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The Royal Villa of the Ryukyuan Kings and a World Heritage Site, the [Shikinaen Gardens]
post : 2021.04.30 18:00
The largest villa of the Ryukyu royal family, the Shikinaen Royal Gardens was registered as a World Heritage Site in the year 2000.
The original garden was completed at the end of the 18th century (now restored) and was used by the royal family as a peaceful retreat. The garden is laid out in the Kaiyushiki style, where footpaths encircle the central pond and was also a place where Chinese envoys known as Sapposhi were entertained.
As you enter through the gate, visitors are greeted with lush greenery and serenity, a stark change from the busy, noisy streets behind you.
A row of banyan trees with roots so sturdy and full of life grow from the earth, and their branches stretching gracefully up toward the skies.
The lively songs of the little birds are the only sounds that break the peaceful silence, and from between the luscious growth are gentle rays of the sun.
Here, it’s as though time had stopped, taking you back to the scenes of the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the centuries past.
As you make your way along the route, the first structure you’ll see on the left is the Banya. This is where the guards were stationed when on duty.
Further along the path is the main entrance to the garden which is presently not in use, and just past it is a beautiful cobblestone path.
On both sides of the path are Akagi, banyan, Ryukyu pine, and other trees with beautiful branches that form a luscious green tunnel. The sight makes you anticipate the appearance of Kijimuna (a spirit that is believed by the locals to inhabit ancient banyan trees).
As you walk down the gentle, curving slope, wondering with excitement to see what awaits.
Then your eyes are greeted with…
A traditional Kaiyushiki style garden surrounded by brilliant greenery.
This style of garden is designed so that people can stroll along the path around the pond and enjoy the changing scenery.
The pond is called Shinji Ike, taken from its shape. When seen from above, the pond resembles the kanji character for Kokoro (心) or heart, and Shinji literally means “the character for Kokoro” and Ike means “pond”.
The structure with the red-tiled roofs that stands on the left in the photo above is the Udun, the villa for the royal family.
There are 15 rooms in all and was used to entertain the royal family and also the Sapposhi envoys when they were visiting the Ryukyus.
Visitors can go inside to view the interior and a tour around gives you a peek into how things might have been like in those days. The first photo above is the Ichibanza, the main room where only royalty and Sapposhi could enter. The second photo directly above is the Daidokoro or kitchen.
One of the sources of water for the pond is located at the water’s edge, and this spring is called the Ikutokusen.
The stonework is distinctive to the Ryukyus and is piled to form an arch. This style of stonework is called the Aikata-zumi, and the graceful curves of the structure are remarkable.
Two bridges of varying sizes are designed so that the garden can be appreciated from the middle of the pond.
The bridges have a Chinese-style design and are made with Ryukyu limestone.
The hexagonal structure called the Rokkakudo, shown above is also in a Chinese-style design.
The Rokkakudo or the Azumaya pavilion stands on a small island in the pond. The shape and the black tiles of the roof have a unique, foreign taste.
As you leave behind the pond and ascend the hill, you’ll find the Kankodai viewing deck.
From here, you can see all across the southern region of Okinawa Island. From the spot, the ocean is out of sight, which is not often the case at such observation points across Okinawa. It is said that the spot was specifically chosen to give the impression to the Chinese envoys that “the islands of the Ryukyus are vast stretches of land where one cannot see the seas even from a high point.”
Adjacent to the Kankodai is a banana garden. What remains today is much smaller than what it once was. In the past, it is said that the whole area was covered with banana trees.
There is also a garden filled with fruit trees behind the Banya where Shikwasa citrus, guavas, and other fruits grow.
A tour around the Shikinaen Royal Gardens offers visitors a chance to see various flora of the Ryukyus, and architectural styles of the time believed to have been influenced by China.
The Shurijo Castle and all its glory are a must-see, but the Shikinaen is also another spot that you can’t leave out when getting to know the culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
We hope that you’ll visit the garden, stroll through its grounds, and enjoy a trip back in time to the dynasty period.
Shikinaen Royal Gardens
Address: 421-7 Maaji, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00 to 17:30 (from 9:00 to 17:00 October to March)
*Please check updated facility hours before your visit.
Closed: Wednesdays (if it falls on a holiday or Okinawa Memorial Day, the following day will be closed)
Admission: ¥400/Adult, ¥200/Child (elementary school and junior high school students)
Okinawa CLIP Editorial Dept. (Article by Akiko Ono, Photos by Taiki Gushiken)