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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Naha Part 1: Shuri Castle and Surrounding Area

Alright, we're finally into the blog posts about the places that I went! Today, I thought I'd talk about Shuri castle and two spots nearby that you can visit!

Shuri Castle (Official English Site)

Once the center of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Shuri castle is a must-visit if you're going to be spending time in Naha. The castle can be split into two - the inner section was built in the early 15th century and the outer section was finished in the 16th century. You can also split it into the free and paid areas and I'd recommend everyone go to both. 

You get to Shuri Castle from both Gibo and Shuri monorail stations (the castle seems to be located between both stations so there isn't a clear winner). Alternatively, you can drive to the castle and pay 320 yen for parking. If it's busy, like it was when we went, you may 2-hour 2 hour time limit. 

My sister and I drove to Shuri castle and followed the general course that they recommended. First, we passed through Shureimon gate, which was built during the reign of King Sho Sei.

There are many, many gates here as the following pictures will show you. I took them as my sister and I were moving towards the paid area/museum:

Kankaimon Gate
One unique feature of the castle is that it faces West, with certain structures aligned along an east-west axis. You can clearly see both Chinese and Japanese influence in the castle. A note though, the original castle was destroyed and the castle you see now is a replica (built above the ruins)

Zuisenmon gate:

Entrance to the paid area costs 820 yen for an adult, 620 yen for a student, and 310 yen for a child. Children under 6 can enter for free. And if you have a 1 Day or 2 Day pass for the monorail, you can get a discount too! 

My sister photobombing

Proper photo with my sister
 The next photo is of a replica of a tensuigame, There were apparently at least 4 spots for these large jugs to be buried in the ground, and they were thought to be used to collect rainwater for firefighting.

And this is the main area. Part of it is undergoing renovations so there is some scaffolding, but it's still a beautiful place.

There is a museum which you should definitely visit. There are no-photography areas, so be careful before taking photos. And when you're in the museum, definitely stop by the tea area and get a set! It's 310 yen and it comes with sanpin tea and 4 sweets.

Sweets used to be served to visiting guests and VIPs. It was said that there were as many as 160 sweets, although many of them are lost to history. But they do have these four sweets, which are:

1. Hanabouru, which is a patterned biscuit.

2. A pastry filled with sesame paste. It used to be served to visiting Chinese envoys but now it's an everyday sweet.

3. Chiirunko, a steamed cake with nuts

4. Chinsuko, a super famous Okinawan sweet. Apparently, it used to be shaped like a chrysanthemum but it's not shaped like a long oval because of convenience.

And by the way, sanpin tea is basically a form of Jasmine tea, introduced from China and is the most popular tea in Okinawa.

I really like how the pattern on the saucer matches with the pattern on the tray

I like that they have explanation booklets in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean! That's where I got the information on the sweets and it's definitely worth reading:

This is the room we had tea in:

I couldn't get a good picture, but if you're having tea, do take some time to appreciate the rock garden! The rocks there are limestone rocks and Shuri Castle is the only castle in Okinawan known to have 'skilfully' used limestone rocks in the garden!

The King's seat:

The view when we exited the museum:

I really like how the walls of Okinawan castles curve. Oh yes, you have to take out your shoes when you enter the museum. They will give you plastic bags to put the shoes in, but you will have to carry them all the way to the exit, so if you have a big bag that might be useful.

The path to the exit:

I'm not too sure what this gate is called but I really like how it looks:

We took a little walk to the Bezaitendo but it started raining so my sister and I snapped a picture and left:

And of course, of the birds waddling about.

首里金城町石畳道 (Shuri kinjyo stone road)

If you're at Shuri castle and are fond of walking, you might be interested in the kinjyo stone road nearby.

It's an incredibly picturesque path and from the maps/explanations that I found here and there, there seem to be quite a few things to see.

But because I went alone and without a guidebook/a map in hand, I found it to a bit underwhelming. I mean, it's definitely a pretty path and I saw a lot of stone lions (to the point where I mistook an actual cat for a lion), but it's not a complete portal into the past because there are quite a few modern houses and if you don't know what you're looking for/at, then it just becomes a really tough road.

And I'm not joking about the road being tough. Not only is it very hilly (going down was tough, going up was super exhausting), the fact that it is a stone road means that the road is uneven. I would not recommend this if you're traveling with elderly folks, small kids, or people who sprain things/break bones easily because there is a very good chance of falling. And please don't wear heels here (I'm sure people do but I found it tough enough in shoes!)

All that said, I'm still glad I went. It is a picturesque road and I wish I was fashionable because I can totally see people taking OOTDs here (saw people taking photos too). I just wish that I prepared more instead of just winging it. Here are a few more pictures:

I think the tree is important, but I'm not sure why. Oh yes, and apparently a drama was shot here as well.

Bukubuku Tea

I found out about Bukubuku tea (ふくふく茶) when searching for things to do in Okinawa and I had to try it as soon as I heard about it! It's a traditional Okinawan tea but has sadly become rather hard to find due to the devastating effects of World War II (more information at this link). There doesn't seem to be many shops where you can find it, but from this link, I found a shop called 嘉例山房 (Karisanfan) near Shuri castle.

If you're walking, the closest station is Gibo, but be warned - the road is mainly uphill.

The interior of the shop:

My table and my new stuffed-toy friends:

This fukufuku tea (or pao pao tea) set is available for 800 yen, which I think is really worthwhile. There are several flavours, but I chose the plain version.

The menu
The first thing that came was the tea in a large bowl:

The tea smelled like mugicha and the I was told to do was to whisk the tea in the large wooden bowl to make bubbles. There's no particular method, but you should be whisking the top layer of liquid and for about 2-3 minutes. Then you let the bubbles sit to firm up (I believe the words were along the lines of しっかりする) and then you can transfer them to the drinking cup.

My tea after a couple of minutes
Luckily the rest of the tea came with bubbles or I would definitely not have much to drink because I am that lousy!

Because a lot of bubbles are needed, you basically push the bubbles made to one side to make room for more bubbles. When you have enough (and they aren't too soft because that makes it harder to transfer), you use your whisk to scoop the bubbles up and drop it into the cup.

By the way, even though the description is like "literal bubble tea", they do have liquid tea in the cup so it's not just bubbles.

The way to drink this is to hold the cup in both hands and eat the bubbles. The bubbles are tasteless by themselves so you can sprinkle a peanuts + sugar mix. And I was told that if that isn't sweet enough, you can add sugar as well. If you tilt the cup, you can drink the liquid tea. I was also warned not to put the peanut topping into the big wooden bowl.

The tea set also came with sweets - some fruits and handmade chinsuko, an Okinawan biscuit. The chinsuko was really good too! I think it was the best that I had on this trip

I asked about the bubbles and according to the lady, the tea in the bowl is made with 硬水, which literally means "hard water" and is full of minerals. On the other hand, the tea in the drinking bowl is made with 軟水 (soft water) which can not be used to make bubbles. I thought it was pretty interesting that there were two types of water used for this one tea!

If you're a fan of tea, you definitely have to try this out. I've never had anything like it and I'm so glad that I managed to find this shop.

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