From the ashes…

Hello Everybody,

As most of you know, at about 2:40 a.m., October 31, 2019, Shuri Castle, the symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom was destroyed in a massive blaze. Many of us here in Okinawa awoke to images of Seiden (the national palace) engulfed in flames.

shuri-jo panorama
Shuri Castle as it was.
where it was
Shuri Castle as it is now.

As I’m writing this now, I looked at the coverage and felt that sinking in my chest.  It is sad for us who live here, but for Uchinanchu (Okinawan people) who have lost so much, this was a devastating blow.

iconic dragons outside the seiden
The Dairyuchu, the guardian gods of the Ryukyu king stand their watch, flanking either side of the stone steps where Seiden (the national palace) once stood.

I have been to Shuri Castle and Park many times since I’ve come here. It is always a time to reflect on what it was like to live in a kingdom, to understand what life was like for the average person, or the noble. I heard on the news the other day (I have Okinawa Cable Network – OCN) that the castle grounds would be open again while construction begins.

Rebuilding continues throughout the grounds. This was Nanden Bandokoro, to the right of Seiden, where guests were greeted (Bandokoro) and where ceremonies were held (Nanden).

As we are not allowed to travel off island, and that means all the other islands (Miyakojima, Ishigaki, Zamami among others) I figured it was an opportune time to go back and offer some yen to the economy.

It was a typical Saturday in June, humid, low 90’s but bearable. I am acclimated, which means that I surrender to the heat of Okinawa, and just sweat profusely, and don’t really notice it much anymore. A testament to my heat tolerance was wearing a hoodie and long pants with my Okinawa standard Crocs (for riding the scooter and shimazori’s for walking around).

The remains of Seiden, Shuri Castle, the seat of Ryukyu Kingdom’s power. The sign states, “According to the old records, it is said that the building had been burnt (sic) down four times since it’s foundation up to the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.” Seiden had been rebuilt at least seven times  and extended in a westerly direction.
stairs at shurijo
Stairs to Agari-no-Azana, the observation area of the eastern side of the complex, looking over Naha.
looking over where castle was
Agari-no-Azana looks down over the Ouchibara (the inner world of Shurijo).

The first thing I noticed was the smell of burned buildings. As a small town newspaper reporter, I was on the scene for many fires over the years, this was the smell. But it had been almost eight months, and it still lingered. I was very sad having seen the glory that it was and the scaffolding protecting the dairyuchu.

walls and roofs
Many of the buildings, inhabited a long time ago  by the rulers, officials and attendants still stand in the Ouchibara.
overlooking east
Another view from Agari-no-Azana looking toward Tomigusuku.

Many parts of the Ouchibara (the inner world of the castle grounds) were saved and protected and can be viewed and enjoyed however.

female shisa
Houshimon Gate – once the center gate was solely for the Ryukyu King and nobles, now houses the ticket gate, where all pass to enter the inner world of  Shurijo (Ouchibara).
utaki and building
Houshimon Gate on the left, Suimi-utaki at right. Utaki is a power spot and place of worship. Suimi-utaki, the subject of many songs and verses was said to have been created by the gods of the Ryukyu islands.
ticket booth few people
Koufukumon Gate  once housed registry records and office managing temples. Now is used as the ticket counter, maintaining social distancing of 2 meters.
main gate empty
Shureimon Gate was untouched by fire. It was built during the reign of King Sho Shei (1527-1555). Shurei no kuni, – a land of propriety.
Iri-no-Azana - west side
Iri-no-Azana a lookout tower on the west side, to view different precincts of Naha.
banyan tree
Gajyumaru (banyan tree) where Kijimuna, a Ryukyu tree spirit, lives and can be seen only by children because they are pure of heart.
shell ginger
Gettou – shell ginger grows in abundance on the grounds of Shurijo.

I just wanted to provide some pictures as an update for anyone who is not able to get there right now. When the world opens up again, please come and visit. Normally it’s 830 Yen, but currently it’s 400 Yen (about $3.75 USD).

All the information in this was from the brochure provided for free from Shuri Castle Park Management Center –

I hope everyone is safe and socially distancing… and come back to Shurijo when you can. For all us in the karate world, think of all we have been given from this magical place, and think of what we can do to give a  little back.

Take care of yourselves.