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Historic castle celebrates Okinawa heritage

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-10-28

A 15th century castle at the heart of Okinawa’s history is celebrating this weekend, and everyone’s invited to the festival.

The Shuri Castle Festival commemorates the Ryukyu Kingdom era, which dates back to the 1600’s, when Sho Hashi used his leadership skills to bring together three Sanzan Kingdoms peacefully. Shuri Castle was the hub of royal activity, and home of 19 Ryukyuan kings for an era that spanned nearly 500 years.

Beginning tomorrow, and running through Sunday, Shuri Castle Festival will showcase the ancient kingdom’s culture and history through music, dance and drama. Friday and Saturday events unfold at the castle itself, while Sunday brings the action down the hill from Shurijo to Kokosai Street in downtown Naha.

Festival activities, organized jointly by the Shuri Castle Park Center and Ocean Expo Park, begin tomorrow at 10am, when traditional court dances are performed in the Lower Courtyard. This is a free entertainment zone. Ryukyu dances will illustrate the centuries of Okinawa history and cultural changes, which in many cases were influenced by the Chinese.

Ryukyu Traditional Dance will take place Saturday morning in the main castle forecourt. Admission is Y800 for adults, Y600 for those 12~18, and Y300 for children ages 5~11. Youngsters under five enter free. Shuri castle, one of many castle ruins dotting the Okinawa landscape, is one of nine holding World Heritage registration.

A full dress parade from the castle, on the city’s near northside, will make its way through downtown Naha Sunday afternoon, along Kokusai dori, the International Street. More than 1,300 Okinawans clad in historic costumes will walk the exact route used 600 years ago when the king and queen traveled into the city. All costumes are authentic, down to the same stitching used in robes and gowns worn by royalty including the king, queen and court ladies.

The parade begins at 3pm. There are dozens of excellent locations along the parade route for capturing those memorable historic photographs to send home to friends and family.

The Shuri Castle Festival is the first of two separate, but somewhat connected festivals. A Shuri Culture Festival begins on Tuesday, running through Thursday at Shuri Castle. Programs will run across the three days, and include a parade, dancing, singing, karate and a brass band. The highlight will be a spectacular fireworks display Thursday evening at the Shuri Castle Pond.

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