Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

Tribute to Shuri Castle

Tribute to Shuri Castle / by Itzik Cohen
Shuri Castle initially constructed circa 1406. We know that Kaikei, the prime minister of King Shō Hashi 尚巴志, was responsible for the surroundings and the famous pond, after travelling to China in 1417. The Ryukyuan (Ryūkyūan) era of wars came to an end circa 1429 with the formal unification of the three kingdoms by King Shō Hashi. He adopted the Chinese structure rule, gaining official recognition from China, and was granted the name “Shō Hashi”by the Ming. He declared Shuri as the capital city, erected Shuri Castle (Japanese: Shurijō 首里城; Uchinaguchi: Gushiku/Ugusiku) and constructed Naha port. Beginning from 1490, Shurijō took Chinese look by King Shō Shin 尚真.
Few decades later, at King Shō Taikyū 尚泰, the castle construction and environment such as the walls, towers and the building within was influenced by Korean style too. Then King Shō Sei 尚清 extended Shurijō’s defensive wall in 1546.
Evidence of the combined Chinese and Japanese influence is to be found in internal administrative documents.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Shurijo Main Hall "Seiden" 正殿

Ryukyū Kingdom
Shuri-jo 首里

Bezaitendo & Enganchi pond. A shrine built to store Housatsuzoukyou that is the precious Korean Buddhist scriptures reciveived from the Korean king.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Bezaitendo & Enganchi pond

Enkakuji Temple was built by the Royal family. The temple belonging to the Rinzai School of Buddhism, located just to the north of Shuri Castle. King Sho Shin (who laid the foundations for the Golden Age of the Ryukuan kingdom) ordered the temple built in imitation of the Enkakuji Temple in Kamakura/Japan.

Ryukyū Kingdom

Shurijō became the centre of politics, diplomacy, and culture during the Era of Ryūkyū Kingdom and had continued to flourish as the centre of Ryukyu in in all above aspects until 1879.
Shuri castle is divided into three main areas:
The ritual area called “Kyo-no-uchi”.
The private area for the royal family called “Ouchibara”.
The government area with tall buildings around called “Una”.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Main Hall

Over the years, the walls that protected Shurijō were strengthened, and access roads for royalties, officials and military forces as well as structures to protect the ports were built. Famous example is Kinjo-chō 金城町石畳道. This road was built by King Shō Shin 尚真 in 1522 as a path linking Shurijō area to Shikina-en garden. More paths were built to Naha port. In fact, massive addition was constructed to the ancient castle in the 16th century.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Kinjo-chō 金城町石畳道

The initial Satsuma attack on Naha Port failed and the Satsuma forces retreated. In further attacks the Satsuma warriors suffered heavy losses and only after occupying Urasoe Castle and isolating Shuri Castle they were eventually successful in occupying the Islands.
In fact, historically, hostile or alien forces entered Shurijō only twice before WWII. Even then, these it was by concession of the Ryukyuan authorities. First time was in 1609, after intense combat when Satsuma tried to conquer the fort and suffered heavy losses before King Shō Tai 尚寧 (1834–1901) decided to give up, followed by the famous saying (Though this attribution authenticity is questionable):
“Nuchi du Takara” 命ど宝
“Nothing is more precious than life” or “Life itself is our treasure”.
The second time was in 6th of June when Commander Perry marched in with his entourage, after the local authorities opened the gate.
During WWII the Americans had to bomb and throw tons of steel until the walls fall down and the ancient castle was completely ruined.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Seiden 正殿 "Main Hall"

Ryukyū Kingdom
Seiden 正殿 "Main Hall", contains the throne room and royal living and ceremonial areas

The architecture of Shuri Castle was influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Korean decorative elements. The concept of the structure was similar to the one in the Chinese Forbidden City. Shuri Castle was used as residence of the king and his family. It was also the seat of the Ryukyuan government and administration. Diplomatic receptions were took place in the castle.

The “Champulu culture” チャンプル - 文化 that is the mix motif that characterizes Ryūkyū throughout history, is naturally appears here too. This fact is well reflected by the Seidan 正殿 (Main Hall) and the Hokuden北殿 (North Hall), for hosting both Chinese and Japanese diplomatic delegations.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Hokuden 北殿 "North Hall, was used as administrative centre where Chinese envoys (Sapposhi )were received. It was built originally circa 1506–1521.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Nanden 南殿 "South Hall" was used to entertain the Satsuma envoys.

