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Shuri Castle

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Type  Gusuku
In use  14th century–1945
Demolished  1945
Open to the public  yes
Phone  +81 98-886-2020
Shuri Castle
Controlled by  Chūzan (14th century–1429)  Ryūkyū Kingdom (1429–1879)  Empire of Japan (1879–1945) United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands (1945–1950) United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (1950–1972)  Japan (1972–present)
Condition  Reconstructed, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Built  14th century, last rebuilt 1958–1992
Address  1 Chome-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 903-0815, Japan
Hours  Closed now Sunday8AM–6:30PMMonday8AM–6:30PMTuesday8AM–6:30PMWednesday8AM–6:30PMThursday8AM–6:30PMFriday8AM–6:30PMSaturday8AM–6:30PMSuggest an edit
Occupants  Ryukyu Kingdom, Imperial Japanese Army
Similar  Shureimon, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Naminoue Shrine, Manzamo, Gusuku

Shuri Castle (首里城, Shuri-jō, Okinawan: Sui Gushiku) is a Ryukyuan gusuku in Shuri, Okinawa. Between 1429 and 1879, it was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, before becoming largely neglected. In 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, it was almost completely destroyed, but was later re-purposed as a university campus. Beginning in 1992, the central citadel and walls were largerly reconstructed on the original site based on historical records, photographs, and memory.


Okinawa living shuri castle shane mel


The date of construction is uncertain, but it was clearly in use as a castle during the Sanzan period (1322–1429). It is thought that it was probably built during the Gusuku period, like many other castles of Okinawa. When King Shō Hashi unified the three principalities of Okinawa and established the Ryukyu Kingdom, he used Shuri Castle as a residence. At the same time, Shuri flourished as the capital and continued to do so during the Second Shō Dynasty.

For 450 years from 1429, it was the royal court and administrative center of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It was the focal point of foreign trade, as well as the political, economic, and cultural heart of the Ryukyu Islands. According to records, Shuri Castle was burned down several times, but rebuilt each time. During the reign of Shō Nei, samurai forces from the Japanese feudal domain of Satsuma seized Shuri Castle on 6 May 1609. The Japanese withdrew soon afterwards, returning King Shō Nei to his throne two years later, and the castle and city to the Ryukyuans, though the kingdom was now a vassal state under Satsuma's suzerainty and would remain so for roughly 250 years.


The American Commodore Perry, when he came to Okinawa in the 1850s, forced his way into Shuri Castle on two separate occasions, but was denied an audience with the king both times. Later, the Kingdom was annexed by Japan in 1879, and the king was removed and the castle was used as a barracks by the Imperial Japanese Army. The Japanese garrison withdrew in 1896, but not before having created a series of tunnels and caverns below it. In 1908, Shuri City bought the castle from the Japanese government, however they did not have funding to renovate it. In 1923, thanks to Japanese architect Ito Chuta, the Seiden survived demolition after being re-designated a prefectural Shinto shrine known as Okinawa Shrine. In 1925, it became a national treasure. Despite its decline, historian George H. Kerr described the castle as "one of the most magnificent castle sites to be found anywhere in the world, for it commands the countryside below for miles around and looks toward distant sea horizons on every side."


During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army had set up its headquarters in the castle underground, and by early 1945, had established complex lines of defense and communications in the regions around Shuri, and across the southern part of the island as a whole. Beginning on May 25, 1945, and as the final part of the Okinawa campaign, the American battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) shelled it for three days. On May 27, it burned. Due to this, the 32nd Japanese Army withdrew to the south and thus the Marines had a relatively easy task of securing Shuri Castle. On 29 May, Maj. Gen. Pedro del Valle — commanding the 1st Marine Division—ordered Captain Julian D Dusenbury of Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines to capture the castle, which represented both strategic and psychological blows for the Japanese and was a milestone in the campaign.


