Japan Data

Shuri Castle: At the Heart of the Former Ryūkyū Kingdom


Shuri Castle in Okinawa, the former seat of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, has undergone repeated conflagrations and reconstructions over the centuries. A look at the history leading up to its latest destruction in the fire of October 2019.

On October 31, 2019, the main hall and other buildings at Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa, were destroyed by fire.

Shuri Castle was at the heart of the former Ryūkyū Kingdom, which was established in 1429 by Shō Hashi after he unified the island of Okinawa. It remained the political, economic, and cultural center of the kingdom until Japan incorporated the archipelago into its territory as Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. Later surveys showed that the fortress was built some time in the mid- or late fourteenth century. It has undergone repeated conflagrations and reconstructions over the centuries since. In 1925, it was designated as a National Treasure, but in 1945 it was destroyed again in the Battle of Okinawa toward the end of World War II.

It was most recently rebuilt in 1992 at the center of the Shuri Castle Park. In 2000, it was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site as Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryūkyū.

A Shuri Castle Timeline

14th century Shuri Castle built for the first time.
1429 Formation of the Ryūkyū Kingdom.
1609 Ryūkyū Kingdom effectively conquered by the Satsuma domain (now Kagoshima Prefecture), although it retains nominal independence.
1660 Castle destroyed by fire.
1672 Castle rebuilt.
1709 Castle destroyed by fire.
1715 Castle rebuilt.
1853 US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry visits castle.
1872 Japanese government establishes Ryūkyū domain.
1879 Japanese government absorbs Ryūkyū Kingdom into Japanese territory as Okinawa Prefecture.
1925 Castle designated as a National Treasure.
1945 Castle destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa.
1989 Castle reconstruction begins.
1992 Shuri Castle Park opens with reconstructed castle at the center.
2000 Group of 8 summit banquet held at the castle.
2000 Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryūkyū becomes a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2019 Castle destroyed by fire.

Article and timeline based on sources including the official Shuri Castle Park website and the Cultural Heritage website of the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

Okinawa World Heritage UNESCO Shuri Castle