Shuri-jo Castle (首里城) was built in the 14th century and was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom. For nearly 400 years, it went neglected and suffered great destruction during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The castle was used as a university campus after the war but beginning from 1992, extensive reconstruction based on historical records, photographs, and memory were used to rebuild the castle to its former glory. Unfortunately, the castle was largely destroyed by a fire on October 31, 2019.
In the 1850s, American Commodore Perry invaded Shuri-jo Castle two times but was twice refused audience with the king. From 1879 to 1896, the castle was used as a barracks for the Imperial Japanese Army, who created a series of tunnels and caverns beneath the castle grounds. It wasn’t until 1925 that the castle--after being saved by Shuri City and Japanese architect Ito Chuta--was re-designated as Okinawa Shrine and announced a national treasure.
During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army once again set up headquarters in the castle underground and used the area as a strategic base of operations. For three days, from May 23, 1945, an American battleship shelled the castle and forced the Imperial Japanese Army to retreat, striking a heavy blow and winning a milestone in the US campaign. In 1992, the castle relics, such as stone walls and old piles of castle walls were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the early hours of 2019 Halloween, a fire broke out which destroyed six castle buildings occupying 4,200 square meters. Locals of the Okinawa area felt this loss acutely. No plans have been announced to rebuild the castle as of yet. Unique for its more Chinese-like architecture, the destruction of Shuri-jo Castle represents a staggering blow for Japanese heritage sites.
The Seiden, or “West Hall,” is also called the State Palace. It was located east of the Una and faced west toward China. The Great Dragon pillars were crafted from sandstone and were symbolic of the king. These dragon motifs are replicated throughout the castle.
The Una was the central and primary reception area of the castle. It was located in front of the Seiden and included a ceremonial area. The Kushino-una was a living area located immediately behind the Seiden.
Together with 13 other gates, Shureimon Gate was the second ceremonial gate to the Shuri-jo Castle complex. Following the design concepts of the rest of the majority of the castle complexes, the gate also has a distinct Chinese feel to its structure.
Shuri-jo Castle was also home to several shrines (~utaki) and temples (~ji). Three of which played a role of significant importance to the functions of the castle. Kyo-no-uchi, where prayers by high priestesses were made; Sonohyan-utaki where the king prayed for order and safety; and the Suimi-utaki, which was supposedly created by the gods and is the theme of many songs and prayers in Ryukyu’s oldest music collection.
Shuri-jo Castle is a 5-minute walk from Shuri Station.