After the war, the University of the Ryukyus was established in 1950 on the castle site, where it remained until 1975. In 1958, Shureimon was reconstructed and, starting from 1992, the 20th anniversary of reversion, the main buildings and surrounding walls of the central castle were reconstructed. At present, the entire area around the castle has been established as "Shuri Castle Park". In 2000, along with other gusuku and related sites, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Unlike Japanese castles, Shuri Castle was greatly influenced by Chinese architecture, with functional and decorative elements similar to that seen primarily in the Forbidden City. The gates and various buildings were painted in red with lacquer, walls and eaves colorfully decorated, and roof tiles made of Goryeo and later red Ryukyuan tiles, and the decoration of each part heavily using the king's dragon. However, given that Nanden and Bandokoro were both used for reception and entertainment of the Satsuma clan, a Japanese style design was used here only. Ryukyuan elements also dominate. Like other gusuku, the castle was built using Ryukyuan limestone, being surrounded by an outer shell which was built during the Second Shō Dynasty from the second half of the 15th century to the first half of the 16th century. Similarly, Okushoin-en is the only surviving garden in a gusuku in the Ryukyu Islands, which made use of the limestone bedrock and arranged using local cycads.

The current renovation is designed with a focus on the castle's role as a cultural or administrative/political center, rather than one for military purposes. The buildings that have been restored as original wooden buildings are only in the main citadel. Seiden was rebuilt using wood from Taiwan and elsewhere after rituals blessing the removal of large trees from mountains in the Yanbaru region of Okinawa took place. Other buildings, such as Nanden or Hokuden, were only restored as facades, with interiors made using modern materials such as steel and concrete. Old walls remain in part, and were excavated and incorporated during the construction of the new castle wall, forming the only surviving external remains of the original Shuri Castle.

Sites of interest

Due to its central role in Ryukyuan political and religious life, Shuri is composed of and surrounded by various sites of historical interest. The Shuri Castle complex itself can be divided into three main zones, namely a central administrative area (including the Seidan and Ura), an eastern living and ceremonial space (behind the Seidan) called the Ouchibara (literally "inside field"), and a southwestern ceremonial area including the Kyo-no-uchi (literally "inside capital").


All of the buildings located at Shuri Castle are modern reconstructions, the originals being lost in 1945.

  • Bandokoro - located south of the Una, and paired with the Nanden, originally the main reception area, currently housing a museum. The two were built between 1621 and 1627.
  • Hokuden - the "North Hall", located north of the Una, originally an judicial and administrative center where Sapposhi (Chinese envoys) were also received, currently housing a museum and gift-shop. Originally called the Nishi-no-udun or Giseiden, it was built around 1506-521.
  • Keizuza - located east of the Shicha-nu-una, originally the government office responsible for the genealogy of noble families, currently housing a tearoom and stage for Ryukyuan dance shows.
  • Kinju-tsumesho - a work area for high-officials (such as the Kinju-gashira, Kinju-yaku, and Hisa), currently a passageway between the Nanden and Seiden.
  • Kugani-udun - private area for the king, his wife, and mother, south of the Seiden. Originally dated to at least 1671, and rebuilt by 1715, it connected the Nanden to the Oku-shoin. Inner rooms included the Suzuhiki and Ochane-zume.
  • Nanden - the "South Hall", formerly an entertainment area for Satsuma envoys, currently an exhibition space.
  • Ni-kei-udun - a sitting room for the king linked to the Seidan. Built in 1765, it was later extended south in 1874.
  • Nyokan-kyoshitsu - unknown function. Located north of the Kushino-una.
  • Oku-shoin - rest house for the king, south of the Seiden, originally dated to at least 1715.
  • Sasumoma - anteroom located south of the Nanden for royal princes, and guest/official reception area.
  • Seiden - the "West Hall", also called the State Palace, was situated to the east of the Una, but facing west towards China, and contains the throne room and royal living and ceremonial areas. The western facade includes two 4.1 meter high Dai-Ryu Chu (Great Dragon Pillars), crafted of sandstone from Yonaguni Island, and symbols of the king. The left dragon is called Ungyou, and the right is Agyou, and these motifs are replicated throughout the building including the roof. Other decorative elements include botan (peony flowers), shishi (golden dragons), and zuiun (clouds). The Shichagui (first floor) was where the king personally conducted affairs of state and ceremonies. The Usasuka was the lower area in front of where the king sat, with the Hira-usasuka (side-areas) flanking either side. The second floor included the Ufugui, the area for the queen and her attendants, and the Usasuku, the upper main throne room of the king. Behind it are the Osenmikocha, chambers where the king would pray daily. According to historical records, the Seiden was burned down and rebuilt four times (most recently in 1992), and was also used as the prayer hall for a Shinto shrine between 1923-1945.
  • Shoin - study and office of the king, south of the Nanden, where Chinese/Satsuma officials were entertained when visiting.
  • Suimuikan - cultural/exhibition center, gift shop, and restaurant area.
  • Tomoya - unknown function, but now housing the Bridge of Nations Bell replica.
  • Yohokoriden - immediately east of the Seiden, it was the regular sleeping area for unmarried princesses, and the location of the ascension ceremony.
  • Youmoutsuza - paired building with the Keizuza, which dealt with the goods and materials used inside the castle.
  • Yuinchi - royal food preparation area, connected to the Kugani-udun, dated to at least 1715. Attendants included the Hocho (chef) and Agama (female servants).
  • Courtyard (~una)

