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Ouchibara, the “Inner” World of Shurijo Castle is Newly Open to the Public Starting February 2019!
post : 2019.03.21 06:00
In the recent broadcasting of Japan’s popular TV program, Sekai Fushigi Hakken, the newest area of Shurijo Castle was introduced to the world; the Ouchibara or Uchibaru area within the famous World Heritage Site. Ouchibara was situated at the back of the main Seiden hall of the castle, and this was the residential space for the king and the royal family. The restoration work for this area is now complete and has opened to the public starting February 1, 2019!
Just like the Seiden and the surrounding areas, the newly opened Ouchibara is also located within the paid admission area of Shurijo Castle. The admission is 820 yen and this ticket, available at the ticket office in front of the entrance to the castle, includes entry into the Seiden and the interior of the buildings surrounding the court, as well as Ouchibara which is behind the Seiden. The passageway into the Ouchibara area is just as it was in the centuries past, through the Shukujunmon gate.
Beyond the gate shown above is a world that was once the residence of the royals and served by mainly women. This was the Ryukyuan version of O-oku, the inner palace of the Shogunate in Japan which was also ruled by women. In those days, the area was not open for people to come and go freely, and strict rules applied in entering the area.
As you go through the Shukujunmon gate, the first building you’ll see is the Yohokoriden. This was the residence for the princesses. It was also used as a place to hold enthronement ceremonies for new kings.
Presently at Yohokoriden, they hold traditional performances to welcome visitors three times a day (at 11:00, 14:00, and 16:00).
Behind the Yohokoriden lays the foundations for a building called the Kanegura. Since historical records and references have been lost, the site is not restored and the former building site stands with no walls nor roofing.
Further in is the Hakuginmon gate. It is said to have been a gate used exclusively by the king and his ladies-in-waiting. Beyond Hakuginmon is the site where the Shinbyoden stood.
Shinbyoden was a structure that enshrined the past kings. According to old records, it was constructed in 1753, and the structure was expanded in 1845. The expansion work allowed the coffins of past kings that were laid to rest at Ufumi-Udun which was outside of the castle walls, to be moved here.
Even further into the area are a set of stairs that lead to Agari-no Azana. It is now an observation point where you can command a panoramic view. The photo above shows the backside of Shurijo, and the whole Ouchibara area. In the distance, you can see the ocean and on clear days, the Kerama Islands are visible from here.
Descending from Agari-no Azana and after a few steps, there was an area with vegetation growth. It was called Ouchibara-no Mamono Uchi-no Utaki, and also known as Uchiagarino Oibe. Utaki is a sacred place of worship, and Ibe (or Ibi) is the name of the most sacred area within the sacred site, and it is believed that the gods descended to the vegetation growing within the area.
Further down is the site where the Yuya stood, which was a bathhouse for the ladies of the court. Details on the bathing place for the kings are not clear, but is said that it was not at this location.
The photo above is the Nyokan Kyoshitsu, the residence of the ladies of the courts. This completes the tour within the Ouchibara area, but outside the Shukujunmon gate, there were many more interesting things to see.
The restoration work was conducted not just within the Ouchibara area, but also its surroundings, too. The area here was a sacred site and the Yoriuchi-no Utaki was found here, but today, it is laid out for visitors to freely tour the site. On the east side of the Yoriuchi are old stone pilings and Gama (cave) remains.
The layout lets the visitors walk halfway around the outer walls of the Ouchibara, and you can see the backside of the Agari-no Azana observation point, too.
At the very end of the newly opened area was Bifukumon, a gate that was also restored. Bifukumon was able to be restored because of a painting done by the former Prime Minister Hirofumi Ito, who visited Okinawa in 1887. In his painting was Bifukumon, which became a rare reference of this lost gate and led to its restoration.
The outer gate following Bifukumon is the Keiseimon. Normally, this gate was used as a service gate, but as the name (Kei=inherit, Sei=world) suggests, the gate was used by the prince ascending to the throne as he entered the castle grounds. Up until now, Keiseimon was closed off, but with the restoration complete, it has come back to life. The view beyond Keiseimon and the sight of Bifukumon left an impression, it was as if I was looking into the past, into the bygone era of the Ryukyu Dynasty with all its glorious atmosphere.
Until its opening in February, we were unable to see the Ouchibara situated on the other side of the Shurijo Seiden. It is finally open to the public, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to pay a visit.
Address: 1-2 Kinjo-cho, Shuri, Naha City, Okinawa
Admission: 820 Yen *Rate is current as of February 2019.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Hiroshi Kuwamura