Jan 3, 2018
Okinawa has a different culture from the rest of Japan. From the 15th to 19th centuries, Okinawa used to be its own kingdom called Ryukyu Kingdom. Many aspects of this Ryukyu culture can still be found in Okinawa right now, and the BEST place to experience it is at the popular tourist park called the Ryukyu Village.
I went there with my relatives who were on their second visit to Okinawa, and it was my first visit despite having lived in Japan for a few years. I knew little to nothing about Okinawa (except for the food - read about the Top 5 Okinawan Must-Eats here: https://www.city-cost.com/blogs/Jackson/wr8a6-food_okinawa ), so I was really excited about going to Ryukyu Village to see and experience the traditional cultures of Okinawa.
From the entrance, this park is full of Ryukyu culture. You see the Okinawan Shisha Lion welcoming you, the person at the entrance is dressed in traditional Okinawa dress, and even the “Please show your ticket.” sign is written in kanji that resembles more ancient Chinese than modern Japanese. There was also this mascot of the village with a sign that says “mensoure”, which is Okinawan for “Welcome” (it is “yokosou” in standard Japanese). This really got me into the mood, preparing me to see something different from the rest of Japan.
Upon entering the park, I was immediately surprised by what I saw. All the buildings here were so different from what I was used to. They had straw rooftops or red-brick rooftops, and the walls of the main body were built using both wood and stones. However, inside some of these buildings there were tatami mats. It really was a mixture of Chinese and Japanese culture. Most of these buildings were open so you can enter (after taking your shoes off) and sit inside. Without any exhibitions acting as distractions, you can really soak in the atmosphere of visiting or living in a traditional Ryukyu house.
While we were just enjoying the tatami and chatting about the things around us, we heard some drums from afar and so decided to follow the sound. What we found was music performances in one of the houses. Some performers were on the Okinawa taiko drums, a few had shamisen, and there were also a few dancers, all of them dressed in traditional Okinawa clothes. It really immersed us in the feeling of the village being a trip back in time.
As they finished up, a huge group of dancers appeared in the center court yard so many of us left the house to watch dances under the clear sky. However, the performers also invited us to join them and follow their dances and chants, so we got to learn and be a part of the tradition.
If you are into souvenirs and exhibitions, a few of the houses also had things for you to read about or even purchase to take home, but the value I found from this place was all in the immersive aspects of the village. It really shows you what life was like in the traditional Ryukyu time. The Ryukyu kingdom is no longer around, but the culture is very well preserved, and this Ryukyu Village is one of the best places you can go to learn all about it.
To find out even more about Ryukyu Village, you can visit their website: https://www.ryukyumura.co.jp/en/
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