Shurijo Castle offers glimpse into Okinawa's past
Shurijo Castle dates back to the 14th century where it served as both a royal residence and the center of government and religion. Nearly all important government and religious ceremonies were held at the castle, such as the ceremony Chou-hai-o-ki-shiki, held the first morning of the new year.
In the early 15th century, King Sho Hashi gained control of the three divisions of Okinawa, thus unifying the island for the first time and placing the seat of government at Shurijo Castle. The unifying of Okinawa marks the beginning of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus and the founding of the first Sho Dynasty.
The castle housed the kings of the Ryukyus until the Japanese overtook Okinawa in 1609. After the overtaking, the kingdom was forced into a feudal relationship with Japan.
In 1879, the Japanese deployed soldiers to forcibly demand the turnover of Shurijo Castle, consequently ending the independent rule of the 450-year-old Ryukyuan Kingdom, and establishing the Okinawa Prefecture.
Following the kingdom's demise, the castle was used for a multitude of things. It was first used as a barracks then later as classrooms for Shuri City Women's Crafts School, Okinawa Prefectural School for Industrial Apprenticeships and Shuri No. 1 Elementary School. It was also the site of underground air raid shelters and housing for the Japanese army before World War II.
In 1945, when Okinawa became the site of a fierce battle between Japanese and U.S. forces, the castle was reduced to rubble.
In 1992, after more than six years of renovation, Shurijo Castle was once again open to the public. Although the exterior of the buildings are completely restored, the interiors are still being perfected.
The castle offers visitors a panoramic view of Naha Harbor and is said to be located at an exceptionally fortuitous site full of positive spiritual influence, according to Fengshui, the Chinese practice of predicting fortunes of castles, residences and tombs.
The castle is the site of more than five festivals throughout the year and is open year-round until at least 6 p.m. The castle is illuminated until midnight every night, offering tourists a beautiful view of the high castle walls.
Visitors can expect to see gates and walls decorated in traditional dragons and gold leaf writing. They will be able to explore the castle grounds, fountains and gardens. Tour guides and other hosts are dressed in traditional period clothing. Many of the gardens are under construction but should be completed within the next year.