Like many in the karate world, I was stunned and devastated by the destruction by fire of Shuri Castle last week. Shuri Castle is symbolically and historically closely entwined with the evolution of the various forms of Ryukyu Bujutsu1.
I first visited Shuri Castle in 2005 when Belinda and I made our first visit to Okinawa2, and I visited again over the 2018–19 New Years period for KNX Okinawa.
This was actually the fifth time that Shuri Castle has been destroyed by fire in its roughly 600 year history. For most of this period, Shuri Castle was the palace of the King of Ryukyu Kingdom, where the various martial arts that have evolved into contemporary karate were forged.
Shuri Castle was most recently destroyed in the final battles of World War 2, and was reconstructed in the 1990s. In 2000, the significance of the site to Okinawan cultural heritage was recognised by UNESCO.
The historical value of the building itself is outweighed by its symbolic value to the Okinawan people and culture, and the value of the more than 1,500 artefacts and documents that were stored and displayed there—many of which were destroyed in the inferno.
The loss of this artefacts and documents is significant and certainly devastating, especially noting that scant few documents and treasures survived the conflagration of WW2.
As a karateka, I feel for the loss of Shuri Castle and the treasures it maintained. The physical building can—and probably will—be rebuilt. The Okinawan people will weather this loss, just as they have so many other losses throughout their famously peaceful, although often turbulent, history.