Cultural heritage sites are scattered among the southernmost islands of Japan and on the main island of Okinawa. There are nine ruins symbolizing the unique culture and religious beliefs of the Kingdom of Ryukyu that once flourished here.

In Okinawa, dictatorships began to arise in various areas from around the twelfth century, and castle-like buildings called "Gusuku" were constructed. However, these buildings were not like Himeji Castle, which is also registered as a World Heritage Site, but more like a fort. Gusuku were also treated as sacred sites under local religious belief. When the 14th century came along, each area was unified into three counties and the unified Kingdom of Ryukyu was finally established in 1429. In line with this, the symbol of the Kingdom "Shuri-jo Castle" became the sole Gusuku.

Shuri Castle, Okinawa

Shuri Castle is built on upland 120m above sea level overlooking Naha City. The castle area surrounded by stone walls approx. 10m high is 400m east to west and 270m north to south. Inside the castle, there is an open space and facilities for political, cultural and diplomatic activities and festivals, and the largest wooden structure in Okinawa "Shoden (central building)" was built on the castle premises. This building shows a strong influence from various cultures including from Japan and China, which proves that trade with Asian countries was very active at the time. The pattern of dragons or vermilion lacquer coating shows the influence of China, and the structural form of the roof shows the influence of Japan. Shurijo was completely destroyed in World War II and most of the present buildings are reproductions built up until 1992.

On the west side of Shuri Castle is a massive stone structure, "Tamaudun", created using a natural rocky outcrop. This is the tomb of the successive royal families of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, and the inside of the tomb is paved with coral reef fragments, and at the center of the structure and in the east and west towers stand lion statues called Shisa, which are a symbol of Okinawa and a charm against evil.

Access: From Tokyo - 2hrs 35mins from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Naha Airport.

From Osaka - 2hrs from Kansai International Airport to Naha Airport.

From Nagoya - 2hrs 15mins from Chubu International Airport to Naha Airport.

From Kyushu - 1hr 35mins from Fukuoka to Naha Airport. A monorail runs from Naha Airport to Shuri via Naha City (12.9 km/27 min).

Further information: JNTO Travel Tips – Okinawa (PDF)