2014
05.31

NAHA

SYNOPSIS:  Four more UNESCO sites to cover in Naha on an all rainy day.  About the “real thing” and the Disney version of it.   Does it matter?

It was in the forecast and it came through as promised:  a day full of rain.  A few minutes here and there it let up, but mainly, the day was gray, hot and wet.  I left my “mini” at home and borrowed one of the hostel’s big transparent umbrellas.  At least I could see through it.  It was hard all day to maneuver the umbrella with my forearms and to operate the camera with both hands.  But who is complaining?  I am about to finish my Okinawa mission against all the odds.

It was quite melancholic (to say the least) to visit Shikina-En Royal Garden in a downpour.  But then, there were hardly any visitors besides me and that counts for something.  I am afraid there will be lots of gardens, castles and shrines from here on out.  I will try to cut down on details but focus more on the unique features of each of them.

This garden was only started in the 18th Century based on a circular design — which means that as you circle the garden you enjoy a variety of different landscapes which have been carefully planted.  This garden was particularly known for rare plants that were chosen to bloom at different times of the year.  The garden was completely destroyed during WWII and rebuilt to the tune of $8 million only in the 1970s.  It took over 20 year to complete it.   That was monument #1.

Shurijo Castle Park is the big attraction in town.  It glares at you from various billboards, is advertised in all tourist brochures and I almost did not want to take it seriously as one of the UNESCO monuments.  It was obviously rebuilt and beefed up in brilliant vermilion red, much like an amusement park.  Originally constructed in the 14th Century, this castle was the heart and centre of the Ryukyu kingdom until the Meiji Restoration.   But like the Royal Garden, it was reduced to ashes in WWII.

Overlooked by most visitors, on the way up to the shiny castle you pass by a small, worn, stone gate, the Sonohyan-Utaki.  It, in its own right, is registered as UNESCO monument #3 in Naha because it is actually authentic.   The king would pray in front of this gate for a safe journey when he left the castle.  So, for tradition’s sake and since it seemed to have worked for the king, I did the same.  🙂

One is hard pressed to find just one in a hundred of all the visitors who, after descending from the castle, actually crosses the street, walks past a long stone wall, and enters the Tama-u-dun, the royal burial place registered as the final UNESCO monument dedicated to Ryukyu culture.  The tomb complex dates back to the 15th Century and was moved to this spot on some later day.  One has to pay a separate entrance fee and ultimately, there is not that much to it.  A small museum with a few urns and artifacts, none of which is labeled in English.  But… it is after all a UNESCO monument, yet no attention is drawn to it.  Why not?

The site itself consists of one of two extant gate houses that flanks a stone wall with a small door leading into a forecourt.  It, in turn, leads to the final court facing three buildings raised on a platform.  After the bling and glitz of the castle, this cemetery has a stark and dark aura to it.  I actually liked this feel of gloom.  It fit the rainy day and the idea of death.  I was completely alone there.  This cemetery was damaged in WWII, but enough had been left so that it could be repaired rather than rebuilt from scratch.

I remember Professor Kane talking with disdain about any castle or building that was a mere reconstruction denying it any value whatsoever.  I will have to hold judgment on this for now since I have not yet seen the real thing, Himeji Castle, for example.  But there is something disconcerting over the fact that most people seem to be drawn to the spiffy looking remake and in turn overlook the authentic “left over”.

Funny enough, I started out the day on one of the early siteseeing buses in which you can loop around on a one-day pass.  It stops at all the sites of interest to visitors and prevents foreigners like me from having to navigate the rather complex system of city buses.  It’s a nifty thing which I hear exists in many other cities, too.

One of those military guys was on it — you actually see quite a few around in this area if you pay attention — and we briefly talked.  By the time I got to the castle (after the garden), he boarded the bus that I was leaving.  That meant that he had checked off both of these sites in about one hour.  He was at least one in 1000, I envisioned as interested enough to at least get to the local sites, and most likely typical in his speed.  But he was not the one in 10,000 who would actually care and take time.  It reminded me again how lucky I had gotten to run into Mike two days ago.

I am so happy that I finished my Okinawa mission:  UNESCO site #1 (in nine parts) is checked off.   I knew it would be the most difficult to manage and the most costly to accomplish.  By the sheer miracle of meeting Mike, and only because of him, I was able to do this.  The remaining 12 sites should be a piece of cake.

Originally, I had planned to take a 25 hour overnight ferry off the island back to the “mainland” as people in Okinawa like to call Japan.  But to get to one of three ports, to figure out which ferry line was going that day, all would have cost me valuable time which I did not have.  So I took the easy way out and booked a flight online.

But now I have to catch up writing.  Too much sightseeing.  Not enough time to process…  And then I need some sleep!

Good night.