These are from around Jhudong (竹東), the city where I teach. First is the exterior of Pu-Zhao Temple, a Buddhist monastery…
…and its big Buddha who overlooks my school:
Moving to a different part of Korean history, Gyeongbokgung Palace is a major historical site and tourist attraction dating originally to 1395, but rebuilt as recently as the 1990′s due to war and its symbol for Korean pride even in the midst of Japanese occupation.
Part of a visit is a changing of the guard to the palace gates, where costumed soldiers march in to the area. This gave a perfect beginning to the visit.
Above: this symbol, seen on a ceremonial drum, is a variant on the Taegeuk, or 태극, an ancient symbol which appears on the national Korean flag in a two-color form. The example above is three-colored, so its known as the “삼색의 태극,” or “Samsaeg-ui Taeguek.” Yellow represents humanity, while red and blue refer to heaven and earth.
Last Sunday, a celebration of San Tai Zi ( 三太子), a major figure in Taiwan’s popular and religious culture occurred throughout the streets of Jhubei, heading north toward Hsinfeng. I’m always excited by the chances I get to see these parades as I really get to experience the culture, practice my bad Chinese, and interact with the people.
Above: a spirit medium representing who I believe to be San Tai Zi dances in front of a moving altar with onlookers watching. This was taking place, as you might see with the truck in the background, on a busy highway bridge to Hsinfeng.
Above: a temple leader shows off his sash.
Above: a two-faced god, representing Yin and Yang (陰陽).
Whenever I travel, I find it important to get an idea of what daily life is like in that place. Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and now Okinawa have given me this experience and it’s ALWAYS different.
Most of these were taken in and around Naha, the financial, social, and economic capital of Okinawa. While I certainly noticed fewer old buildings, there were plenty of cultural gems found only in Japan and in some cases, only in Okinawa.
Heiwa-Dori, the famed shopping street, during the midday. Multiple streets actually intersect in this area, and it is under cover in the style of a Japanese “shopping arcade.”
As with the rest of Asia, you’ll find traditional food everywhere. Okinawa soba, varied types of tofu, sashimi, tempura – it’s pretty limitless – and delicious.
Above left: a pachinko parlour named “Monaco.” Above right: this Burger King requires you to take off your shoes upon entrance. Something I’ve never seen, even in Taiwan.
The Naha monorail is a great way to get around the city. Though they only have one line, it covers the important parts of the city – like the airport.
Above left: I’m not sure if this place is actually popular with servicemen/women, but I liked the sign. Much of Naha is off-limits to service personnel. Above right: another restaurant. Like Taiwan, it was hard to decide where to eat.
Above: a representative of the Japanese Communist Party (yes, you read that correctly!) announces an upcoming protest. Notice the MV-22 Osprey silhouette - the Japanese are protesting its use by US Marines due to safety issues. I think the restrictions on the aircraft should pass soon, but it was a pretty noticeable symbol.
Vending machines after the rain. I loved the rain in Okinawa – it was always just enough to cool things off and never stormed all day. Vending machines are everywhere.
Ice cream shop, Heiwa-Dori.
A vending machine-controlled restaurant. You order, it prints a ticket, and you get your food. Not a bad idea.
The monorail conductor.
A fortune teller waiting for business in a Naha alleyway.
Orion beer lanterns. Orion beer is a malty beer brewed on the island itself. Similar to most other Asian style lagers.
Old and new on a Naha street.
More old and new. This intrigues me about Asia and I see it all the time in Taiwan, yet never tire of it.
I’ll take a break from posting a recent series from my last trip to Okinawa to show off something I saw last weekend at the Hsinchu City God Temple. This is part of a ceremony allowing and welcoming spirits to roam sort of “finish business” from the earthly realms. During this month, spirits are appeased and/or kept away from homes through incense and offerings and spirit money, or ghost money, is burned as an offering. I have some more shots from last year here.
As school is about to start, this is a bit of a culture shock to many foreigners entering Taiwan for the first time. It’s hard to believe this is the start of my third year on the island!
Makishi Market is located in a central part of Kokusai Dori Market, located in Naha, Okinawa. This market is much like the ones I’ve seen and taken photos at in Taiwan, though it was attached with restaurants that prepared your food and allowed you to eat your fresh fish as sashimi or a cooked dish.
These images are from a sort of park for Okinawan culture. Ryukyu Mura, or “Ryukyu Village” is a park that showcases much of the culture of the island, featuring buildings that have been moved from other parts of the island. Even if it lacks the authenticity of a real town, I’d say that this is necessary as 90% of the buildings of Okinawa were destroyed during the 1945 battle and this park does a great job preserving the culture from previous times.
One of the first things visitors will notice is the sanshin, an instrument with three strings that sounds like a banjo, is often made from snake skin, and looks similar to the Chinese bowed Erhu. The sanshin is plucked and is a mainstay of traditional Okinawan music. I’ll attach a video first, because you really need to hear it to understand it:
In addition, Ryukyu Mura has a bit of a “Colonial Williamsburg” feel to it as costumed staff demonstrate daily life in the Ryukyu Kingdom and in old Okinawa:
The rest are from a performance that
Shuri-jo, or 首里城, is a castle located in southern Okinawa which I visited last week while on a trip to the Japanese island. The structure itself is rebuilt, having been used as a Japanese military headquarters during the 1945 battle and subsequently destroyed during the fighting. It dates back to the 14th century, during which it was part of not Japan, but the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Ryukyu culture, which is similar in many ways to Japan through language and culture, played a central role in trade in the region. It was, however, taken over and annexed by the 19th century as Okinawa became Okinawa Prefecture.
A month ago, I visited Guqifeng, or 古奇峰, a temple in Hsinchu marked with a very large statue of the god of war, Guan Gong, on top of a mountain just east of the city. Last weekend, while visiting the general area, my wife and I noticed something going on inside and saw a lion dance troupe preparing to perform. Here are some shots from this performance.
Above: the drumline beats out the rhythm for the dancers. These guys were very talented and drumming is an art of its own in Taiwanese and Chinese culture.
A performer tests the stands before the performance by jumping between them. These performers will rarely make mistakes, but an important safety procedure for this was a group of performers underneath, holing the stand steady and acting as a buffer for falling friends. This did happen – the first time I’ve seen this happen before – and the performers who fell were perfectly fine, their fall being broken as they were caught. During this time, the drums kept going and the lion dancers were back in no time.
A confetti-covered ground marks the main ceremony area before the lion dance performer took the stage.
A walking god watches as the altar of another god “visits” the temple god. The confetti canons were set up at a climax during the ceremony and I was happy for a wider angle lens here.
Lion dancers jump across. Notice the drummers yelling below.