National

Once reduced to ashes, Okinawa's Shuri Castle regains its stature

Kyodo

Leaders of the Group of Eight major powers had a traditional Okinawan dinner Saturday night at Shuri Castle here in the prefectural capital, including boiled sliced pig’s ear, goya bitter melon and locally brewed awamori liquor.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori hosted the dinner for the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States in the castle’s Hokuden (North Hall), which used to receive foreign envoys in the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Okinawa got its modern name when the kingdom was incorporated into Japan in 1879.

In making a toast, Mori said, “This summit will be the last one to be attended by (U.S. President) Bill (Clinton). Nothing is more gratifying than the fact that he suspended important negotiations on the Middle East to rush to Okinawa.”

Following Mori’s speech, the leaders stood and applauded Clinton, who bowed in return.

Mori gave each of the other leaders a new ¥2,000 bank note, with the last letter in the serial number on the notes corresponding to the first letter of each leader’s country.

The ¥2,000 notes, which began circulating Wednesday, were issued to commemorate the summit and feature the castle’s Shureimon gate. It is the country’s first new bill denomination in 42 years.

About 120 locals welcomed the leaders to Shuri Castle with a performance that featured a three-string Okinawan banjo, Japanese drums and a traditional lion dance.

The leaders posed for a commemorative photo outside the illuminated castle before moving to the Hokuden.

At the hall, they were given a demonstration of bingata dyeing, a method by which paste is stenciled onto fabric before the unstenciled areas are richly colored by hand. Clothes worn by Ryukyu nobles were also on display.

Shuri Castle was built sometime after the unification of three regional kingdoms into the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1429. In 1879, Sho Tai, the last king of the Ryukyus, vacated the castle for the Meiji government, which turned the independent kingdom into a prefecture.

The castle was completely destroyed by Allied air raids in the final stages of World War II, as the local headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Army was in an underground complex beneath the castle.

Until 1982, the site was used as the campus for the University of the Ryukyus, but it was rebuilt in 1992 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan.

Yasuhide Uezu, 75, director of a group that lobbied the central and local governments to rebuild the castle, received the G8 leaders Saturday at the castle, clad as a senior Ryukyu official.

“Because I recall when the castle was burned to the ground, nothing is more delightful than world leaders exchanging a few cups of sake at the center of the kingdom that prospered from trade with other Asian countries,” Uezu said.

The government hope the castle will be put on UNESCO’s World Heritage List at the end of this year.

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