The Kingdom of Ryukyu was a monarchial state that existed for 450 years, from 1429 to 1879. Shurijo Castle flourished as the kingdom's center of politics, diplomacy, and culture. On October 31, 2019, a fire engulfed Shurijo Castle, and eight structures were destroyed.
The meaning behind the name, Hoshinmon, is “a gate to respect the gods”. This is the last gate on the path that leads to the Una at the Shurijo Seiden. The structure was removed towards the end of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), but the exterior was rebuilt in 1992. Another name for the Hoshinmon is Kimihokori Ujo. To the left (the north side), was the Naden, a room that handled the accounts of medicinal goods, tea, tobacco, etc. To the right (the south side), was used for Kimihokori rituals and ceremonies within the castle grounds. The passageway at the center was only for the king, the Chinese investiture envoys, and other high-ranking individuals. Other officials entered through the passage on both sides.
Una was Various ceremonies and rituals took place at the Una throughout the year. There are rows of what is called the Sen (laid tiles), and the colors of these rows indicate where the officials were to stand during ceremonies, in order of rank.
The Seiden is the central building of the Shurijo Castle. It was a three-story wooden structure, and the king mainly conducted his political affairs and rituals at the Shichagui on the first floor. The second floor, known as Ufugui, was where the king, his family, and female attendants conducted ceremonies. The third floor was an attic made for ventilation.
This was the busiest building within Shurijo Castle, functioning as the central administrative building of the royal government, with many officials coming and going daily. It was also used as the venue to entertain the Sapposhi, or the investiture envoys sent by the Chinese Emperor. This was also where the welcome banquet for Commodore Perry was held upon his visit to Shurijo Castle.
Nanden and Bandokoro
Facing the building from the Una, to the right is the Bandokoro and to the left is the Nanden. The Bandokoro was generally a place where people were received when arriving at Shurijo Castle, and the Nanden was mainly used for Japanese-style ceremonies and as a reception for the Satsuma Domain.
The king used the Shoin as his regular place of work, but at times, it was also used to entertain Sapposhi envoys as well as officials from the Satsuma Clan dispatched to Naha. The Sasunoma is said to have been a waiting area for the princes and was where officials in various posts were invited for informal gatherings.
Shoin and Sasunoma Garden
The Sasunoma Garden is the only garden that existed within all of the Gusuku sites in Okinawa Prefecture, which is backed by historical evidence. Analysis and research began in 2002 through excavation surveys and illustrated records. It opened to the public in August 2008, after the completion of reconstruction work with great care and attention to detail. In July 2009, it was designated as one of the most beautiful landscapes within the country.
This structure was used by the king to rest in between his official duties and has a garden on the south side. After its restoration in 2014, it offered a place for the visitors to enjoy a break and to appreciate the garden.
This structure was a passage that connected the outer (administrative) world and the Oku or the inner (living) quarters known as Ouchibara. It connected the Nanden and the second floor of the Kugani Udun, built with a room called Suzubiki. If some business required attention, a bell in the Suzubiki room would be rung, and an official would come to answer.
Kugani-Udun was a private area for the king, queen, and the king’s mother. It was connected to the Seiden, Nike-Udun, and Kinju-Tsumesho on the second floor. The second floor of the building also had private quarters, a garden. On the first floor was the Saekimon passage (also known as Kurashin Ujo). It functioned as an exhibit space after restoration was completed and opened to the public in 2014.
Meals for the king and the royal family were prepared in the Yuinchi, and on the east side of the building was an inner Chumon gate that led to the Ouchibara.
Nike-Udun was regularly used by the king. Built on uneven terrain, the structure had two floors on the north side and one floor on the south side. The interior on the second floor was designed like a Shoin drawing room, with a Tokonoma alcove and Chigaidana shelves.
On the east side, bordered by the Seiden, was Ouchibara, a private area for the king and his kin. This was where many of the female court attendants were, with the queen directing in the strict hierarchy of the ladies-in-waiting. Shukujunmon was the gate that led to the "inner" world where everything was managed exclusively by women.
Ryutan is a manmade pond constructed in 1427.According to the oldest epigraph in Okinawa that stood in this area, the Ankokuzan Jukabokuki, an official named Kaiki traveled to China and studied landscape gardening and returned to build the Ryutan pond. Inscriptions on the monument stated, “Ryutan was made on Ankokuzan, where fragrant trees and flowers were planted here so that all people can gather to enjoy it, and the pond is an eternal symbol of peace.” From the inscriptions, we can see that the common people in that period came to enjoy the scenic beauty of the pond and its surroundings. Banquets with entertainment on boats were also held here to welcome the investiture envoys, or the Sapposhi, sent by Chinese emperors.