• Shurijo Castle is now full of attractions including the reconstruction sites

Shurijo Castle is now full of attractions including the reconstruction sites


image from the Shurijo Park website

Hello everyone! It’s Mayo again!

Summer time is almost here!

Summer is all about the sea. And when it comes to beautiful seas, Okinawa is the place to be.

Last summer, many people chose Okinawa as their vacation destination because traveling outside of Japan was still a hurdle due to Covid. And the place that most of them visit in Okinawa is the symbol of Okinawa, Shurijo Castle.

However, Shurijo Castle was destroyed by a fire a few years ago. Do you know what happened to Shuri Castle after that?

The Symbol of Okinawa, Shurijo Castle’s present, and the fire in 2019

image from CNN.co.jp

The fire at Shuri Castle suddenly broke out on October 31, 2019. Shuri Castle being an essential part of Okinawa’s history, the fire was a shocking incident for many people. The fire destroyed nine buildings and historical heritage of Shuri Castle, including the main shrine. It was a great loss in Japanese culture.

Shuri Castle immediately after the fire. Image from Ryukyu Shimpo

However, Okinawans are tough. They have made Shuri Castle, which is currently under construction for complete reconstruction, into a tourist attraction titled “reconstruction on display”.

What does that mean?

As the name “reconstruction on display” implies, the construction site was opened so that all people could see the reconstruction up close. This is quite bold, even though the fire did not cause any human casualties.

But if you ask me, it is quite a rare experience to be able to see how a cultural asset is being restored.

So, let me inform you with the present situation and what you can see when you visit.

History of Shuri Castle

Shuri Castle photographed by a French naval lieutenant in 187. Image: Ryukyu Shimpo

But first, a quick review of the history of Shurijo Castle.

Shuri Castle was originally the residence of the king of Ryukyu, the center of politics, diplomacy, and culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was established in 1429 and flourished for about 450 years until 1879, when the last king, Shoutai, handed it over to the Meiji government. The castle is said to have been built in the mid to late 14th century.

Shoukouou Ogoe: Image from the Shurijo Park website

Before the war, the main hall and other buildings were designated national treasures, but were destroyed by fire during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. It was restored to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. Since then, it has continued to be loved by the Okinawan people as a symbolic presence that conveys Okinawa’s history.

What exactly is the “reconstruction” of Shurijo Castle?

Shuri Castle was damaged by a fire in 2019, and eight buildings including the main hall were destroyed by fire. Currently, Shuri Castle is vigorously engaged in reconstruction work as well as events related to Shuri Castle in preparation for the reconstruction and restoration in 2026.

The “reconstruction on display” is attracting particular attention as it allows visitors to see the process of the actual reconstruction.

Specifically, the temporary observation deck where visitors can see the restoration work on the main hall of Shurijo Castle is open to the public, and movies of Shurijo Castle are shown at the Seihyouden. Here are some of the specific details.

Observation Deck

The new observation deck was installed for visitors when the timber warehouse and the template shop were being constructed at the Una, the plaza in front of the main hall, so that visitors can see Shuri Castle today as it faces reconstruction. The fence along the pathway show display boards of the Shurijo Shoden as it was in its original state, the construction process, and the situation immediately after the fire.

The historic remains of the main hall

The “Remains of the Shouden (main hall) platform of Shuri Castle,” registered as a World Heritage Site, is a very important cultural asset that symbolizes the Shuri Castle Ruins, which is also a designated national historic site. After the fire, the ashes and the components of the Shoden were removed and backfilled with soil to protect the remains, and a roof was put on and the building was opened to the public, but is now closed. It is scheduled to be opened to the public again in the interior of the main hall, which will be completed in 2026.

Grand Dragon Pillar Restoration Showroom

The Great Dragon Pillar miraculously remained standing despite the effects of the fire. It was removed from its pedestal for repair work and moved to a temporary repair workshop where full-scale repair work was conducted. The repaired Great Dragon Pillar will be on display at the repair workshop in Shimono-oniwa for about two years until it is used as a sample for the new Great Dragon Pillar.

Shurijo Castle Revival Showroom

image from the Shurijo Park website

This exhibition room displays the lion tiles that used to glare from the roof of Shurijo Shoden and the remaining stone sculptures that decorated Shurijo Shoden, such as the small dragon pillar, stone lions, and stone koran.

Five digital signage units are installed to introduce the exhibits with images such as “Shurijo Shoden: Crystal Beauty of the Kingdom of Ryukyu,” “Shurijo Shoden: Tiles and Lacquer Paint,” “Beauty of Shurijo Shoden: Sculptures and Lacquer Craft,” “About the Fire at the Shoden,” respectively.

Visitors can also see the many craftsmen and engineers who were involved in the restoration of Shuri Castle in the Heisei era, including the carvings on the main hall, the tiles being thatched, and the dragon head ridge decoration being installed.

Originally the daily residence of an unmarried princess during the Ryukyu Kingdom period. It was also the place where the coronation ceremony of the next king was held when the king died.

Currently, the Shurijo Movie on a 4K high-definition 18-screen monitor is being shown in the rest area of the building, introducing the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the highlights of the Shurijo Shoden site.

Digital Museum

Shuri Castle was destroyed by fire three times during the Ryukyu Kingdom and a fourth time during World War II, and has been rebuilt each time. A digital museum has been established where visitors can view the history of Shuri Castle from its restoration to the present through documents, photographs, and videos.

The walk around Shuri Castle Park, open to the public free of charge, is beautiful

Shuri Castle, which served as the political, diplomatic, and cultural center of the Ryukyu Kingdom, is a wonderful place to visit and enjoy the unique atmosphere as if you were transported back in time to the Ryukyu Kingdom of days gone by.

The unique architectural style is a mixture of Chinese and Japanese castle-building cultures, the advanced technology used in the masonry, and the cultural assets in Shurijo Park must be visited in person to fully appreciate the overwhelming presence of the castle.

There is no end to what can be seen: the Shureimon Gate in Shuri Castle Park, the Sonohiyamu Utaki Stone Gate, a place of worship where the king prayed for safety when he went out, the Huaihaimon Gate, built to welcome the envoys of Chinese emperors, the Seven Monuments of the Book of Feudal lords, which contain Chinese poetry and titles written by envoys of successive Chinese emperors, the beautifully curved Seisenmon Gate, a Sundial called Nichieidai, the Koifuku Gate, meaning “spreading happiness,” the Kyo no Nai, the largest religious ceremonial site in the castle, and many more!

Shurijo Castle is a symbol of Okinawa, even after the fire

As for the timeline for the reconstruction of Shuri Castle, the restoration of the main hall is scheduled for completion in 2026, followed by the sequential restoration of the north and south halls, which will take a considerable number of years to complete.

Isn’t it wonderful that Okinawa has decided to use that period of time to showcase the restoration? If you have a chance to visit Okinawa, please do not say “I will not go to Shuri Castle because it is under restoration,” but “I will because it’s under restoration!”