Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shuri Castle and Okinawa Wrestling

Konnichiwa friends! We are just finishing up another fun weekend here in Okinawa. We went to the beach on Saturday, poor Turf's legs got burnt to a crisp, and I got eaten alive by mosquitos and have ghastly bite bumps all over my arms and legs. We are also hearing weather reports about a new typhoon, Muifa, that is forecasted to hit Okinawa as a Category 4 typhoon around Thursday. I usually don't pay much attention to these reports this early on, because the storms shift and change so frequently, but if it stays on its projected path and doesn't weaken it will be as bad, if not worse, than typhoon Songda (which Turf missed, but did cause some damage on island). I will keep y'all posted as the week moves forward :)

Anyway, as promised, here's the low-down on Shuri Castle. Shuri is one of 9 World Heritage sites on Okinawa (our goal is to see them all. Nakagusuku Castle ruins was the only one we had seen so far), and Shurijo Castle Park also includes two other World Heritage sites aside from the castle.

 The entrance to the park shows this map. Clearly, the park is rather large, so we got some good walking in :)
And this, my dear friends, is one of the World Heritage sites within the park. Just a gate? No way! The Sonohyan-utaki stone gate was of super religious importance to the King. He would pray in front of it for a safe journey each time he departed the castle.

Upon entering the "courtyard" area, there was a mini show of some traditional Okinawa dance. Its amazing to me how these ladies move with such precision and grace. It doesn't look like much, but it is so incredibly fluid. And the colors....and the face makeup...wowza! SO pretty!
And then there's Shuri Castle itself. The best known details say that Shurijo Castle was built around the 14th century. It became the royal seat in 1406 for King Sho Hashi, who united the Ryukyu Kingdom. Shuri then served as the political homefront for the kingdom and epicenter for foreign diplomacy and culture for about 500 years. This reign ended when King Sho Tai abdicated the throne to the Menji Government. The castle then blossomed with a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian trade influences that helped to shape the unique Ryukyu culture: Lacquer-ware, dyes/textiles, and ceramics and music.
The current castle is not actually the original, sadly, as Shurijo Castle was burnt to ashes in the Battle of Okinawa in the WWII, but the castle was restored in 1992.
Shuri Castle is said to be the symbol of Okinawa.
                        Standing in front of Shuri Castle
The King's seat
Standing outside of Shuri Castle. The lookout spot is a great panoramic view of the Naha Port and the city of Naha.
Bezaitendo Shrine and Enganchi Pond. This shrine was built to store precious Buddhist scriptures received from the King of Korea.
 And on to the next World Heritage site, Tama-U-Dun, which also included many gates and was south of the Castle. These were clearly built for smaller people!
 Tama-U-Dun. Now, if you are living on Okinawa, this might be a good place to visit just for the cultural aspect of it, but for visitors, I would not recommend it. The cost was about 300Y each (which was about $5 with a terrible Yen rate...on top of a separate entrance fee to Shuri Castle Park itself) and was a very short trip. We spent maybe 10 minutes walking around through the encased artifacts and the actual tombs. For the price, it wasn't worth it, but still, good to see.
 Tama-U-Dun was built in 1501 to re-tomb the remains of King Sho En by his son King Sho Shin and ended up becoming the royal Mausoleum for the second Sho dynasty.
"The tomb consists of three rooms: The center room (for placing the remains before washing the bones), the East room (for the Kings and queens), and the West room (for the rest of the royal family members)".

Moving on to something more light and definitely more comical: Okinawa Wrestling. I have few words to describe this because I was so appalled at the idiocricy of it. Think American, Hulk Hogan, type wrestling, with a bit of MMA, with a bit of that terrible Japanese fighting/action scenes from movies, and you've got yourself Okinawa Wrestling. Don't forget to add some "traditional" and "culturally inspired" costumes to the mix!
 Here we are waiting for things to start. I had a feeling it would be bad, but I wasn't too sure what to expect. Perhaps this would be more like a crazy, Mexican knife brawl? Or maybe, since we're in JAPAN, which is a huge influence in martial arts, it will be more like that?
 There was an opening performance that set the stage for the rest of the "fighting". 4 guys in crazy costumes and masks, SINGING, playing a banjo, and apparently telling jokes (we couldn't understand a word they said). The boys were not jazzed.
 The first fight was lame, to say the least. Some random guy with a tail attached to his leotard and "Orion Man" (which is a beer here in Okinawa), who is either pretending to be or really is 3 sheets to the wind, slapping each other's chests and pinning each other for 2 seconds before making an amazing recovery and come back. Orion Man won in the end.
Next came a sort of group fight, where they tag people in. There are all kinds of personalities at play here. Yanburu Queena (say it like an Asian!) and Mango (pronounced maaaaaaango) were my faves.
 Again, picture elbows being thrown and *not quite* making contact with the body, but still hearing the "umphhh" sound coming out of the opponnent. They were throwing each other on the floor, kicking, and slapping each other, the whole shebang. I will give them credit, they had some great aerobatics that you don't see with this type of American wrestling.
 Overall, I wouldn't waste the money again. The fights are supposed to last 2 hours, and we only stayed for 1. It was about $50 for the both of us to get in and definitely not anything spectacular. At least we got a good story out of it :)
 We ended the night at a friend's party. This party had a shake weight, random jelly bellies from Thanksgiving, and a gorilla mask. No idea how this guy acquires such crazy items, but they made for a good laugh.

And we got to try these, another Japanese treat. Remember the purple Beni-imo I told you about (Japanese sweet potato), these were little Beni-imo...cakes? Not very sweet and not my favorite. I probably wouldn't eat them again, but they definitely were not as terrible as the octopus balls from last weekend. When in Japan, right?!

More adventures to come next week, I'm so proud of my blogging lately! Sayounara!

PS: Here's a video of the Okinawa Wrestling for full effect :)

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