JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when traveling.


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Shuri Castle is Naha's top tourist attraction. The home of kings who ruled the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 to 1879 before it was annexed by Japan and renamed Okinawa Prefecture. Shuri Castle was the kingdom's capital.Photo shows Shurijo on a hill as seen from Shuri Station on the Yui Rail. The castle grounds extend about 400 meters long and 200 meters wide. This hill is about 130 meters high.
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Shuri Castle has a free area which is like a castle park where you can enter for free. There is also a paid area where a small admission is charged to see the main buildings..
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Major structures at Shuri Castle. The Seiden main hall was sadly destroyed by an electrical fire in Oct. 2019. I visited in Nov. 2020, a year after the fire. The castle grounds were closed afterthe fire, but it gradually opened up.The remains of the Seiden can be toured.
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After walking from Shuri Station, this is the where you start walking up the hill toward Shuri Castle. Gradual slope, no problem for most people.
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Ryukyu pine trees on the way to Shuri Castle.
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At the castle wall, go right and walk along the stone wall.
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Nice long path along the castle wall leading to the entrance of Shuri Castle.
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Way to Shuri Castle's main entrance.
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Honeycomb pattern on the path.
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Shuri Castle wall with pointy tips.
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Pleasant walk along the castle wall.
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Kyukeimon Gate, service gate mainly for women. 久慶門(きゅうけいもん)
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Kyukeimon Gate, service gate mainly for women. 久慶門(きゅうけいもん)
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Tree that miraculously survived World War II. Since the Japanese Army HQ was under Shuri Castle, the castle was heavily attacked and most buildings destroyed in the process.
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Sonohyan-Utaki Ishimon, place of worship. 園比屋武御嶽石門(そのひゃんうたきいしもん)
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Sonohyan-Utaki Ishimon is a World Heritage Site. 園比屋武御嶽石門(そのひゃんうたきいしもん)
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When you walk toward Kankaimon Gate to enter Shuri Castle, you'll see Shureimon Gate right across. However, this is the back side, so go through the gate and see it from the front side.
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Shureimon Gate (守礼門), one of the castle's main gates. This gate was reconstructed in 1958 since most castle structures got destroyed during World War II.
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The reconstruction of Shureimon was the start of a decades-long process to reconstruct the major buildings of the castle, especially the ornate Seiden main hall in 1992. Other castle buildings were also reconstructed and the castle's reconstruction was finally completed in spring 2019. It was a great celebration.
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"Shurei no Kuni"
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Shuri Castle's Shureimon Gate 守礼門 also appeared on the defunct ¥2000 bill.
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During World War II, the Japanese Army's HQ was in underground bunkers under Shuri Castle. One entrance was right near Shureimon Gate.
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About Shureimon Gate.
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About Shuri Castle.
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Kankaimon Gate, main entrance to the castle for tourists. 歓会門
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A projection mapping show was held at Kankaimon Gate (歓会門) in late Oct. 2020.
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Kankaimon Gate is the first gate you enter when you enter the castle's inner grounds. "Kankai" means to "greet with joy." Rebuilt in 1974. 歓会門
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Seesaa at Kankaimon Gate.
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About Kankaimon Gate.
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Other side of Kankaimon Gate.
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Steps to Zuisenmon Gate lined with monuments on both sides. 瑞泉門
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Kyukeimon Gate
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Sappo poetry monuments along the steps. 冊封七碑(さっぽうしちひ)
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冊封七碑(さっぽうしちひ)
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Ryuhi Spring near the gate. Water from this spring was used in the cuisine served to the royal family. 龍樋(りゅうひ)
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About the Ryuhi dragon spring.
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After Kankaimon is Zuisenmon Gate near a spring. Restored in 1992. 瑞泉門
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Seesaa at Zuisenmon Gate.
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Going through Zuisenmon Gate. 瑞泉門
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Roukokumon Gate follows Zuisenmon. 漏刻門(ろうこくもん)
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About Roukokumon Gate.
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Back of Roukokumon Gate. The building is not open to the public. 漏刻門(ろうこくもん)
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Kankaimon Gate and Kyukeimon Gate.
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Kyukeimon Gate 久慶門(きゅうけいもん)
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Zenikura 銭蔵
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Sundial 日影台(にちえいだい)
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About the sundial. 日影台(にちえいだい)
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Outside Kofukumon Gate, rear view of the Hokuden Hall before the fire.
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Part of Hoshinmon Gate being repaired after the fire.
