Gusuku Sites and Related Properties 
of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (2000)
Japan

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Five hundred years of Ryukyuan history (12th-17th century) are represented by this group of sites and monuments. The ruins of the castles, on imposing elevated sites, are evidence for the social structure over much of that period, while the sacred sites provide mute testimony to the rare survival of an ancient form of religion into the modern age. The wide-ranging economic and cultural contacts of the Ryukyu Islands over that period gave rise to a unique culture.  

The Kingdom of Ryukyu -- more commonly known as Okinawa -- historically at the center of the trading routes between China and Japan thrived for centuries and over time produced its own distinctive culture. The ruins of the castles and their walls today tell of an intriguing Ryukyu culture that once reigned unchallenged.

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu are the ruins and cultural properties produced between the late 14th and 18th centuries when the Kingdom of Ryukyu was at the height of its existence.  

Shuri-jo Castle is located in the eastern part of the city of Naha, Okinawa Prefecture and was the center of the Kingdom of Ryukyu in 1492, (the year Columbus traveled to America) when Lord Shohashi unified the island kingdom. 

At the time the kingdom was prospering due to trade links with China, Japan, and other Southeast Asian nations, especially so under the king Shoshin who himself ascended the throne in 1477. 

Outer baileys were added to the northern part of Shuri Castle. The Seiden (main building of the palace) which housed a throne room was adorned by Chinese stone guardian statues and Ryutsyu (dragon-shaped columns) giving it a somewhat regal air for the time. 

  • Japan 2002. Souvenir sheet. Gusuku Sites and the Kingdom of Ryukyu. Each of the stamps are shown below in close-ups. 

Japan 2002. Souvenir sheet. Gusuku Sites and the Kingdom of Ryukyu.

Shoshin continued to rule the kingdom for half a century and in the process established the golden age of the Kingdom of Ryukyu with the ruins of his castle reminding us of the age in which he lived and the nation he helped give birth to. 

Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. Stone lion of the royal mausoleum of the second Shou dynasty. Japan 2002. Kingdom of ryukyu. Stone gate to the sonohyan'utaki sanctuary. Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. Ruins of Nakijinjou castle and Hikan cherry blossoms. Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. Stone gate of the ruins of Zakimijou castle. Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. Ruins of Katsurenjou castle walls.

In the justification for inscription, the UNESCO states that 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. 

Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. Ruins of Nakagusukujou castle second citadel. Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. "Kankaimon", the main gate of Shurijou castle. Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. The main hall of Shurijou castle. Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. "Shikina'en", the royal garden. Japan 2002. Kingdom of Ryukyu. Seifautaki sanctuary.

The culture of the Ryukyuan Kingdom evolved and flourished in a special political and economic environment, which gave its culture a unique quality. The Ryukyu sacred sites constitute an exceptional example of an indigenous form of nature and ancestor worship which has survived intact into the modern age alongside other established world religions.

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Japan (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Japan for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus
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