  • Kushino-una - the living area immediately behind the Seiden, surrounded by the Nyokan-kyoshitsu and Yuinchi.
  • Shicha-nu-una - the lower area between the Houshinmon and Koufukumon.
  • Una - the central and primary reception and ceremonial area of the castle in front of the Seiden.
  • Gates (~mon)

  • Bifukumon - a gate leading south of the Kushino-una, leading to the Ouchibara. Called Akata-ujo prior to the construction of the Keiseimon.
  • Chūzanmon - the first ceremonial gate to Shuri Castle, built around 1427 by King Shō Shin, it was demolished in 1907.
  • Hakuginmon - the easternmost gate leading to the Shinbyoden.
  • Houshinmon - also known as Kimihokori-ujo, it is the main citadel entrance to the Una, currently the ticket check gate. Although the period of construction is unknown, the stone balustrades were completed in 1562.
  • Kankaimon - built around 1477–1500 during the reign of King Shō Shin, the gate was burned down during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and restored in 1974. It is the first main gate to Shuri Castle. Kankai (歓会), which means "welcome", the gate was named to express welcome to the investiture envoys who visited Shuri as representatives of the Chinese Emperor.
  • Keiseimon - a southwest gate south of Bifukumon, also called Akata-ujo. Normally a side-gate, it was used by the Crown Prince when officially ascending the throne. The door was restored in 1998.
  • Kobikimon - a trade gate usually blocked with stones, but opened for movement of building and wall repair materials.
  • Koufukumon - the entrance into the Shicha-nu-una, currently the ticket purchase gate. Historically, the eastern wing of the building housed the Okumiza, the deputy's office to intervene in disputes between noble families. The west wing housed the Jishaza, the magistrate responsible for supervising the places of worship.
  • Kyukeimon - the northern gate mostly used by women, also known as Hokoriujo hokori, meaning "Pleasant Pride". It was built during the reign of King Shō Shin.
  • Roukokumon - a gate housing a roukoku (water clock) in the turret, also called Kagoise-ujo. Visitors would dismount their horses or palanquins here.
  • Shukujunmon - the citadel gate north of the Seiden, also called Onaka-ujo, leading to the Ouchibara.
  • Shureimon - the second ceremonial gate built between 1527 and 1555, and now the main gate to the Shuri Castle complex.
  • Uekimon - leads directly to Kyukeimon. It was used as a service entrance to the Ouchibara.
  • Zuisenmon - literally "splendid and auspicious spring gate", located near Ryuhi and probably built around 1470.
  • Shrines (~utaki) and temples (~ji)

  • Benzaitendo - a shrine built to house Housatsuzou-kyou (Buddhist scriptures) gifted by a Joseon Korean king.
  • Enkaku-ji - a Buddhist temple for the royal family in the lower precincts north of the citadel, constructed in 1492.
  • Kawarume-utaki - a small private shrine near the Okushoin.
  • Kyo-no-uchi - a large open ritual area where prayers by the Kikoe-ōgimi (high-priestess) were made.
  • Sonohyan-utaki - a sacred stone "gate" to the left of Shureimon was erected in 1519, where the king offered prayers for order throughout the kingdom and safety at the outset of his travels.
  • Suimi-utaki - a walled worship space, supposedly "created by the gods", inside the Shicha-nu-una. It is the theme of many of the songs and prayers recorded in Omorosoushi, Ryukyu's oldest music collection.
  • Other features

