Shuri Castle – 首里城
Located in the very heart of Okinawa Prefecture, Naha city’s tourist spots are many and variegate: today we are going to introduce one of these spots, Shuri Castle!
What’s special about Shuri Castle?
Along with Okinawa’s other strongholds (called gusuku in the Ryukyu language), Shuri Castle is a World Heritage site.
It’s a gorgeous building which differs from the style of Japan’s mainland castles. Before Meiji period, Okinawa belonged to the self-standing Reign of Ryūkyū islands: the vivid vermilion red of the buildings’ outside makes you feel the impact of the Ryūkyū’s culture, as well as the influence of Chinese design.
Ryūkyū’s reign origins aren’t clear, we think it was probably established in the fifteenth century. At that time, during the reign consolidation, the fortresses such as Shuri had an important role in wars.
Shuri Castle has been destroyed four times in its history and then rebuilt each time. It was damaged for the last time in 1945 during the battle of Okinawa. What we can see nowadays is a reliable reproduction of 1992.
The castle is located on the top of a hill, 4 km far from Naha’s downtown. Once passed the walls of Shurei and Zuisen gates, the shape of the main hall appears. As we said before, Shuri Castle’s outside is colored vermilion red, differing from other Japanese castles. The tile roof reminds the Chinese influence much more than the Japanese one.
On both sides of the main hall we can see the North and the South wings. The inside is now a museum where objects of Ryūkyūan culture are exposed.
From the height of 130 meters on the sea level it is possible to behold Naha’s port and the Okinawan beautiful sea.
How to get to Shuri Castle
First, let’s head to Naha Airport, in Okinawa. The ticket’s price from Honshu main cities might be high depending on the season, but you can also find low cost companies’ return tickets for 10.000 yen. However, in most of the cases you should forecast and expense of at least 20.000 yen for the air ticket.
Once arrived at the airport, take the Naha city monorail (nicknamed Yurail) and get off at the last stop, Shuri Station. You can get to the castle with a 20 minutes walk or by taking a bus at the station. If you show the monorail one day ticket at the castle’s ticket office you will get a discount on the entrance fee.
At the time, it was the first time I visited Okinawa, so I couldn’t wait to see Shuri Castle. I took the monorail from my hotel’s closest station, located in a side street of Kokusai-dori in Naha downtown. I could enjoy the open view on the city from the elevated position of the viaduct. The path from the station to the castle was a bit complicated but along the road I found some signs and got to Shuri Castle without getting lost.
When I was standing in front of the fortress I could feel the differences with the other castles in Japan I had visited before. I could see palm trees all around. I walked the stone stair and passed under the impressive Suizen gate. This gate calls the Ryūkyū Reign times, right next to it the Ryūhi Well is located: it has the shape of a dragon from whose mouth the water gushes. It was used as source of potable water for the royal palace.
On the other side of the gate there is a huge square where the Shichanūnaa Garden takes place. Here the Kōfuku gate (in the picture above) is located, the last gate where you find the ticket office.
Once I entered, I immediately saw the main hall with its vermilion walls and its tile roof. Everything is built in a symmetrical order. I felt exactly like going back with a time machine. Many objects are exposed in the main hall, the throne and the ornaments are particularly beautiful.
I visited Shuri Castle on my first trip to Okinawa, it is a very impressive place which goes along with the sea. Try to visit it while you are in Okinawa!