Thursday, March 26, 2015

[OKINAWA] Shuri Castle

If you are not really planning to leave Naha, then make sure that Shuri Castle is in your itinerary, especially if you have a monorail pass, simply because this is one of just several attractions that can be reached with the said form of transportation. The tracks of the monorail start at the airport; it ends at Shuri Castle. This is not to say that it is connected to the castle doors itself. You still have to walk around 20 minutes or so to reach the castle grounds. There is also a tourist bus that can take you there.

The castle itself is not really that huge, but the complex sure is. If you are accompanied by wannabe ramp models who walk at six steps per minute, then I would say that you could spend the entire morning here. If you are not a morning person like me, though, then I would say after lunch until the early afternoon should be good. If you are the type who just takes photos quickly, around two hours and a half would do, including whatever hike necessary.

But most people would love to get to know the history of the place more, imagine what it was like back in the day when actual royals roamed the vicinity of the palace and, of course, unleash their inner camwhore. I visited on a Thursday afternoon and the crowd was still considerably large. We are not saying “large” as in of Beijing’s Forbidden City proportions, but still enough people to obstruct your view of the colorful background that you need for that perfect souvenir photo. Weekends should be worse.

Do I recommend having lunch there? No. I did just that and the food was terrible. I mean, it was edible alright but I would rather have just spent my money on a beef bowl in some random local eatery. Snacks bought there would be fine but I suggest against coming with an empty stomach. Remember that this trip requires a lot of walking, some of them uphill. You need the energy and the stamina! The gardens were lackluster because they were all green. It should be a totally different story come autumn.

Make sure to refer to the map of the place by the entrance if you are planning to explore a bit. There are walkways that grant you access to awesome views of Naha from above, while there are also pathways that require less walking so you could arrive at the castle earlier than expected. I did see some signboards warning against snakes, although I did not really encounter a real one while I was there, which is a good thing because my Nihongo is really bad, and I don’t speak Parseltongue either.

If you are lucky, you'd be able to catch some cultural shows on the side, mainly just locals in colorful kimonos dancing to indigenous beats. You can also take a photo with them but I couldn't clearly recall if they charge you for that. The performers are usually at the main entrance before the historic gate. I took one of the side gates, so that particular entrance served more like an exit to me. That's also where you find the canteen if ever you go hungry.

The walls and the gates of the complex are like anything you’ve already seen. Japan seems to share such traditional architecture with both Korea and China as far as castle walls are concerned. I mean, how distinct should your castle walls be? They are just gates, doh. You'll be lucky enough if your enemies back in the day would be gentle enough not to damage them. As long as they serve their purpose, they should be fine being monotonously grey.

The palace itself is colorful alright, with a unique mix of colors that make it stand out from its East Asian counterparts. I mean, Chinese palaces drown you with so much red and gold that'd make even Gryffindor himself puke. Korean palaces experimented by throwing in some brown and green to tone down the red. For this particular Okinawan palace, the prevalent theme is red as well, but the intricacies of its design combining white and yellow hues give it a rather distinct flavor.

Photos and videos are not allowed inside, except for some areas of the throne room. This is the closest thing you could get to starring in your own version of Samurai Warriors. While the Okinawans also love their red and gold motif, there are still enough features similar to other Japanese castles that make you recall the videogame. I would say that it is because of the predominance of wood, both in terms of structure and theme. And yes, they also use paper.

After you are done with the main castle, do not forget to visit the smaller one adjacent to it which houses an exhibit of the place’s history as well as a souvenir shop selling everything from chopsticks to t-shirts. I paid 660 yen for the entrance fee which was a discounted price because I had a monorail pass! Brochures are also available in different languages and for free at the ticket booth. If you’ve also seen Kokusaidori, then you are done with Naha!

[OKINAWA] Shuri Castle

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