Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu
Gusuku Sites And Related Properties Of The Kingdom Of Ryukyu
Cultural Japan Asia And The Pacific Okinawa Prefecture

For several centuries the Ryukyu Islands served as a centre of economic and cultural interchange between South-East Asia, China, Korea and Japan, and this is vividly demonstrated by the surviving monuments. The culture of the Ryukyuan Kingdom evolved and flourished in a special political and economic environment.

In the 10th-12th centuries, Ryukyuan farming communities (gusuku ) began to enclose their villages with simple stone walls for protection. From the 12th century onwards powerful groups known as aji began to emerge. They enlarged the defences of their own settlements, converting them into fortresses for their own households;these adopted the term gusuku to describe these formidable castles. There followed a continual struggle for supremacy between the aji , which did not coalesce until the 15th century into three main kingdoms - Hokuzan (North Mountain), Chûzan (Central Mountain), and Nanzan (South Mountain).

The Tamaudun Royal was built by ShôShin around 1501 as a symbol of royal power, and to take advantage of the Ryukyuan people's practice of worshipping at the tombs of ancestors. It is carved into the limestone bedrock and covered by a gabled pantile roof.

The Sonohyan-utaki Ishimon (Stone Gate of the Sonohyan Shrine) was erected in 1519 by ShôShin, fronting a sacred forest (Sonohyan-utaki). It was considered to be the guardian shrine of the Ryukyu Kingdom, where prayers were offered for peace and security at annual ritual ceremonies. It represents the unique style of stone architecture developed in Ryukyu.

The Nakijin-jô(Nakijin Castle) became the residence of the Ryukyuan Kingdom governor. Work began on its construction in the late 13th century and it had reached its final form by the beginning of the 15th century. The castle is strategically sited on a lone hill, well defended by natural features (river, cliffs and deep valley).

The Zakimi-jô(Zakimi Castle) was built in the early 15th century by a powerful chieftain, Gosamaru. After the establishment of the Ryukyu Kingdom it served to watch over the survivors of the Hokuzan Kingdom, who had fled to the west coast of Okinawa.

The Katsuren-jô(Katsuren Castle), built in the 12th-13th centuries, was the stronghold of another powerful chieftain, Amawari. Sited on a dominant hill, it comprises four linked enclosures with walls of coralline limestone. There are several ancient places of worship, in particular the shrine dedicated to Kobazukasa, a round stone column in the middle of the first enclosure, is still of considerable spiritual significance.

The Nakagusuku-jô(Nakagusuku Castle), built in the turbulent final years of the 14th century and extended in the mid-15th century, consists of six enclosures, arranged in a line on a steep promontory.

Shuri-jô(Shuri Castle) built in the second half of the 14th century, was the main castle of the kings of Chûzan and, after unification, of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The hill on which it stands dominates Naha City and its port. It is divided into inner and outer enclosures, conforming with the topography. The castle's enclosure walls, built with random bonding of coralline limestone, extend over 1,080 m.

Shikinaen, a royal garden villa, is recorded as having been constructed in 1799. The plan shows Japanese influence, although Chinese features are to be found in some structures. The result is, however, uniquely Ryukyuan. Around the pool are disposed walkways, pavilions, artificial hills and flower gardens.

Sêfa-utaki became one of the most sacred places in the new religion. There are several places of worship, three of them linked by stone-flagged paths. There are few material indications of the significance of Sêfa-utaki: it is essentially a densely wooded hill on which the shrines and prayer sites have an ageless spiritual quality that derives from their setting rather than man-made symbols.