CONTRIBUTED BY SHELL BURGER
Every September around the fall equinox, or what the Japanese call “Mid-Autumn,” Shuri Castle holds what they call their “Mid-Autumn Celebration” where they keep the castle grounds open after dark and allow visitors to enter the “pay” portion of the park to view a live performance for free.
The event provides attendees with a glimpse of the traditional entertainment provided by the Ryukyuan Kingdom to Chinese envoys. According to history, the Ryukyuan Kingdom had a very strong relationship with the Chinese Kingdom. Therefore, when a new king was to be crowned, an envoy from China would be sent to Okinawa to essentially confirm the position of the new king and reinforce the relationship with China.
At the festival, attendees will be able to experience classical Ryukyu dances, Ukanshin odori and Kumiodori, which are both performed under the harvest moon. The dances take you back in time and are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all those living in Okinawa. The celebration happens over a weekend with a couple of performances. The performance area does provide a good number of seats in the castle courtyard, but if you want a seat I recommend getting there with enough time to get a good spot in line. They will allow you to enter the area of the performance about 10-15 minutes prior to starting, so they will have you line up outside. If you aren’t able to get a seat in the courtyard, you can stand in the back or along the edges and still be able to see the stage area well.
A word of caution: this is not a normal “festival” where food and other activities are available; it is a live performance, so I recommend eating prior to going. Also, we found parking at the actual castle to be the best option for us, especially with our 2-year-old. There is a fee for parking – 310 yen for a small car or 940 yen for a large car. Or, if you prefer not to drive yourself, we did see a couple of tour groups from the local tickets and travel offices.
Additionally, for all you photography buffs out there, an added treat to the park being open later than normal is being able to see the grounds surrounding the castle and the castle itself illuminated. For a short glimpse of what you can expect to see at the celebration please check out this video my husband, Ryan Burger, put together from our recent experience.
Website: Shuri Castle
Address: 1-2 Kinjo-cho, Shuri, Naha City, Okinawa, 903-0815
Cost: Admission – FREE for this annual event. Parking fee is 310 yen for a small car or 940 yen for a large car.
Directions: Take 58 south toward Naha, turn left onto 82, turn right onto 28, left onto 29, then right onto 49, Shuri Castle should be up ahead. Just follow the signs for parking.