  • Agari-no-azana - the eastern lookout point of the innermost wall.
  • Enganchi - a moat created around Benzaitendo.
  • Hojo-bashi - a stone bridge behind Enkaku-ji.
  • Iri-no-azana - a modern lookout tower overlooking Naha.
  • Nichei-dai - a sundial in front of Roukokumon and next to the Tomoya, which kept time in Shuri from around 1739 until 1879.
  • Okushoin-en - a private garden behind the Okushoin.
  • Ouchibara - the residential area of the citadel to the east of the Seiden, forbidden to men except those of the royal family.
  • Ryuhi - a natural spring in front of Zuisenmon, with a dragon headed spout.
  • Ryutan - a man-made pond, built in 1427 and located north of Shureimon.
  • Shikina-en - built in 1799, the royal gardens and villa are a rare, historically valuable example of Ryukyuan landscape gardening.
  • Shinbyoden - the easternmost area of the inner citadel where the body of a king was temporarily held.
  • Tamaudun - the restored royal tombs of the Second Shō Dynasty, located adjacent to Shuri Castle, where 17 kings, along with their queens and royal children, are entombed.
  • Religious

    Shuri Castle operated not only as a base of political and military control, it was also regarded as a central religious sanctuary of the Ryukyuan people. Formerly there were 10 utaki (shrines) within the castle and the large area on the south-western side of the citadel was occupied by a sanctuary called the Kyo-no-uchi. This was a place where natural elements, such as trees and natural limestone rocks were utilized. Although Noro (priestesses) carried out a number of nature rituals (as also sometimes occurs in Shinto), the contents of the rituals and the layout of the inner part of the sacred areas remain unclear. After the war, limited religious observance continued on the site, mostly with the placement of incense sticks on places formerly considered sacred. However, restoration of Shuri Castle stopped general access to these sites, and for this reason, "Shuri Castle was resurrected, but it was destroyed as a place of worship".


    Contacts between the Ryukyu Islands and China began in 1372 and lasted five centuries until the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. When a new king commenced, the Emperor of China sent officials to attend the investiture ceremony at Shuri Castle. Through this ceremony, the kingdom reiterated its ties with China, both politically, commercially, and culturally. This custom also granted the new monarch official international recognition within east Asia. The Chinese delegation included about 500 people, including a Sapposhi (ambassador) and a representative, both appointed by senior officials of the emperor. The envoys departed from Beijing and proceeded by land to Fuzhou in Fujian Province, where they sailed to the Ryukyu Islands, sometimes via Kumejima, on Ukanshin ("Crown Ships").

    Among the first tasks of the Chinese delegation was a Yusa (religious ceremony) in memory of the late king. Words of condolence from the emperor were spoken in Sōgen-ji in Naha, and (after 1799) envoys were then received in Shikina-en. Then the investiture ceremony took place in the Una, where two platforms were erected between the Nanden and Seiden, called Kettei, reserved for the envoys, and Sendokudai. The imperial official recited the formula for the appointment of the new king and bowed deeply. Later, inside the castle, there was a "Feast of Investiture," followed by a "Mid-autumn Banquet", accompanied by songs and dances. This banquet was held on a temporary platform opposite the Hokuden, a platform on which the Imperial envoys stood. On the shore of Ryutan and in the castle, the "Choyo Banquet", during which a boat race and musical performances took place, was also held in the presence of the delegation. Two successive farewell banquets were then held opposite the Hokuden, and finally a banquet at the Tenshikan, where the king gave the Chinese delegation gold presents as an august sign for their return.

    In popular culture

    In the 2002 computer game, Deadly Dozen: Pacific Theater, the last mission takes place assaulting Shuri Castle. In the 2008 computer game, Call of Duty: World at War, the last American mission ("Breaking Point") takes place in Shuri Castle, where U.S. Marines make their final push to take Okinawa. In the game, main characters in the plot die alongside several US forces as the player proceeds upwards under mortar and small arms fire to the Ura, the courtyard of the ruined castle, which was targeted by US airstrikes to soften Japanese forces entrenched there.


    Shuri Castle Wikipedia

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