Shuri Castle 首里城
The vermilion palace
Shuri Castle is one of the main sights of the Okinawa island group. It's an architectural marvel, a vestige of the ancient kingdom of Ryukyu.
Shuri Castle is located in the town of the same name, near Naha, the capital of Okinawa. For several centuries this palace was the residence of the rulers of the former kingdom of Ryukyu.
The Kingdom of Ryukyu
If Japan looks uniform from abroad, that is not quite the case. Okinawa stands apart, and was once an independent kingdom, called Ryukyu, extending from Taiwan to southern Japan.
It was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that the kingdom reached its peak, as a hub of trade in the region and an intermediary between China and Japan. However in 1609 it was invaded by the Satsuma, a powerful clan of southern Japan, and as a result lost its independence forever.
A unique architectural style
Due to its location, at the crossroads of China, Japan and Southeast Asia, the Ryukyu Kingdom absorbed a variety of cultural influences that have allowed it to develop a unique style that remains today.
Shuri Castle and its vibrant colors are second to none in Japan. In the throne room, the calligraphy hanging above the throne is a replica of a plaque offered by China to the Ryukyu Kingdom, a souvenir of one of the many Chinese embassies sent here.
A World Heritage Site
Like many buildings in Okinawa, Shuri Castle was largely destroyed during the Second World War, as a result of a fire. Today, only some of the original structures remain, such as gusuku (fortress) walls made of limestone blocks.
These remaining structures are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The rest of the castle was rebuilt in 1992, mainly using old photographs as a guide but also precise research and a deep desire for authenticity.
Read more: UNESCO Sites in Okinawa
A living culture
To fully appreciate the culture of this ancient former kingdom, it's best to visit Shuri Castle early in the morning. In fact, just before 8:30am, the opening ceremony of the Hoshinmon door takes place to the sound of traditional music played by performers dressed in period clothes.
See also: Shuri Castle Festival
On the night of October 30th 2019, a violent fire fed by strong winds destroyed large parts of Shuri Castle.
The fire affected a total area of 4,200 square meters and several major buildings were severely damaged or destroyed: Hokuden, Nanden, Bandokoro, Shoin, Sasunoma, Kugani-Udun and Nike-Udu.
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