Ryukyū Kingdom

It is interesting to observe the domination Ryukyuan elements. As with other Gusuku (Ryukyuan castles), Shuri Castle’s walls were built from limestone and the outer surfaces were sloping and smooth. The external shell which surrounds it, as well as Okushoin-en (The gardens) was built in later time during the Second Shō Dynasty circa the second half of the 15th century to the first half of the 16th century.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Castle walls & watchtowers

The Castle was also the core of religious and operated the religious rituals and ceremonies, executed by priestesses who dispatched from various locations in the islands.
In addition, performance arts and music flourished at Shurijō Castle and its surrounding areas, with many experts in the arts and crafts fields displaying and honing their skills. Shurijō Castle played was also the centre of cultural arts in the kingdom.

Shurijō, as well as other Ryukyuan castle (Gusuku/Gishiku), was built differently than Japanese fortresses and resembled more to the Chinese and Korean style.
Shurijō walls are made of coral limestone and extended 1,080 meter in total length and from 6 to 15 meters in height, approximately 3 meters in thickness, including watchtowers. The walls were designed in three layers. Soldiers and guards occupied the areas between the walls. By the way, we know that in addition to local weapons, the Ryukyuan Soldiers were armed with weapons from various origins such as Chinese ones as well as swords and shields from Japan.
The name of a number of fighters has been linked to the fortress, some less famous and some more such as:
Tode/Toadi Sakugawa Kanga 佐久川宽贺who gained the title of Chikudan Pechin and served as official in the Royal House in Shuri.
Bushi Matsumura Sokon 武士松村宗棍who served as head of security guards in the Royal House in Shuri.
Yoshimura Ōji Chōgi 義村王子朝宜who served as a branch of the second Shogun, serving as the Shoji confession of the Higashi-Fupeira area.
This line demonstrates and example of transferring chain of knowledge from Sensei to disciple in Shuri environment, within and around Shurijō walls from both aspects, geographical and official. These are the traces of Shorin-ryu Karate.

Shurijō was destructed throughout history several times:
In 1453 Shurijō was burned down in the Battle of Shō Furi 尚布里 and Shō Shiro 尚志魯.
In 1609 Shurijō was ransacked, the treasury was plundered, including Buddhist scripts that had been sent to Ryukyu from Korea and had been impeccably treasured for many years.
1660 Fire destroys Shurijō Castle.
1709 Fire destroys Shurijō Castle.
1945 Fire destroys Shurijō Castle in the Battle of Okinawa.
As with Ryukyuan Karate and Kobudo, it was difficult to find sources and in order to clarify the lost architecture and internal details, historians had to made sincere efforts in putting the pieces together and build the puzzle from few reliable historical sources such as the“Sunpo-ki”(Record and drawings from the restoration works of the Seiden in 1768) and the “Shōke-monjo” (“Record of the last major repair works by the Shō dynasty while the castle still functioned for the Ryukyu Kingdom).

There are also many items that indicate about various details related to Shurijō history such as testimonial that was written by a Korean person that stayed for about two months in the royal castle in 1462. We also have the inscription on the balustrade of the Momourasoe Hall that took place in 1509, celebrating the expansion and beautification of Shuri Castle’s main palace. We also have reach Chinese documentary about investiture envoys to Shuri castle for the investiture of the Ryūkyūan King (Shuri gusuku yomigaeru Ryūkyū Ōkoku).
It is worthy to mention the “Bankoku-shinryu no kane” 万国津 梁の鐘 that is the “Bridge Nation Bell”. It was used to hang in front of the State Hall of Shuri castle. The bell was hung in front of Seidan of Shuri castle in 1458. The inscription on the bell, that was cast in 1458 for Shurijō, destroyed in WWII and reconstructed in 1992. It reads:
“The kingdom of Ryukyu is a place of beauty in the southern ocean”.

Shurijō was successfully rebuilt each time.
I am sure that this time too, it will be restored successfully.

For further reading I recommend the following sources:
  • Kerr, George H. Okinawa: The History of an Island People.Tuttle Publishing.
  • Smits, Gregory. Maritime Ryukyu, 1050–1650. University of Hawaii Press.
  • Cohen Itzik. Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手 - Okinawan Karate: An Exploration of Its Origins and Evolution. KDP Publishing.
  • Quast, Andreas. A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History . 2015.
  • 2017Junko Okahashi . Significance of reconstructed built-heritage after wartime destruction: restitution of identity? New role in the subsequent society? Subtheme 02: The Role of Cultural Heritage in Building Peace and Reconciliation Session 3: Recreating Ideas of MemoryLocation: Silver Oak Hall December 14.
Itzik Cohen

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