Above all the bull…

Hello everybody!

Sorry it’s been a while, but I’m back and ready to share my  most recent travel adventures. After going to Hiroshima and Hokkaido, I decided to take a small break from my usual trips and just dedicate myself to some of the things I have not seen here in Okinawa. In a word, daytrips!

So last weekend I had the opportunity to go to Shikina-en, the largest of the  Ryukyu royal family’s second residences. It’s another of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that are sprinkled throughout Okinawa.  So it was built around the end of the 17th century and was used for entertainment and to host foreign guests and dignitaries.

Winding paths to make the area appear larger to foreign dignitaries…no view of the ocean or sea from here to make little Okinawa appear bigger, how clever!
Udun, a wooden structure with the red tile roof exclusively permitted to the high class/status people of Okinawa.
Inside Udun Palace – there were fifteen rooms.
Udun Palace taken across the pond.

It was a lovely day and I had a wonderful guide who gave me quizzes which I failed every time! This is located in Naha and not far from the Expressway in Haebaru, so any of you local readers should take a ride up there. It was worth the trip.

So yesterday being Christmas, everything closed on base, I decided to go see one or two places on the island I haven’t been to yet. When I told people I was going to Camp Courtney, the response I got universally was that there was not much to see. But one coworker told me about the little beach there and that they had the best collection of shells she had seen on the island. So I got there and took this photo below, but I couldn’t find access. I finally remember she said I had to go through the obstacle course which I located and headed down.

Camp Courtney Beach

On the walk down, I encountered a few of my feathered friends along the way. There is my little friend the Blue Rock Thrush. There are several varieties throughout the world, but I think these are the prettiest. I could be biased as I think everything Okinawan is the best (ichiban).  There was also an osprey that was gliding over my head the whole time, silent, beautiful.

Blue rock thrush – these guys are everywhere on the island, very loud and territorial. One has claimed my car and when I park it lands and I hear it running on the roof!

The shells however were a disappointment, I was told to go at low tide and the tide was coming in over my feet, wetting my blue jeans up to the knees. I did find one or two, I think the one below was quite pretty, especially with the sun shining through.

Casting its own shadow
Local osprey – these are the nice silent ones, not the ones American’s fly over my house.

I spent a little while there as it was a gorgeous day and I had the beach to myself. As I was leaving, I saw a little sign on base that said something about a castle ruin. I remember reading that there was a ruin near Courtney so I pulled out the iPhone and did some investigations. And yes, within two miles there were remains of a 14th century castle. To get to the ruins, you enter a park with a playground to the left and something to the right looked like it had cultural significance. So I went that way. I shot quite a few pictures of the monuments and utaki (worship sites of the Ryukyu people) and started rounding the corner to find the castle.

Now this is Uruma, and Uruma is known for it’s bull fighting. I had been invited to one of these gatherings, but I don’t want to watch animals being forced to do something or baited into fighting, so I said no. My friend who invited me said I had the wrong idea, that Okinawan bull fighting was pretty much two bulls pushing each other around, like they would do in a field if no one was watching…or betting on it. I took a pass, but I was curious.

I kept hearing this gruff lowing and as I came around the corner from a monument, this guy is walking a giant bull toward me on a rope. I asked (in Japanese, thank you very much) if I could take a photo of him and his bull. He replied in Japanese and I understood him (yay!) that there was a fight about to happen. He motioned me to follow him.

Kumite – he was looking for a fight.

I don’t know if this was practice or a real fight or what, but there was me, a boy (with an iPhone shooting video) the two guys in the ring and two other guys watching. One of the bulls made a quick fake out motion at the other one, and the handler jumped back and we all started laughing. The bulls at that point started looking at me and the boy with the iPhone and didn’t seem all that interested in fighting. After about four minutes of this walking up to each other and moving away, it was declared a draw and the bulls were lead out, packed up in their trailers and driven away.

These two were all about posturing. It ended in a draw.

Although the match itself wasn’t very exciting, it was thrilling to be there and experience it. I loved that the ring was at the base of the Gusuku castle, that the ancestors could watch as well.

Gusuku wall – at Agena Jo in Uruma.

I am truly in love with this construction of castles and walls over here, so I apologize for anyone who is sick of seeing them. But think about it. We are never taught the history of this place, or Japan or Asia for that matter. And in the 1300’s they had a thriving society, these gorgeous buildings. It is just fascinating to me as an American to see and learn this culture so different from our own.


The bull fighting ring in the shadow of the Agena Jo walls.
I am in love with these walls.
A view from above, the old and the new.

So , I wish everyone a terrific holiday whether you celebrate or not…enjoy the time off. Enjoy each other! I’ll be back next week!