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Kofukumon Gate 広福門(こうふくもん)
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Kofukumon Gate to Shicha-nu Una courtyard. 広福門(こうふくもん)
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Other side of Kofukumon Gate is the Shicha-nu Una lower courtyard. This is still the free area requiring no admission fee. Kofukumon Gate is also a castle ticket office to enter the paid area. 広福門 下之御庭
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Shuri Castle ticket office at Kofukumon Gate.
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In the Shicha-nu Una is this small prefab workshop where the stone dragon pillars that stood in front of the Seiden main hall are being repaired.
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The two stone dragon pillars that survived the fire were stlll standing. However, they had cracks, so they are being repaired here. (dairyuchu 大龍柱)
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Repairing the Seiden's stone dragon pillars.
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About the stone dragon pillars.
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Layout map of Shicha-nu Una lower courtyard. It was a waiting area for people participating in rituals and events held at the main Una courtyard. 下之御庭
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Also in the Shicha-nu Una lower courtyard is the Keizuza and Yomotsuza, now a rest house for tourists. 系図座・用物座
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On the 1st anniversary of the Shurijo Castle fire in late Oct. 2020, Okinawa held a few events to give hope. We attended an evening reception at Shuri Castle for tourism professionals.This was outdoors in front of the reconstructed Keizuza/Yomotsuza. It had a makeshift stage for Okinawan entertainment.
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Okinawan court dance called Kajadefu performed on auspicious occasions. Performers were students majoring in Ryukyuan arts at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts. 琉球古典舞踊「かじゃで風」
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Kashikaki weaving dance showing a wife weaving clothing to express her love for her husband. It was nice that we saw a few classic Okinawan dances. 琉球古典舞踊「綛掛」
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Keizuza and Yomotsuza soon after it was rebuilt some years ago. 系図座・用物座
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About Keizuza and Yomotsuza.
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Inside Keizuza and Yomotsuza. Now a free rest place for visitors. 系図座・用物座
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Inside Keizuza and Yomotsuza. Now a free rest place for visitors. This area can also be used as a stage for performances.
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Inside Keizuza and Yomotsuza. Now a free rest place for visitors. 系図座・用物座
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Way to Hoshinmon Gate, the entrance to the paid area of Shuri Castle. 奉神門(ほうしんもん)
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Shuri Suimui Utaki sacred site. 首里森御嶽(すいむいうたき)
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Hoshinmon Gate is the entrance to the paid area of Shuri Castle. Need to have a ticket to pass through here. 奉神門(ほうしんもん)
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About Hoshinmon Gate. 奉神門(ほうしんもん)
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Schedule of events for the Shuri Castle Matsuri Festival in early Nov. 2020.
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Oct. 31, 2019, the day all of Okinawa cried. Shurijo Castle's Seiden Hall was totally destroyed by fire along with connecting halls. Apparently caused by short-circuited wiring on the left side of the building.After the charred remains were cleaned up, the castle fully reopened to the public in June 2020 with this elevated walkway for visitors to see the ruins and the progress of the castle's reconstruction.
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We can now only see the white stone foundation where the building once stood and some pillar foundations.The fire was detected quite early by fire alarms and security personnel, but it quickly spread. The building had no sprinkler system and firemen had difficulty reaching the building with fire hoses. The heat was also extremely intense, probably due to the lacquer paint, forcing firefighters to retreat and watch helplessly. No one was seriously hurt in the fire.
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The ornate Seiden Hall, Shuri Castle's most important and central building and National Treasure. Saw it on a previous trip. Very ornate building with wood carvings, lacquered surfaces, paintings, and sculptures. It was meticulously rebuilt in 1992. (首里城 正殿)

Notice the stone dragon pillars flanking the center entrance and sculptures of dragon heads and lion head on the red roof tile roof.
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About the Seiden main hall.
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The building was only 27 years old. If you've never saw it, you missed out. The black bags contain red roof tiles salvaged from the fire.
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On the right was where the Nanden Hall was. It was burned beyond repair so it was torn down. The prefab building shows the ancient stone foundation underground.
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Before the fire, Nanden South Hall (南殿) was connected to the Seiden main hall seen on the left. To enter the Seiden, we had to enter this hall first (entrance on the right). The fire also gutted this building beyond repair and had to be torn down along with the Hokuden North Hall (北殿) on the other side of the Seiden.
Photography inside the main buildings wasn't allowed, so sadly I don't have any photos of the interior.
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About the Una courtyard.
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Nanden Hall's foundation, including the steps.
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View of the Una from the Seiden site. These photos were taken in early Nov. 2020.
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Pillar foundations. Lumber researchers are conducting strength tests on various wood samples.Although the Japanese government has stated that hinoki cypress (considered to be top-quality wood) would be used, Okinawan researchers have found that local oak wood is stronger than hinoki.
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They are scouring forests in Kunigami (northern Okinawa island) for this oak and native conifer. They will likely use different varieties of wood and use local materials as much as possible.
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Pieces from the Seiden's stone railings.
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A lot of red roof tiles have been salvaged. They had volunteers painstakingly scrape off the white plaster adhering to the roof tiles. The old roof tiles cannot be reused as is.But roof tile experts are investigating ways to recycle the salvaged roof tiles. They will likely crush them into powder and mix it with new clay to make new roof tiles.
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Ideal roof tiles have minimal water absorption and shrinkage. Researchers in Okinawa are testing various clay samples and firing temperatures. They found that the best clay is from the city of Nago, and that's where the clay came from for the Seiden's 1992 reconstruction. However today, there's not enough clay in Nago to make the necessary 55,000 red roof tiles for the new Seiden and other buildings.

So they scoured other locations on the island and found a good source. Now they are trying to figure out how much recycled red roof tile powder should be mixed into the new clay to make the new roof tiles. They want to somehow reuse the old roof tiles.
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Hoshinmon Gate and the Una as seen from the Seiden.This red-and-white plaza is the castle's trademark, the Una courtyard where official ceremonies were held. The red path in the middle was where the King would walk to the main hall.
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Left side of the Seiden site.
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Left end of the Seiden site.
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On the left side of the Seiden site, remains of rooftop dragon head sculptures are displayed.
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On the left side of the Seiden site, remains of the rooftop dragon head sculptures.
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Remains of the rooftop dragon head sculptures. See the curly whiskers. 龍頭棟飾の破片
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On the Seiden foundation, pillar foundation stones and an outdoor display of the remains of the rooftop dragon head sculptures. The curly-cue metal pieces were the dragon's whiskers. 龍頭棟飾 ryutomuna-kazari
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The dragon whiskers, teeth, etc., on display in broken pieces.
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The dragon eyes, scales, etc., also on display in broken pieces.
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Explanation of the rooftop dragonhead ornaments. 火災前の龍頭棟飾
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This prefab building on the Seiden site shows the Seiden's stone foundation from the 15th century. 正殿遺構を保護する覆屋
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On the Seiden site, they show the Seiden's stone foundation from the 15th century. They cleaned off the charred surface from the fire. 正殿基壇の遺構
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At Shuri Castle, only this foundation and two other original structures are part of the World Heritage Site "Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu". (琉球王国のグスク及び関連遺産群). 正殿基壇の遺構
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About the Seiden's old stone foundation.
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About the Seiden's old stone foundation.
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Rear part of the Seiden Hall.
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Red roof tile pieces salvaged from the fire.
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Rear pillar stones of the Seiden, looking toward the Ouchibara. The Yohokoriden is seen directly ahead.
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Pillar foundation stones at the rear of Seiden Hall.
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The rear of Seiden foundation, pillar foundations and rear steps.
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The Japanese government has declared that the castle is to be rebuilt by 2026. The reconstruction committee is now working on the building's design and blueprints. Construction will start within two years. We can be sure that they will also install a sprinkler system this time.
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A bit of good news is that some of the key members of the team involved in the 1992 reconstruction 30+ years ago are still alive and again taking on the job to rebuild the castle.
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One thing that they're all saying is, "We shall rebuild it and make it EVEN BETTER than ever before."
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This is directly behind the Seiden, an area called the Ouchibara (御内原) which was the living quarters of the royal family and female attendants. Sleeping quarters, dining room, bath house for female attendants were here. Men, except for the royal family, were forbidden from this guarded area.
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Ouchibara (御内原) as seen from Yohokoriden. Straight ahead is the Seiden Hall site.
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Nyokan Kyoshitsu was where the female attendants lived (女官居室). It's now a gift shop. It escaped the fire, but one corner is scorched (see next photo).
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Nyokan Kyoshitsu's right corner scorched from the burning Seiden. 女官居室(にょかんきょしつ)
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Nyokan Kyoshitsu's right corner scorched from the burning Seiden.
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Nyokan Kyoshitsu's right corner scorched from the burning Seiden.
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Inside Nyokan Kyoshitsu, now a gift shop. 女官居室(にょかんきょしつ)
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About Nyokan Kyoshitsu. 女官居室(にょかんきょしつ)
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Reconstructed Queen's Quarters (世誇殿) called Yohokoriden.
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Yohokoriden
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Yohokoriden roof. Totally unscathed from the Seiden fire.
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Yohokoriden is now a rest house for visitors with vending machines for soft drinks. There's a large video screen showing scenes of Shurijo Castle.
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About the Yohokoriden.
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Shuri Castle holds the annual Shurijo Castle Festival on days centering on Nov. 3, a national holiday for Culture Day. The royal court made a few appearances at the castle on Nov. 3, 2020.
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They first appeared in front of the Yohokoriden and posed for photos. Led by the King and Queen's attendants.
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The main event is the Ryukyu Royal Procession (琉球王朝絵巻行列) with the Ryukyu King and Queen and their attendants parading on Kokusai-dori (Naha's main drag). However, the procession was canceled in 2020.
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Instead of the grand procession on Kokusai-dori, the Ryukyu King and Queen and a few attendants held a smaller procession within the castle and also appeared a few times to pose for photos at Shuri Castle on Oct. 31 and Nov. 3, 2020.
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I was there on Nov. 3 and saw the King and Queen posing. They posed behind the Seiden site. In this photo, the rear of the Seiden would be in the background.
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Shurijo Castle was the seat of the Ryukyu Kingdom's government from 1429 to 1879 when it became Okinawa Prefecture. The Ryukyuan kings were from the Sho Clan (尚) starting with Shō Hashi who unified the three kingdoms on the main island in 1429. The other islands also eventually came under the control of the Shuri government after successful military campaigns.
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It was a happy kingdom until the Satsuma Clan in Kagoshima invaded and conquered the Ryukyus and made it a vassal state in 1609. The Sho kings were allowed to keep their position, but had to rule as directed by the Satsuma. Heavy taxes were imposed on Ryukyuans.
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The Ryukyu King and Queen posed for the crowd in three successive places. I quietly scrambled to follow them. In the background is the reconstructed Queen's Quarters.
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The Ryukyu King and Queen are selected every year from applicants. This year's King and Queen were played by Takara Tomoaki (高良朝壮) and Kamiyama Seika (神山聖加) respectively. (琉球国王・王妃出御)
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Queen Kamiyama Seika is 25 and works as an occupational therapist in Nago. King Takara Tomoaki is 43 and works at a company in Naha. They were selected in Sept. 2019 from among 37 applicants.
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They were also last year's king and queen. They are reprising their roles this year because this year's contest in September 2020 to select a king and queen was canceled.About the king and queen: http://english.ryukyushimpo.jp/2020/11/06/32933/
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Thanks for posing, Ryukyu King and Queen!
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Prefab building displaying some ornamental remains salvaged from the fire.
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Remains of a lion head sculpture that was on the Seiden's roof.
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Seiden stone railing pieces.
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Red roof tiles
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Shuri Castle papercraft sold at the gift shop.
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Shuri Castle papercraft sold at the gift shop.
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Path to Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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Red tile roofs of the Yohokoriden and Nyokan Kyoshitsu.
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Kunebu/Kunibo/Kunenbo citrus plants. 九年母
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Kunebu/Kunibo/Kunenbo citrus plants. 九年母
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About the kunebu citrus plants.
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Well connected to an underground water reservoir.
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Well connected to an underground water reservoir. Not in use.
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About the well.
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Hakuginmon Gate (restored) to the sacred Shinbyoden. 白銀門(はくぎんもん)
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About Hakuginmon Gate. 白銀門(はくぎんもん)
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Map of buildings behind the Seiden.
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Shinbyoden is a sacred spot where a deceased Ryukyu king laid in state. 寝廟殿(しんびょうでん)
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Way to Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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Way to Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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Agari-no Azana lookout point on the eastern end of Shurijo. "Agari" means "east" in Okinawan. 東のアザナ
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Agari-no Azana lookout point. Opposite side of the ocean. 東のアザナ
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What to see from Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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View from Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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View from Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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Agari-no Azana lookout point. 東のアザナ
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View of castle buildings from Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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View from Agari-no Azana lookout point.
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Mamo-no-uchi Utaki sacred site in the Ouchibara.
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Mamo-no-uchi Utaki sacred site in the Ouchibara. 御内原ノマモノ内ノ御嶽
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About Mamo-no-uchi Utaki sacred site.
