By Maki Nako
When getting to know the people of Okinawa, their arts and culture, one of the places you simply cannot pass up during your time on the main island is Shurijo Castle Park.
The islands of Okinawa were once known as the independent Kingdom of Ryukyu, and Shuri was its capital. From around the 14th century, the Ryukyu Kingdom flourished through trade with neighboring Asian countries, and through these trading routes, brought back various influences in the arts, religion, politics and academics.
At Shruijo Castle Park, located in Shuri, Naha City, visitors can take a trip back in time surrounded by the impressive residence of the Ryukyu royalty. The Seiden, or the Main Hall, was destroyed by fires a number of times in the past, but each time, the people of Ryukyu restored it at the same location. The Castle was last left in ruins in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, but was again restored in 1992 and is now the proud symbol of the Ryukyu heritage.
My favorite place at Shurijo Castle Park is the Shoin Sasunoma and the Garden, serving as a teahouse located along the touring route of the fare-paid zone of the Castle itself. Here, visitors are given a brief introduction on the functions of the facility by a Shurijo employee (offered in English, too!) as you enjoy the delightful Okinawan tea and confectionaries and while you take in the simple, yet serene beauty of the Ryukyuan garden accented with limestone and cycad trees. Along with other uses, this area was used by the royal princes to entertain guests and dignitaries. It’s exciting to know that you are at the exact place where the Ryukyuan royalties went about their daily business, and to wonder what thoughts went through their minds as they gazed out to the garden, centuries ago.
Shurijo Castle Park offers so much to see and learn about the history of Okinawa through their informative displays and fantastic art exhibits, not to mention the architecture within the grounds. Surrounding the main, fare-paid zone are various sites to enjoy, admission-free. You can spend a good portion of the day there, viewing the different gardens, and other historic sites and structures within the Park. If you happen to drive by or be in the area after sundown, be sure to catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring Castle which is dynamically illuminated on most nights until around midnight. It is certainly a graceful, grandeur sight to see.
Shurijo Castle is one of the nine sites in Okinawa collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the title, Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.
Check out the Shurijo Castle Park website for details:
Learn more about the other World Heritage Sites on Okinawa: