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3-Day Model Trip Day3

Okinawa

3-Day Model Trip Day3 / Okinawa / Naha - Sightseeing in Naha - (Shuri Castle) - Tamagusuku-son - Itoman - Naha

On my last day, I visited the Shurijo Castle, the most prominent sightseeing spot in Okinawa. The city of Shuri that surrounds the Shuri Castle is a castle town that extends on the hills 1.5 km east to the central Naha. The foundation of this castle is estimated to have been in the mid 14th century. It had been the residence of the kings of Ryukyu for about 400 years, since the birth of the Ryukyu Dynasty in the early 15th century until the 19th century. Most buildings, however, were burnt down during the World War II, and the current palace is a reproduction created in recent years. First I passed through the Shurei-mon Gate, a structure drawn in the 2000 yen bill. The original gate was built in the mid 16th century, which bore a plaque with an inscription "Shurei-no-kuni" between the two layers of roofs of red tile jointed with white plaster. It means "Ryukyu is a country that honors courtesy", an evidence that implies the cosmopolitanism of the Ryukyu Dynasty thriving with trades with Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula. On the left of the gate was the Sonohyan-utaki stone gate. It was the gateway to the chapel for the Ryukyu royal families. When a king was to go out of the castle, they held a ritual to pray for the safety of the king's trip there. It is one of the ruins of the Shuri Castle, a World Cultural Heritage.

The next gateway was the Kankai-mon. Contrasting to the vivid red gate building of the Shurei-mon, this was a sturdy looking gate surrounded with stone fences. This is the main entrance to the castle premises. Further on the right, there was the Ryuhi fountain where spring water gushed out from a mouth of a dragon. I heard that this fountain had provided drinking water for the people in the palace. I passed through the Zuisen-mon gate, the Rokoku-mon gate, the Kofuku-mon gate, which is the admission ticket office now, and finally the Hoshin-mon gate to the main palace building, and arrived at the plaza in front of the main palace called Una. The vivid red main palace was decorated with carvings of arabesque foliage patterns and Chinese peonies, apparently influenced by the Chinese culture, and the pillars and roofs were adorned with the dragon pattern, the symbol of the king. The throne and the celebration halls have been restored, but since the actual throne was lost at the collapse of the Ryukyu Dynasty in 1879, it was reproduced with reference to the portraits of the kings and old documents of the middle ages. It was decorated with "raden", laminas of mother-of-pearls caught in the near seas implanted on vivid red japan lacquer. It was so gorgeous that all visitors stopped and simply stared at it.

I returned to Naha from the Shuri Castle, and headed south to see the Gyokusen-do Cave, the second longest limestone cave in Japan. Okinawa World is a theme park that has a tropical fruit orchard, traditional crafts display area and workshops for the Ryukyu glass and ceramics as well as this limestone cave. The 5 km-long cave was discovered in 1967. It is estimated that it was formed from the raised coral reefs, a unique feature of Okinawa, about 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. The part open to public is 880 meters long. It is said to be the best sight in the Orient with the diversity and beauty of the formations, such as the crowded pillars hanging down like icicles and a huge lump that looks like a golden goblet. The floor is wet and slippery. You should wear sneakers when you go inside.

After the tour in the cave, I went on to the tropical orchard. They grow papayas, durians and 100 other kinds of tropical fruits and herbs. It is possible to raise all kinds of tropical fruits outdoors in Okinawa with the warm climate all the year round. There were many rare fruits we would seldom see elsewhere. You can see the process of the Ryukyu glass making at the glass workshop at a corner of this park. The Ryukyu glass is pristine, thick glasswork. It gives familiar impression like the hospitable Okinawan people. In Okinawa, ceramics are called "yachimun". It is baked in a long-stretched, climbing kiln built on a slope. It is earthen colored, somewhat ruggedly simple pottery, but I had an impression that the more we use it, the more attractive it would become.

I returned to the central Naha and strolled on the Kokusai-dori Street to look for souvenirs. A signboard of the Okinawa soba caught my eyes. The Okinawa soba is the chewy noodles made of wheat flour served in broth flavored with pork ribs and tangle that is unique to Okinawa. I hurried into the restaurant and ordered one. It was not so greasy because it contained pickled ginger. When you add the slowly stewed pork ribs on top, it is the "soki soba", the specialty of Okinawa. The Okinawans love pork, and there are many dishes that use different parts of pork. It is even said that they eat every bit of pigs except oinks. The most popular dish is perhaps the "Rafute", a stew of pork cooked in "awamori", Okinawan spirit, flavored with soy sauce and sugar. It melts in your mouth leaving rich taste. It would enchant even those who are not particularly fond of pork.

Now that I had satisfied my appetite, I resumed my search for souvenirs. Confectionery shops were selling delicious looking fried sweets. It is another specialty of Okinawa called "sada-andagi" made of brown sugar, eggs and flower. Another popular treat is "chinsuko", Chinese style cookies. I decided to buy these sweets for myself, as I was completely enchanted by the delicacies of Okinawa.

My time was nearly up. As I was watching the beautiful sunset in the East China Sea in the lounge of the airport, I recollected various scenery, people and events I had encountered in Okinawa. Perhaps I had just had a glimpse of the diversified, profound culture of Okinawa this time. But I felt strongly that I truly experienced the charms of Okinawa. The people and culture of Okinawa have thrived with the glorious sunshine and blue seas. I boarded the plane wishing that the beautiful nature and culture of the islands of Okinawa would forever be preserved and let the visitors share the splendor.