Japanese Castles: Shuri Castle
Shuri Castle 首里城
Shuri Castle, set in the pleasant grounds of Shuri Castle Park in Naha is an icon of Okinawan culture and a symbol of the island's recovery since the dark days of World War II and the end of the American occupation of Okinawa in 1972. The castle you see today was reconstructed by 1992 and is an impressive and realistic representation of Gusuku (Ryukyu Island castle) architecture.
History of Shuri Castle
Shuri Castle was believed to have been first built in the 14th century, when the First Sho Dynasty united the kingdom of Okinawa. From around this time Shuri Castle served as the center of Okinawa court life, diplomacy and politics until the last Okinawan monarch, King Sho Tai abdicated the throne to the Meiji government in 1879.
Shuri Castle was a repository of the unique, syncretic art and culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the buildings of Shuri Castle were slowly re-constructed after the castle's almost total destruction in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, when Shuri was the HQ of the Japanese military on the island.
Shuri Castle is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Listed site under the title Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.
Shuri Castle Park contains many buildings and places of historic interest. The Seiden is the main palace building facing a large courtyard (Una Plaza) surrounded by other royal administrative buildings.
Inside the Seiden, the luxurious interior contains the throne and crown of the King of the Ryukyu Islands and other important treasures. The entrance to the Seiden is flanked by two 4m-high, sandstone dragon pillars.
Visitors can take a circular route through the buildings in the courtyard beginning with the Nanden (South Hall), which is full of exhibits relating to Okinawan history and its position as a trading hub between South East Asia, China, Korea and Japan. Visitors pass by the Shoin and Sasunoma Garden, through the two floors of the Seiden and into the Hokuden (North Hall), which is another interesting museum on Okinawan life and culture and contains a small souvenir shop.
The fantastic limestone walls and gates as well as views over Naha can be enjoyed as visitors enter through Shurimon Gate (first built in the 16th century), progress within the walls at Kankaimon Gate and climb to the ticket office near the Seiden.
The Zuisenmon Gate takes its name from the spring - called Ryuhi - which supplied fresh water for the castle's inhabitants. The next gate is Roukokumon or Water Clock Gate, named for the water clock in the turret, then the Koufukumon, which houses the ticket office. The ornate, vermilion Houshinmon Gate leads into the Una, where only the king, his family and nobles were allowed to enter.
Other buildings of interest are the Tomoya, which holds a replica of the Bankoku Shinryo-no Kane (Bridge of Nations Bell), with an inscription emphasizing the spirit of trade and concord on which the prosperity of the Ryukyu Kingdom was based.
Just outside the main walls are Bezaitendo Shrine and Enganchi Pond, built to store and protect Buddhist scriptures received from Korea, Ryutan Lake, constructed in 1427, on the suggestion of Chinese envoys and Enkakuji Temple approached over Hojo-bashi Bridge, the temple of the Royal Family.
Near the Suimuikan shops, restaurant and information area is the Tamaudun mausoleum which holds the tombs of the Second Sho Dynasty.
The Sonohyan Stone Gate is where the king would pray for a safe return upon his departure from Shuri Castle.
Admission: free for grounds; 800 yen for the castle buildings
Hours: 8.30am-7pm (April-June); 8.30am-8pm (July-Sept); 8.30am-7pm (Oct-Nov); 8.30am-6pm (Dec-March);
Tel: 098 886 2020
Shuri Castle Access
The nearest Okinawa Monorail (Yui Rail) stations to Shuri Castle are Shuri Station or Gibo Station. Then a 15 minute walk.
By bus take #1, #17 or 46 to Shurijo Koen Iriguchi, then 5 minutes on foot; #8 to Shurijo-mae then just a minute on foot or #9 or #25 to Yamagawa, then on foot for 15 minutes.