Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Okinawan Vacation Part 3 – Okinawa Prefectural Museum, Shuri Castle, Shopping

Okinawa Prefectural Museum

After returning to Naha from our Ishigaki-Taketomi trip, the next morning we got a taxi and ventured to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum.  Here is a link to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum website.

Located in Naha, it is actually two museums in one:  a museum and an art museum.  We only attended the museum on this day. You can buy a ticket to either or a combined admission ticket to both.  Also, the museum provides an audio cassette in English (and maybe other languages) that you can carry with you as you tour the exhibits.

The museum was excellent.  It has sections on Okinawan history, natural history of the islands, archeology, arts and crafts, and folk customs.  We spent an entire morning going through all the exhibits that were on display.  In the gift shop I looked for some good books in English about Okinawan history, but didn’t find any. 

If you are interested in Okinawan history, I highly recommend this place. 

Shuri Castle

The following day, one of our group led us on an excursion to Shuri castle.  We walked to the monorail station from our hotel, about a 5-10 minute hike along Kokusai Dori.  The monorail is clean and quiet.  It runs from the Naha airport at one end to Shuri castle at the other, a total of 15 stops in all.  You can buy a single fare, or in our case we all got one day passes that can be used for unlimited rides for one day.  Signs are in English as well as Japanese, making it easy for people like me to use it.

After we arrived at the Shuri station, it was then a 10 or 15 minute walk (uphill) to the entrance of the castle.  Along the way we passed the steep castle stone walls.

Walls of Shuri Castle
 If you are interested in old Okinawa and the Ryukyu Kingdom this is another place that is a “must see” in addition to the Prefectural museum.  Shuri castle was the home of Okinawan royalty for hundreds of years until the royalty was disbanded in 1879 with the Meiji restoration.  The entire place was destroyed in World War II during the battle of Okinawa.  But the Okinawans have restored it to much of its original glory. 

You can get a feel for the way the royalty lived.  The large courtyard to receive guests and hold ceremonies, the king’s throne and crown, a place to do business with foreign visitors, and so on. 

We spent several hours here, looking at the exhibits and just absorbing the atmosphere of the place.  Here are some photos.

Entrance to Shuri Castle
View of Naha and the East China Sea from Shuri Castle
The Bridge of Nations Bell at Shuri Castle
Shuri Castle Main Building
After we were finished touring the castle grounds, we headed back to the monorail.  We first took a wrong turn and walked down a very steep hill on stone steps, through a residential area with many old stone walls.  Very pretty.  But the wrong direction.

After realizing we were lost, and getting our bearings, we headed in the correct direction (back up the hill) and finally we got back to the Shuri monorail station.  From there went to a large department store for lunch and a bit of shopping.  That monorail stop was also a close walk to the Okinawan Prefectural Museum so some of our group that had not yet seen it went there instead of shopping.

In late afternoon we finally back to our starting point and walked back to the hotel.  On the way back, Kokusai Dori Street was blocked off to vehicle traffic (this was around 4 in the afternoon) and a group of Eisa dancers started to perform in the street.  They drew a rather large crowd.
Dance Troupe Performing on Kokusai Dori

Shopping and Return Home

The next three days we spend shopping since we had a long list of items from our own needs and those of our friends and family.  We just made our luggage and weight limits for the return flight home without needing to pay extra.

The largest bookstore in Okinawa, Junkudo, is a couple blocks off Kokusai Dori, and is fills several stories.  Books written in English are on level three.  Although there was a section on Japan history and culture, I was disappointed that more books specifically devoted to Okinawa were not available.  Nevertheless I was able to find a few interesting titles.

After a stop at the Starbucks, where we bought several of their Okinawan coffee mugs to bring back as gifts, we headed into the famous Heiwa Dori shopping area, perhaps the largest maze of shops one can find in Okinawa.  You can buy just about anything there, from clothes, to sanshins, to shisa lions to kimonos, etc.  You name it.

Speaking of kimonos, my wife had placed an order with one of the shops in Heiwa Dori for a kimono earlier in the trip.  At the time she placed the order the shop keeper gave her a complimentary pair of tabi (Japanese socks) worth around ten dollars.  When we returned to pick up the kimono, the lady shop keeper told us to wait just a minute, and then disappeared.   She came back a few minutes later with a huge package of dried fish to give us as a gift for buying the kimono!  Unbelievable!  She had obviously gone out to a nearby store to buy it when we showed up.  I don’t know if this custom exists in other parts of Japan, but this was the second time I experienced it – the first time being in Ishigaki.

We came back home somewhat exhausted but very satisfied.  We have lots of good memories and photos.  We are already planning our next trip to Okinawa. 

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