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Walking back down from Agari-no Azana lookout. On the left is the back of the Yohokoriden.
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Walking back down from Agari-no Azana lookout. Straight ahead is the Nyokan Kyoshitsu.
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Walking back down from Agari-no Azana lookout.
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The other side is the way up to Agari-no Azana lookout.
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Back to the Shicha-nu Una plaza, I noticed people resting inside the Keizuza and Yomotsuza. 系図座・用物座
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Back of Keizuza and Yomotsuza. 系図座・用物座
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After exiting Shicha-nu Una courtyard.
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Map of Shurijo Castle Park.
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Kyo-no-uchi wall.
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About the Kyo-no-uchi area of the castle. Didn't go there though. 京の内
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Way to Kyo-no-uchi.
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In Okinawa, tree roots are always exposed because of frequent typhoons eroding the soil with winds and rains.
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In Okinawa, tree roots are always exposed because of frequent typhoons eroding the soil with winds and rains.
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The western end of Shurijo is this entrance to Iri-no Azana lookout deck. 西のアザナ(いりのあざな)
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Iri-no Azana lookout deck. 西のアザナ(いりのあざな)
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From Shuri Castle's Iri-no Azana western lookout deck, view of Naha looking toward the ocean. 西のアザナ(いりのあざな)
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From Shuri Castle's Iri-no Azana western lookout deck, view of Naha looking toward the ocean. 西のアザナ(いりのあざな)
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From Shuri Castle's Iri-no Azana western lookout deck, view of Naha looking toward the ocean. 西のアザナ(いりのあざな)
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From Shuri Castle's Iri-no Azana western lookout deck, view of central Naha looking toward the ocean. 西のアザナ(いりのあざな)
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Kobikimon Gate is the exit. Also the entrance for wheelchair users. 木曳門
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Stone marker for Shurijo Castle. Near Kobikimon.
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Gift shops near Suimuikan.
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Suimuikan is another rest house for visitors. Basement has underground parking lots. 首里杜館
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Seesaa at Suimuikan entrance.
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Rest area inside Suimuikan 1st floor. There's also a cafe in the corner. Basement has lockers and underground parking lots. 首里杜館
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Inside Suimuikan, a mosaic bulletin board with encouraging messges to rebuild Shurijo.
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Suimuikan lower entrance. 首里杜館
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Panel exhibition of Shuri Castle treasures.
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Exhibition of the "Tempest" TV series set in Okinawa.
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Exhibition of the "Tempest" TV series set in Okinawa.
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Costume worn by actress Nakama Yukie.
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Caps worn by actress Nakama Yukie in Tempest.
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Scale model of Shurijo area.
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Castle wall and buildings as seen from Benzaiten-do Hall.
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In this corner of Shuri Castle, Benzaiten-do Hall to worship the goddess Benzaiten surrounded by Enkanchi Pond. 弁財天堂と円鑑池
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Tennyobashi Bridge to Benzaiten-do Hall. The railings have lotus engravings. 弁財天堂と円鑑池
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Benzaiten-do Hall at Shuri Castle. 弁財天堂
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Benzaiten-do at Shuri Castle. 弁財天堂
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Benzaiten-do Hall roof tile corner.
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Benzaiten-do Hall wall.
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Tennyobashi Bridge
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Site of Enkakuji Temple. 円覚寺
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About Enkakuji Temple.
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Next to Shuri Castle is Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts.
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Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts.
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Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts.
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Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts.
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Hibiscus
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Post office in Shuri. Roof tile ends have the post office symbol.
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Koban police box in Shuri.
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Another rooftop seesaa.
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Shuri Station on the Yui Rail Line. Closest station to Shuri Castle. About a 15-min. walk. 首里駅
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Shuri Station platform on the Yui Rail Line. Closest station to Shuri Castle. 首里駅
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Near Kokusai-dori (Naha's main drag) at Pallet Kumoji mall, there was this Shuri Castle illumination monument complemented by paper lanterns. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)
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Shuri Castle illumination monument was lit up in the evening until midnight from Oct. 28 to Nov 15, 2020. Many local businesses sponsored the artwork. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)
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For the 1st anniversary of the Shurijo Castle fire on Oct. 31, 2020, all the local Okinawan newspapers were filled with special articles about the fire and reconstruction efforts.
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On Kokusai-dori in Naha, souvenir shop looking like Shuri Castle.
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