We woke up bright and early, intending to take a ferry with friends to another island to explore, only to pull up exactly as the ferry was leaving the port. Rather than allowing crushing disappointment to overtake us, we quickly came up with an equally awesome plan B.
First up, Shurijo Castle! A World Heritage Site, the castle was destroyed in a fire (for the fourth time in its history, seriously. Get some fire proofing already.) during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, and a series of reconstructions began in the 1950s and continue today. The castle is one of the best-beloved examples of the Ryukyu Kingdom of Okinawa, which ruled for hundreds of years.
The serious hike up the hill, carrying a toddler nonetheless, was worth the view from the top of the island.
I’m not saying I was winded by the time I got there, just that it was worth it. 🙂
The castle itself was stunning. I had no idea that the Chinese influenced so much of Eastern architecture and culture, but one look at the multiple golden dragons and the style of the exterior, and I began to realize just how closely interconnected things had been over the past centuries.
There were plenty of Japanese touches too – halls of tatami rooms, with sliding paper windows (maybe THIS is why this place is so fire-friendly) open to the Okinawan breezes.
After Shurijo Castle, our gang headed back toward home, with a stop for lunch and fun at Tropical Beach.
Too cold to swim and not quite the start of swim season, anyone who dared set more than a toe in the water was quickly reprimanded via loudspeaker in either Japanese or English, depending on the offender. It was incredibly Big Brother-esque, particularly as there was no lifeguard on the beach.
We made the best of the situation, however, when my son started creeping closer to a group of Okinawan young men about to play soccer, clearly intent on joining the game. I caught up with him just as he was about to interfere, but once the guys realized that’s what he wanted, they were actually delighted to include him.
DELIGHTED. It’s one of my favorite memories from Japan so far, because they were so friendly and excited to play with him. We’re having a slightly different Japan experience, I suspect. Most Japanese people are incredibly reserved, yet they adore children, and I’m most often traveling with my son, so we are typically met with friendly gazes wherever we go.
For most of the childless friends we were traveling with however, they continually remarked upon how much more laid-back and friendly the Okinawans had been than folks nearer to Tokyo.
After this picture, I’d agree. 🙂