Ryukyu Culture Site of the Month
Shurijo Castle has a very long history of conflict and defeat, but it has nonetheless
shaped Okinawa and the Ryukyuan culture. Around 1314, conflict between many
local chieftains known as Aji eventually led to the establishment of three separate
principalities under the most powerful Aji on Okinawa. Hokuzan was the Northern
principality based in Nakajin Castle, Chuzan was based at Urasoe Castle, and Nanzan,
the Southern principality, was based at Shimajiri Ozato Castle. This period is known
as the Sanzan period, the era of the three kingdoms.
In 1372, the Emperor of Ming sent his envoy to advise Ryukyuan authorities to pay
tribute to China and recognize the Emperor’s authority to grant legitimacy to
Ryukyuan rulers. Satto, king of Chuzan, accepted the demands and sent his brother to
offer tribute. Thus, 1372 was the start of tributary relations between China and the
Ryukyus and a beginning of the golden age of trade on Okinawa. Ryukyuan trade
missions acquired vast amounts of Chinese goods and opened trading routes to Japan,
Korea, and Southeast Asia to sell these goods. Thus, the Ryukyuan culture became
somewhat of a mixing pot of the many countries the ancient Okinawans came into
In 1406, Urasoe castle was attacked by Shisho and his son Sho and the seat of
government was moved to Shurijo castle. Ten years later, Sho Hashi seized Nakajin
castle, and in 1429, Sho defeated Shimajiro Ozato Castle, the center of Nanzan.
These accomplishments marked the birth of the Ryukyuan Kingdom with its center of
power at Shurijo Castle.
In 1469, a coup overthrew the first Sho dynasty at Shurijo Castle and the second
dynasty emerged under Sho En. The third king of this dynasty, Sho Shin, consolidated
the Ryukyuan kingdom and implemented a wide range of engineering projects in the
areas surrounding Shurijo Castle. This led to the golden era of the kingdom. In 1609,
the castle fell once again, this time from Satsuma invaders from Japan, and the king
and his retainers were taken to Kagoshima, only allowed to return after vowing
allegiance to Satsuma. Thereafter, the Ryukyuan rulers tried to rebuild the kingdom by
doing whatever they could to stimulate industry and culture.
In 1853, Commodore Perry and his fleet appeared at Naha Harbor and presented their
demands to the Castle. This alerted the Ryukyuans to the drastic changes taking place
around the world. In 1879, the Meiji government sent a force from the mainland to
require the surrender of Shurijo castle. The king and his retainers had no choice but to
obey the powerful forces and bring a close to Okinawa as the independent Kingdom of
Though Shurijo has a long history of defeat, it was the center of the Ryukyuan Empire
and has had much influence on the livelihood of Okinawan culture. Though Okinawa
has been assimilated into the nation of Japan, the spirit of the Ryukyus still is very
much alive and is reflected in the culture, music, arts and crafts, language, and
lifestyles of the Okinawan locals. For me, the trip to Shurijo castle was a trip back in
time to learn more about the land that has become my home and about those who had
come before me. From all that I have seen and read about this historic spot, I have
gained an even deeper respect for the island as a whole.
Not only is the area of great historical importance, though. The castle is also
magnificent and beautiful. The original was destroyed in the final days of World War
II during the battle of Okinawa, but the castle was rebuilt and reopened to the public in
1992. The park has a great museum and gift shop where you can learn more about the
history of the Ryukyus while visiting the castle.
|United Ryukyu Kempo Alliance