time! I’m still working my way through all the photos from the trip and we have a visitor arriving today to stay with us but I’ll be posting about various activities and sights in Okinawa as I can.

On our first day, we flew into Naha, which is the capital city on Okinawa Island, the largest of the islands in Okinawa Prefecture. Our goal for the day was to just make it to Okinawa and explore Shuri Castle. We were a bit worried about the weather because the rainy season has arrived and we found about what we expected: a constant drizzle. But we certainly didn’t let a little rain stop us!

Shuri Castle Buildings and Gates

Shuri Castle (首里所, Shuri-jō) was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, an independent kingdom that united most of the Ryukyu Islands around the 15th century. The kingdom became a sort of tributary state to both China and Japan before eventually becoming incorporated into Japan as the Okinawan Prefecture in the 19th century. The castle was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 but was reconstructed in the 1990’s. It is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Kankaimon Gate

There are several gates leading up to the main building. This stone gate is the front gate to the castle and is appropriately named Kankaimon Gate since kankai (歓会) means “welcome.” You can see two shisa (シーサー) on either side of the gate. Shisa are from Okinawan mythology and look like a cross between a lion and a dog. I saw many of these guys in front of buildings and on rooftops throughout Okinawa. They are often in pairs with one having a closed mouth and the other an open mouth.

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Closed mouth shisa

This shisa has a closed mouth and is supposed to keep good spirits in.

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Open mouth shisa

The other shisa has an open mouth to ward off evil spirits. I loved seeing these guys (and gals…some say each pair has one female and one male shisa) everywhere!

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As we continued up toward the main hall, we came to an overlook where you could get a good look at the outer wall and see a little of the city beyond. Unfortunately the rainy day did not make for the best view.

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Supposedly this is what it looks like on a clear day…maybe I’ll just have to go back someday and verify the accuracy of this photo. ^_~

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Nichiei-dai

This sundial was used to keep the time in the kingdom from 1739 to 1879.

Bankoku Shinryo-no Kane

Bankoku Shinryo-no Kane

This is a replica of the Bankoku Shinryo-no Kane (万国津梁の鐘, Bridge of Nations bell), which was hung in the main hall in 1458. The bell’s inscription describes the prosperity of the Ryukyu Kingdom built upon the spirit of trade and friendship with other states in Southeast Asia.

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I have no idea what type of bird this little guy was but I found him watching us as we examined the bell.

Houshinmon Gate

Houshinmon Gate

The Houshinmon Gate is the final gate leading up to the main building. This one gate has three entrances. The center entrance way was traditionally reserved for the king and nobles but, as you can see, tourists get to use it now.

Seiden

Seiden

After stepping through the Houshinmon Gate, we finally got a look at the Seiden, or main hall, of Shuri Castle. It was quite an impressive sight even through the rain.

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It was even more interesting up close where you could see the details of the decorations. The dragons look fierce!

Castle Exhibits

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After admiring the exterior of the main hall, we were able to go take a look at some of the interior exhibits. This shows how the walls were made with a wooden frame, bamboo, and three layers of plaster.

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Here is the throne as it would have looked when used by the king of the Ryukyu Islands. Fancy.

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I love models! This model shows the framework for the Seiden.

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Another model! This shows how the court officials and ministers would have assembled by rank in front of the king for ceremonies.

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Ceremonial umbrellas like this one were used to shade the king and nobles during parades and were probably more about showing wealth than providing protection from the elements. Even if it isn’t so functional…I kind of liked it!

Tea and Sweets with a Garden View

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Since it was so rainy, it was the perfect time to take advantage of a tea service available in the castle. We were served Jasmine tea along with some delicious Ryukyu era sweets.

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One of the best parts of our tea break was viewing the garden just outside the room.

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This window framed part of the garden nicely. Exposed rock and pine were some of the main elements in this garden.

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This room with a tatami mat floor is where guests would have been served tea and entertained.

Around the Castle

Uekimon

Uekimon

As we were leaving the main hall, I found this red gate framing the path back down the hill. There were several beautiful paths and flowers to be found all around the castle.

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Okinawan Dance

Just before we left, we were lucky enough to catch a demonstration of several traditional Okinawan dances, each of which told a story. And once again a friendly older Japanese gentleman came over to explain to us what each of the dances was about.

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The first used costumes to signify to the audience the rank and position of each character in the dance.

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The second dance told the story of a warrior waving his command flag to signal his troops to march.

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In the third demonstration, the dancer tells the story of a woman viewing the moon and missing her husband.

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The fourth was definitely the liveliest of the bunch and probably my favorite. It told a simple story of a couple dancing by a river. At first the woman is washing her hair but when her significant other joins her, he gives her a gift of a red sash and they begin playing around by the river, dancing and laughing.

Heading to Ishigaki

As the day came to a close, we headed back to the airport at Naha to catch our flight to Ishigaki, another island in the Okinawa Prefecture. We’d decided we wanted to spend most of our trip somewhere a little more out-of-the-way while still being convenient for public transportation and Ishigaki looked like our best bet.

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While we waited for our flight, we grabbed dinner at one of the airport restaurants. I had chanpuru, a kind of Okinawan stir fry. It was a very simple dish with pork, cabbage, and several vegetables all cooked together with a light sauce. It was filling without being heavy and just what I needed at the end of the day.

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My husband’s dish (in order, counterclockwise from the upper left)  consisted of beef tongue, pickled chicken skin, and fish paste cakes with cabbage. His meal also came with awamori, an Okinawan alcohol made from long grain rice. We quickly discovered that awamori is rather strong but it’s also usually served with water and ice so you can add as much water as you’d like to get the right strength for you. Let’s just say someone was really relaxed for the flight to Ishigaki.

The sun was setting just as our flight left. It was a great way to end our day in Naha.

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