Seiden (main hall) of Shuri Castle
|Controlled by||Chūzan (14th century–1429)
Ryūkyū Kingdom (1429–1879)
Empire of Japan (1879–1945)
United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands (1945–1950)
United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (1950–1972)
|Condition||Reconstructed, UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Built||14th century, last rebuilt 1958–1992|
|In use||14th century–1945|
|Materials||Ryūkyūan limestone, wood|
|Demolished||1945, numerous times previous|
|Occupants||Kings of Chūzan and Ryūkyū Kingdom
Imperial Japanese Army
Shuri Castle (首里城 Shuri-jō?, Okinawan: Sui Gushiku) is a Ryūkyūan gusuku in Shuri, Okinawa. It was the palace of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. In 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, it was almost completely destroyed. Beginning in 1992, it was reconstructed on the original site based on photographs, historical records, and memory.
The date of construction is uncertain, but it was clearly in use as a castle during the Sanzan period (1322–1429). It is thought that it was probably built during the Gusuku period, like many other castles of Okinawa. When King Shō Hashi unified the three principalities of Okinawa and established the Ryūkyū Kingdom, he used Shuri Castle as a residence. At the same time, Shuri flourished as the capital and continued to do so during the Second Shō Dynasty.
For 450 years from 1429, it was the royal court and administrative center of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. It was the focal point of foreign trade, as well as the political, economic, and cultural heart of the Ryūkyūs. According to records, Shuri Castle was burned down several times, but rebuilt each time. It was captured by the armies of Satsuma during the 1609 Invasion of Ryukyu, during the reign of Shō Nei. After the Kingdom was annexed by Japan in 1879, the King was removed and the castle was used as a barracks by the Japanese army.
Before World War II, it was designated a national treasure. However, during the war, the Japanese military set up its headquarters in the castle underground, and, beginning on May 25, 1945, the American battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) shelled it for three days. On May 27, it burned. After the battle, a Confederate battle flag (which personally belonged to the company commander) was hoisted above the castle by the "Rebel Company" A of the 5th Marine Regiment. It was visible for over two miles and stayed above the castle for three days until it was removed by General Simon B. Buckner, Jr. (son of Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr.), who stated that Americans from all parts of America helped to win the battle.
After the war, the University of the Ryūkyūs moved to the castle site, where it remained until 1975. In 1958, the Shureimon gate was reconstructed and, in 1992, the main building of the castle was reconstructed. At present, the entire area around the castle has been established as Shuri Castle Park. In 2000, along with other gusuku and related sites, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sites of interest
Because of its central role in Ryūkyūan political and religious life, Shuri Castle is surrounded by various sites of historical interest, including Shureimon, the main gate to the castle, and the Tamaudun Mauseoleum, the royal tombs located adjacent to Shuri Castle.
Stone Gate of Sonohyan-utaki
This stone gate to the left of Shureimon gate was erected in 1519 by King Shō Shin, the third king of the Second Shō Dynasty. Here at the Sonohyan-utaki, the king offered prayers for order throughout the kingdom and safety at the outset of all his travels. The stone gate reflects the kingdom's advanced limestone masonry skills. It is designated an important national cultural property, and is itself also registered as a distinct element of the collective UNESCO World Heritage site designated as Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, alongside Shuri Castle itself.
Built in 1799, the royal gardens and villa were not only where the royals relaxed but was also used to host the investiture envoys who came from China. The garden's circle layout resembles plans used in modern Japanese gardens, but the villa itself with its red tile is uniquely Ryūkyūan, and pond and bridge to the miniature island is in the Chinese style. This is a rare, historically valuable example of Ryūkyūan landscape gardening, and Shikina-en is also registered as a distinct element of the collective UNESCO World Heritage site designated as "Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu", alongside Shuri Castle itself.
First built around 1477–1500 during the reign of King Shō Shin, the gate was burned down during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and restored in 1974. Kankaimon is the first front gate to Shuri Castle, kankai (歓会), which means "welcome". The gate was named to express welcome to the investiture envoys who visited Shuri Castle as representatives of the Chinese Emperor.
"Bridge of Nations" Bell
The "Bridge of Nations" Bell (万国津梁の鐘 Bankoku shinryō no kane?) was cast in 1458, during the reign of King Shō Taikyū, and hung at the Seiden (main hall) of the castle. The 721 kg bell is today in the collection of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum; a full-size replica hangs on the castle site. The bell's twin was taken by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854 and placed on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy.
The inscription on the bell describes Ryūkyū's prominence in maritime trade in the South Seas and prosperous trade relations with China, Korea, Japan, and the various states of Southeast Asia; the bell's name derives from this.
Sonohyan Utaki Shrine with Ishimon Gate
In popular culture
In Call of Duty: World at War, the last American mission ("Breaking Point") takes place in Shuri Castle, where the U.S. Marines make their final push to take Okinawa.
In Deadly Dozen: Pacific Theater, the last mission takes place assaulting Shuri Castle.
- List of Special Places of Scenic Beauty, Special Historic Sites and Special Natural Monuments
- List of Historic Sites of Japan (Okinawa)
- List of Important Cultural Properties of Japan (Okinawa: structures)
- Conservation Techniques for Cultural Properties
- Tourism in Japan
- Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. Revised Edition. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2000. p470.
- "Bankoku Shiryō no kane." Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). Ryukyu Shimpo (琉球新報). 1 March 2003. Accessed 14 April 2009.
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