【Okinawa】An In-Depth Guide to Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage Site
Shurijo Castle is a sightseeing spot that you have to visit if you are ever in Okinawa. This article will showcase the attractions, ways to enjoy, surrounding information, and other details of this castle!
What is Shurijo Castle?
Shurijo Castle was built in the early 14th century. It served various functions as the center of politics, such as being the seat and residence of the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom, who were in power for around 450 years, starting from 1429. This castle was also at the heart of foreign diplomacy and trade with China, so the influence of Chinese culture can be seen in many of its aspects, such as in its color and how it’s treated.
What is Shurijo Castle Park?
Shurijo Castle Park is a massive public park that can be found on the Seiden (central building) of Shurijo Castle. Perched on a hill overlooking Naha City, it is known as one of the best scenic spots in Okinawa. A part of the area around the park has been designated as a “landscape formation area” of Naha City, so steps such as the use of red roof tiles on houses and the development of stone paths have been taken to ensure that structures there do not ruin the landscape of Shurijo Castle.
Paid and Free Areas
Shurijo Castle Park is divided into two areas: Paid Area and Free Area. Below are the major highlights of each area.
This is the zone spanning from the Shureimon Gate up to the front of Seiden Iriguchi (Hoshinmon Gate), which is on top of the same hill where the Seiden is located.
Suimuikan is a facility where materials and panels related to Shurijo Castle are on display, and where visitors can enjoy dining and shopping at restaurants, cafes, and shops. This is also the place where you can get a pamphlet that is essential for exploring Shurijo Castle, as well as a Stamp Rally card that you can fill with stamps from various spots inside the park to win souvenir stickers. Make sure to drop by before you explore the park!
The majestic appearance of this gate makes it popular as a photography spot among tourists. This structure is even printed on the 2,000-yen bill! The phrase “Shurei-no-kuni” that is written on the tablet at the gate means “Ryukyu is a country that values propriety.”
Sonohyan Utaki Ishimon
Sonohyan Utaki Ishimon, which means “a sacred place where deities gather”, is a place of worship. They say that people who planned to go out of the Ryukyu Kingdom would always visit this place to pray for their safety. It may be shaped like a gate, but it is not the kind of gate that people can pass, as it is supposed to be a “gate for worshipping” deities. It has been designated as a national important cultural property and is registered as a part of the World Heritage Site.
Iri no Azana
With an elevation of approximately 130m, Iri no Azana is a watchtower that rises on the west side of the castle. From here, you can catch a glimpse of the city and port of Naha, along with Kerama Islands near the horizon if the weather is good. This tower held the flag of the kingdom and gave the time using bells in the past. If you go up this tower, you will be able to witness a stunningly beautiful sunset at dusk.
The Paid Area is everything past Hoshinmon Gate. Here, you can observe structures that reproduce the Ryukyu era, such as the Seiden.
Accessible areas: Seiden, Hoshinmon Gate, Nanden, Bandokoro, Shoin, Sasunoma, Kugani-udun, Yuinchi, Kinju-tsumesho, Okushoin, and Hokuden
Entrance fees: Adult: 820 JPY, High school student: 620 JPY, Elementary/junior high school student: 310 JPY, Children below 6 years old: Free
The Seiden is the main spot to explore in Shurijo Castle. The largest wooden structure in the Ryukyu Kingdom, it is a two-layer, three-story building that is decorated with a couple of ryuchu (dragon pillars), which are unique to the Ryukyu Kingdom. It has been repeatedly burned down and rebuilt on the same spot that it occupies today. The building that stands there right now is the one that was first rebuilt in the 18th century and then restored in 1992, based on what was left of it before it burned down again in the war. The surrounding courtyard plaza is called “Unah” and it is the heart of Shurijo Castle. Various ceremonies are held there throughout the year.
Usasuka (Inside the Seiden) and Shurijo Castle Ruins (World Heritage Site)
Inside the Seiden, you will find a throne that is called “Usasuka”. You are guaranteed to be mesmerized by its luxurious and gorgeous decorations, such as golden dragon sculptures everywhere.
A portion of the floor inside the Seiden is made out of glass, and inside that is an old stonewall. This part is the Shurijo Castle Ruins, which is a World Heritage Site that represent the remains of Shurijo Castle. It is a priceless heritage that tells the history of this castle, which was once lost due to wartime destruction.
Shurijo Castle was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2000 as a part of the “Castle and Related Properties of the Ryukyu Kingdom”. There are nine related properties, and one of the most famous spots that can be toured is the Shurijo Castle Ruins.
Sasunoma was the prince’s waiting area during the Ryukyu Dynasty. It served as the facility where various invited officials gathered for talks. At present, it serves as a venue for tasting traditional sweets from the Ryukyu Dynasty and Sanpincha (jasmine tea) for a fee (310 JPY per person), making it a great relaxation spot. Tickets are sold by the entrance. Note, though, that reservations by phone are not accepted.
Stroll Around the Surrounding Areas
After visiting Shurijo Castle, why not walk around and explore the surrounding spots, too? Kinjo-cho – a place full of atmosphere – is a good place to start. Stone pavement that was built in the 6th century still remains there. It was about 10km long when it was constructed, but it is just 300m long now. It is an old road that shows off a shadow of the castle town that endured the wartime fire. If you walk a little farther on this pavement, you will reach a mysterious forest that is home to giant akagi (bishop wood) trees, which are registered as natural monuments. These trees are about 200 years old and they are famous as a power spot.
Exploring Shurijo Castle normally takes around 30 minutes if you only go around the Free Area, and about an hour if you tour both the Free and Paid Areas. Adjust your itinerary based on the information in this article and give it a whirl!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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