|the promise of Okinawa|
Luckily, in the last year or so, budget airlines have discovered the Japanese market (so much for the super fast and modern adaptability of the Japanese again...), so I booked a flight with Jetstar Japan, which we shall not speak of here. But I arrived after a 2 hr flight from Osaka, in one piece.
Was is the beaches that held my interest?
The fact this archipelago between „mainland“ Japan, China and Taiwan has more centenarians than anywhere else?
Nope, because let's be honest, if you want beaches, you can go to Spain, and for diving, SE Asia's diving schools take a fraction of what they charge in Okinawa, which is like the Japanese version of Hawaii in many aspects.
It's the indeginous culture that interests me, even though there seems to be little of it left. Until the 17th century, Okinawa was known as the Ryukyu kingdom, which for centuries traded peacefully with Japan, Korea and China. Then, the Japanese decided to annex the kingdom, forced the locals to adapt their language, religion (Shintoism) and traditions. Whatever was left of the culture was destroyed by American forces towards the end of WWII. Little remains except the fact that Okinawans who still speak the local language are far and few and count as one of Japan's bewilderingly tiny minorities.
To be honest, I thought the Ryukyu kingdom consisted of nothing but a bunch of small tribes and fishermen, like Taiwan did before the Chinese tried to annex it, or HK or Singapore before the British. So, I didn't expect much when visiting the rebuilt castle complex, where since the late 80s, the Ryukyu palace and palace grounds are being rebuilt.
Reminding more of Chinese than Japanese architecture, the three main buildings that were reconstructed alone are bigger than any of the palace grounds elsewhere in Japan – and to this day, only a fraction of the buildings and the area within the castle walls has been rebuilt. Unlike other Japanese castle, whose main feature always seems to be their complete emptyness, the buildings include a lot of information as well as original and rebuilt artifacts from the Ryukyu kingdom (taking pictures was not allowed in most sections, though).
A previous' royal mausoleum, Tamaudun, is located a short walk from the castle. Here too, conservation work is underway, but what you can see is already impressive. There's also a small museum (interesting, in spite of very little English information).
You can reach Shuri castle via a 15 min walk from Shuri monorail station (the final stop), and you'll come across many other interesting sights along the way (plus a few places that sell yakitori and pineapple ice cream – a match made in heaven).
Despite the terrible rain (it seems that with my flight, the rainy season arrived in Okinawa), I enjoyed the visit and definitely want to return one day when the whole complex has been rebuilt!