Okinawa – Gusuku Road

The south-east corner of the main island of Okinawa is relatively little visited but does have some interesting sites along what’s called the Gusuku Road. ‘Gusuku‘ is a bit of a controversial word as there is some debate among archeologists as to what it actually refers – it may be a stone fortress/residence, a defensive site, or a place of ancestor worship or burial place – and the period referred to as the ‘Gusuku Period’ pre-dates the Ryukyu Kingdom, possibly as far back as the 12th or 13th Centuries. Along the Gusuku Road, there are sacred sites and the ruins of several castles.

Starting by the ocean on the eastern coast is Sefa-utaki, one the most sacred sites on Okinawa and now a world-heritage site:

Gusuku 2 - Seifa Utaki

Continuing further down the road is Tamagusuku-jo Castle (there’s actually a couple of other sites on the road before that but we missed the turn-off), the oldest castle on Okinawa and said to have been built by the legendary creator of the Ryukyus, Amamikiyo. An amazing natural stone circle forms the entrance:

Gusuku 3 - Tamagusuku-jo 2

From the 16th Century or so on, the site was used more as a sacred place of worship. This is the remains of an alter:

Gusuku 3 - Tamagusuku-jo 3

Just up from here is Itoman-jo Castle, built in the 14th Century. It is the largest in the area and is relatively undeveloped so it feels a bit like stumbling onto an undiscovered ruin in the jungle:

Gusuku 4 - Itokazu-jo 2

Most of it is built from volcanic rock:

Gusuku 4 - Itokazu-jo 1

Gusuku 4 - Itokazu-jo 3

Gusuku 4 - Itokazu-jo 4

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Hakone Glass Forest & Owakudani

This was a trip down to the mountains of Hakone, a famous hot-spring area about 100 km south of Tokyo. It’s a wonderfully relaxing place just a couple of hours away from the bustle of the city.

First we went to the Hakone Glass Forest (箱根グラスの森), a kind a Venetian-themed attraction that has a collection of over 100 pieces of Venetian glassware as well as a laid-out garden with glass sculptures:

hakone-1-glass-museum

And then caught the cable car up to Owakudani (大涌谷), currently closed due to volcanic activity and sulfuric gasses:

hakone-2-owakudani3

hakone-2-owakudani2

hakone-2-oakudani

 

Meiji Mura

Just outside Inuyama is a fascinating little theme-park, I guess you could call it, called Meiji Mura. It was opened back in 1965 with the aim of preserving buildings from the  Meiji period (1868-1912), a period of rapid industrial development. Various buildings were collected from all around Japan and carefully restored on this site.

A still working post-office:

meiji-mura-1-post-office

The old Tokyo Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright:

meiji-mura-2-imperial-hotel

The Mie Prefectural Office:

meiji-mura-4-prefectural-office

A school:

meiji-mura-3-school

Kureha-za Theater from Osaka:

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St. John’s church from Kyoto:

meiji-mura-5-catholic-church

Street at sunset:

meiji-mura-6-street-sunset

Kinugawa

Taking the Tobu Line from Asakusa in Tokyo north towards Nikko, the train branches at Shimo-imaichi station – the left takes you to Nikko while the right goes to Kinugawa. Kinugawa is an onsen hotspring town that inevitably became over-developed during the Bubble years of the 1980’s/90’s. Now, twenty years later, it has settled down into a quiet getaway from the tourist-bustle of Nikko itself with wonderful onsens, some stunning autumn foliage (although we went in Summer!) and boat rides down the river.

The name, 鬼怒川 Kinugawa, means devil or ogre river, which of course is reminded to visitors with all the subtlety one might expect in an ogre:

The Kinugawa river runs through the centre of town and down out to the rock formations of the Ryuou-kyou Ravine, which you can take a boat ride down:

You can do that, but we decided to hike it down. Following the left bank along the river affords some spectacular views of the ravine:

After a while you pass a small shrine with a waterfall:

Further along there is a bridge that crosses the ravine (with a soba noodle shop on the other side!):

From there you can hike back to town along the opposite bank. The path is dotted with summer wildflowers and even the occasional wildlife. After that, it’s time to enjoy a rewarding soak in an outdoor onsen over-looking the river.

Miyajima

Not far from Hiroshima by ferry is the island of Miyajima, containing the world-heritage listed shrine of Itskushima. The island itself was first established as a holy site by professional holy-site founder Kobo Daishi in 806AD. Itsukushima shrine, with its famous ‘floating torii-gate’, was then founded in 1168 by Taira no Kiyomori about whom this year’s NHK Sunday evening drama and an excellent 1955 Mizoguchi Kenji film is based.

The park has been nicely preserved with deer free to roam:

The floating torii:

Stone guardian lion and the shrine complex with pagoda:

The main hall:

Looking out from the main shrine:

Shrine maiden:

Stage where Noh plays are performed:

At sunset the tide moves in and begins lapping around the base of the shrine:

Until the torii stands poised on the silver water floating between worlds: