The Seiden is Shurijo Castle’s principal structure and has been rebuilt four times, including a reconstruction in the early 18th century that was then destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Its most recent restoration was completed in 1992.
Original Ryukyuan Design
The characteristics of Ryukyuan architecture at Shurijo Castle lies in the unique features of Ryukyuan designs arranged with the influences of both the architectural styles of Japan and China. A three-story structure with wide stone steps at the front, and the dragon pillars of Dairyuchu and Shoryuchu which are carved out as columns, the Seiden at Shurijo Castle has distinctive design features that make it unique in comparison to palaces found in China and Korea, and proudly functioned as the imperial court of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Similarities with Japanese Architectural Styles of Shrines and Temples
The Seiden is the Honden or the main hall of Shurijo Castle and, unlike Japanese castles with Tenshukaku or castle towers, it shows architectural styles of Chinese imperial structures and strong influences of Japanese architectural features of shrines and temples. At the center of the Seiden’s roof is a design known as Karahafu. It is a Japanese construction feature applied to shrines and temples, and Shurijo’s Seiden is the only imperial structure among other Asian palaces that has adopted this Karahafu style. This is a unique feature of Shurijo Castle’s Seiden that is different from Japanese castles and Chinese imperial structures.
Similarities with Chinese Architectural Styles of Imperial Structures
Characteristics of Chinese architectural styles at Shurijo’s Seiden can be observed in the Una, or the forecourt in front of the Seiden. The Una is surrounded by buildings from four directions and has bricks laid out throughout the open court which integrates the Seiden and Una for the various ceremonies that were held here. It is believed that this was influenced by the features found at the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) in the Forbidden City (Zijincheng) in China. The stone handrails or balustrade constructed on the stone foundation called Kidan is another feature influenced by Chinese architectural styles of imperial palaces.
First Floor of the Seiden
The first floor of the Seiden was referred to as Shichagui, and this was where the King himself mainly led the ceremonies. The lavish area at the center was called the Usasuka, the royal throne where the King presided for various ceremonies. Through the sliding Shoji screens behind the Usasuka is the Ochokui, a set of stairs used exclusively by the King, and it was from these stairs that the King arrived to the Usasuka from the second floor.
Second Floor of the Seiden
The second floor of the Seiden is called the Ufugui and at the center is where the King’s throne was placed, on a platform similar to that of Shumidan Buddhist altars. Above the throne were a number of framed writings sent by Chinese emperors that read, Chuzan Seido – Ryukyu is to be ruled by the King of Chuzan; Shuzui Kyuyo – Ryukyu is where auspicious markings gather, and Eiso Eizen – rule the Kingdom of Ryukyu found across the seas with eternal happiness. These writings were framed after coated with lacquer in Ryukyu, and displayed in the palace.
The room on the southeast corner was called the Osenmikocha and was where the king and ladies of the court offered prayers every morning toward the eastern direction. In the Otoko was a Shinto shrine where the ladies of the court burnt incense and offered prayers to the Hinukan fire god, and others. This was also where appointment ceremonies for high-ranking priestesses took place with the king and queen in attendance.
Dragons at Shurijo Castle
The dragon is a vast imaginary beast which originally symbolized the Chinese enperor. The Ryukyuan king made extesive use of dragon images in imitation of the emperor. Most of the dragons at Shurijo Castle are of the paired "open-mouth" and "closed-mouth" types.
The Large Dragon Pillars (Dairyuchu)
The large dragon pillars erected on both sides of the stone steps at the center of the Seiden are called Dairyuchu, and these were first created in 1508. Later, they were remade several times as the Seiden saw reconstruction works after fires. The present Dairyuchu were made after 1712, and their shape and size were referenced from damaged remains of the present pillars that managed to survive the ravages of war, and also from records that documented repairs of the Seiden in 1758.
The Large Dragon Pillars (Dairyuchu)
The large dragon pillars (Dairyuchu) survived safely despite being affected by the fire. Many damages have been identified and will be preserved and repaired in the future.