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Ancient traditions come alive at Shuri Castle Festival

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2011-10-28

Ryukyuan classical dances, musical drama, ceremonies and a parade filled with pageantry take place this weekend at Okinawa’s historic Shuri Castle and Kokusai Street in Naha.

The Shuri Castle Festival, which opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday, showcases a 15th century castle that was once home to 19 Ryukyuan kings spanning nearly 500 years of Okinawa history. The Ryukyu Kingdom dates back to the 1600’s, when Sho Hashi skillfully—and peacefully—brought together three Sanzan Kingdoms under his leadership.

The historic castle, destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and then rebuilt to its original specifications, hosts the Friday and Saturday events, as well as traditional performing arts on Sunday. The castle’s Lower Courtyard has been designated a ‘free zone’ for the festival, offering Ryukyu classical dances at 10am, 11am, 1:30pm and 2:30pm on Friday, and then again Saturday at 9:30am and 4:30pm. There will also be Ryukyuan musical drama Friday at 4pm and again on Saturday at 10am and 11am.

Ceremonial events Saturday morning in the free zone include the procession of Chinese Investiture Envoys at 10am. Una Forecourt at the castle is a ‘paid zone’ featuring the procession ceremony Saturday at 11am. The procession through the various gates around Shuri Castle is free to watch, but there is a charge for those wanting to see the ceremony in the inner courtyard.

The festive Ryukyu Kingdom Royal Procession gets under way Sunday at 12:30 on Kokusai Street in downtown Naha City. The two-hour parade features 1,500 Okinawans dressed in Ryukyu Dynasty costumes, a picturesque photo opportunity chronicling the island’s history. The route is the same as the one kings and queens traveled over the past six centuries. Costumes are authentic, down to the same stitching used in robes and gowns worn by royalty including the king, queen and court ladies.

Shuri Castle is also the place to be a week from next Thursday, as Culture Day is celebrated in and around the castle, as well as in front of the Prefecture Museum. The Shuri Culture Festival takes place November 3rd from 1~8 p.m. The opulent parade reflects the Ryukyu Kingdom’s heyday. On top of the parade, young people of the present day Shuri will appear performing traditional Hatagashira, a flag pole performance, plus the Hatagashira battle recreation, and fireworks at the Ryutan pond.

Although not a part of the festival, but well worth seeing, is the Shurijo Castle Illumination, daily from sunset to midnight. The Okinawa Prefecture School for the Arts will also be holding its annual school festival with music, visual arts and other attractions. Shuri Castle, one of many castle ruins on Okinawa, is one of nine holding World Heritage registration.

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