lessons from shuri castle in naha, okinawa
One of the biggest tourist attractions in downtown Naha is Shuri Castle, the previous palace of the Ryukyu Islands. Before Okinawa was part of Japan, it was in the Ryukyu Kingdom made up of several islands in the area. This castle served as the royal court for the kingdom as well as a royal residence for the emperor. It has been burned down several times but has always been replaced and preserved very well. Now, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and a lovely place to spend the day marveling at the traditional architecture and landscaping.
The site is directly downtown, so it's very easy to get to by car or rail. Once you're on the grounds, it's like being transformed into old world Japan. The complex is bordered by tall stone walls, and you're directed inside through red lacquered entry gates and large staircases.
The grounds are quite beautiful yet understated with the lush green grasses and well-pruned trees. Each building fits into the complex very deliberately to satisfy a function while still adding to the overall feel of the castle grounds.
The first thing you encounter after the stairs into the main gates is the gathering space. Lines are drawn across it for armies to assemble. The gathering space is quite large, and it's striking to see it as the foreground to the traditional castle structure painted to perfection.
Several buildings surround the main Shuri Castle building. To the side, you'll find a large wooden one that was once used as a guard station. It now houses some art collections, and serves as an example of the standard wooden architecture. As you make your way inside each of the buildings, you'll find that the castle is incredibly simplistic. The rooms are covered in cedar wood that gives off an amazingly comforting smell. The residence even has lovely garden areas right off of the rooms to accommodate meditation and views over the city.
The hallways and throne room are painted in red lacquer, and the throne room is the most opulent of the entire place. There you will find what people normally associate with traditional Asian adornment. Golden dragon heads sit on either side of the emperor's throne, colorful floral prints stretch the length of the columns, and shoji screens separate the rooms.
After you get back outside to explore the rest of the grounds, the stone walls really start to tower over you. A series of walkways and stone staircases take you back around the property as you get a few nice views over Naha.
The Shuri Castle site is overall a very well preserved World Heritage site. For the most part, it's very understated, so don't go looking for a glamorous castle covered in gold. Rather, look forward to seeing how incredibly simple the Ryukyu royal residence was and the stark contrast to the official rooms where the emperor ran the kingdom.
things to meditate on:
How refined and pure the residential areas were
The elegance in the quality not quantity of materials
The placement of the buildings to compliment their function and surrounding landscape
The contemplative grounds set above the busy city
Put it into Practice:
Look at your own residence and find what truly makes the spaces meaningful to you
Pare down to what you will give your daily life more value and discard what won't
Explore your own neighborhood and look for how the homes and gardens compliment each other
Find a contemplative place to enjoy your own city aside from the busyness