On the morning of October 31st 2019 Japan found out that the beloved landmark of Naha, Okinawa, Shuri castle had burned down. The damage is huge, and although there are many donations and government support, it will take years and years to restore Shuri Castle to its full glory.
Here is the state of the Main building and surrounding buildings as of now (January 2020):
Shuri Castle, built around 500 years ago, is an important cultural landmark from the Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa. The castle has burned down before, in separate incidents in 1453, 1660, 1709 and during the World War 2. It was fully restored in 1992, becoming one of Okinawa’s major tourist sites. The last restoration was so successful and detailed, that it earned Shuri Castle a UNESCO World Heritage site recognition in 2000.
However, albeit being the crown jewel, the Main Hall is not all there is to Shuri castle. If you happen to be in Okinawa’s capital, Naha, you can still visit the castle complex, and here some of the things you can see.
The Shuri castle park is expansive, with lush tropical vegetation, and it’s free to enter and explore. The fire hasn’t changed that, so there’s still Okinawan nature to admire and panoramic views of Naha to take in.
The outer stone walls have an even older history than the buildings inside Shuri castle, so old in fact, that it’s not entirely clear when were they built. More precisely, they are Okinawan limestone walls called ‘gusoku’ and are thought to be built possibly around the 14th century. All of the castle ruins of the Ryukuyu Kingdom in Okinawa have these gusoku outer walls. Ryukyu’s close link to ancient China can be seen in the architecture of the castle which exhibits similarities to the Forbidden City in Beijing. However, still different from all Japanese and Chinese castles, Shuri castle is worth visiting even if only for its outer walls and park.
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On the grounds of the castle complex there is also a small pond called Enkanchi, and a structure in the middle of it called Benzaitendo, among other things. You can also find souvenir shops, a cafe, and a restaurant serving Okinawan specialties. For immersing yourself further in the Ryukyu culture, there is traditional costume rental as well, for both men and women. Depending on day and time, there might be some cultural performances too, like traditional dance, sansho music (the precursor of the shamisen instrument), etc.
The burned portions have been fenced off, but visitors can look at them and take photos from a distance.
The gates at different sections of Shuri castle are untouched by fire, and remain a tourist and photo spot. Shureimon, the main red ornate gate leading to Shuri castle is one of the most distinct gates in the castle complex. Most of the other gates are stone, while Shureimon, also nicknamed ‘beautiful gate’ by the Okinawans, is wooden and built in the Chinese architectural style of Palou.
As you pass the Shureimon and go forward, there is the Kankaimon stone gate, the name meaning ‘welcoming gate’. You can also enter through Kobikimon on the right of Kankaimon, or Kyukeimon on the left (pictured above), built in the same style as Kankaimon. As you climb up to the now burned down Main Hall, you also pass through the Zuisenmon gate, meaning ‘a great, auspicious spring’, as it is close to a fresh water spring. The final gate before the Main Hall is Rokokumon, and after passing through you are in the now burned portion of Shuri castle.
Around the whole Shuri castle complex here is also an abundance of stone Shisa lions, the ubiquitous Okinawan symbol, as well as dragons, because the ‘Ryu’ in the ancient Ryukyu kingdom literally means ‘dragon’.
Technically not inside Shuri castle, the Tamaudun Mausoleum is just a few stone throws away from Shuri and it’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Built around 16th century AD, it is the final resting place of the Ryukyu imperial family. In the Tamaudun complex you can also find a small museum showcasing the history of the place and ancient Okinawan burial traditions, as well as a lush garden and a traditional house that also serves as a gallery and a resting spot.
Visiting the mausoleum requires an entry fee of 300 yen.
Open every day, from 9 am to 6 pm.
Google maps location
It will be a while before Shuri castle is completely restored, but don’t let that stop you from visiting the castle complex. It is a unique place full of history and beautiful nature, that should absolutely stay on the things-to-visit-in-Naha list. From the ancient stone walls and gate, the pond, the tropical flowers and palms, to finding Okinawan Shisa lions and dragons everywhere, there is a lot left to see. And it’s free! You can spend money on souvenirs, or donate to the fund for Shuri castle’s reconstruction instead, if you wish.
Here is how can you donate CLICK
You can read our article here and see photos of Shuri castle before it burned down.
For more information, visit Shuri castle’s official website
: AC photo/