Because of the courtesy shown to us by the Okinawan people, our trip was dubbed the 2011 Ryukyu Propriety Cultural and Martial Arts Tour. Ryukyu was the old name for Okinawa before the Japanese renamed it (Remember Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan, like New Jersey is a state of the USA).
Okinawa is known for the gate of courtesy, Shureimon (or Shurei no mon). This gate is at the entrance of Shuri-jo, a castle originally built in the fifteenth century that was the political, economic and cultural center of the Ryukyu kingdom for hundreds of years. Written on the gate’s plaque are four Chinese characters shu, rei, no, and kuni,which means “land of propriety” or “country of good manners and hospitality”. Unfortunately, Shuri Castle was
destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. When rebuilding began in 1958 using pre-war photographs and original plans, guess which structure was reconstructed first. Yup, Shureimon – The Gate of Courtesy. That’s how important courtesy/propriety is to the Okinawan people.
While at the castle, we were entertained by some very talented ladies dancing traditional Okinawan dances. These dancers were impressive with their accuracy and fluidity of movement. This trip has given me an appreciation for these women’s skills. Although their movements might appear slow and uncomplicated to an untrained eye, they are in fact difficult in their precision and grace. Trust me, I had the opportunity to learn a piece of the fan dance, Kagiyadefu and…well… let’s just say it wasn’t pretty, graceful, or accurate. We’ll leave it at that. I also like watching the dances to see the hidden karate techniques in them.
While I’ve seen the traditional Okinawan dances before, what struck me on this trip was that Okinawan women have been performing these dances for hundreds of years. The exact same precise dances! And it made me sad to realize there are no traditional American dances in the US.
Our tour of Shuri-jo continued inside the castle where we saw many artifacts and special rooms, including the throne room and the tearoom. I was excited to sit on the tatami mat, sip tea and eat delicious cookies that had been prepared for royalty hundred of years ago. Er…the cookies I ate hadn’t been prepared then, you know what I mean.
I bought some boxes of cookies to take home with me. Unfortunately, I just opened my last box. I guess that means I need to take another trip to Okinawa to get some more.
~ K.M. Fawcett