Dancing Under the Harvest Moon
UNESCO Shuri Castle Under a Full Moon
A visit to the UNECSO World Heritage Site Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan is a top priority on many travel itineraries. Few of the millions of tourists passing through the fortresses gates realize, with a bit of planning, it's possible to see this majestic beauty under the light of a full moon.
The history buff, architect, student of culture, photographer or, anyone interested in Japanese gardens could spend days in the Shurijo Castle Park examining its treasures yet, never see it all.
So, it would be wise to plan on making several visits. I've been there dozens of times and will pass on a little cost saving tip.
Get a Shurijo Castle Passport
The admission fee for adults is 800 Yen per visit. Invest twenty minutes of your time at the ticket booth along with 1600 Yen and it gets you a one year passport.
Not only do you get to pass through the castle gates an unlimited number of times, for free, you receive discounts at the gift shops.
The Castle Remains Open at Night During the Harvest Moon
Advertised as a Mid-Autumn Celebration on the Shurijo Castle Website and by many local travel agencies as taking place August 15th each year, travelers may experience some confusion.
Okinawa, Japan schedules most festivals and special events by the Lunar (Chinese) calendar.
The photos I'm showing of Shuri Castle under a full moon were taken September 11, 2011 which was the second night of the Mid-Autumn Celebration. Links provided below give accurate scheduling, in English.
During this time of year the park normally closes at 8PM however, for this special event visitors may stay on the castle grounds until 9PM.
Show Up Early and Stay Late
Whether it's you first or fiftieth time visiting Shuri Castle I recommend arriving early to wander around the entire grounds. Wear comfortable walking shoes but, don't worry about stumbling on any uneven walkways. This is the most foot-friendly castle on the island and the only one I consider wheelchair and stroller safe.
There are plenty of places to buy refreshments, restroom facilities, park benches and spots to just sit in the shade as you stroll through the gardens and woods surrounding the castle. The grounds will be illuminated at night but, it's best to become familiar with the layout while it's daylight so you don't become disoriented as evening falls.
Before the Moon Rises
Traditional Okinawan music may be heard, piped through loudspeaker systems, for your enjoyment and you may see several examples of classical music and dance performed just outside the castle's main courtyard.
Up to this point, no admission fee applies. The ticket sales take place in a small building just to the left of the main courtyard entrance. An hour, or so, before the moon rises, crowds start to form lines, waiting for security guards to open the castle gates. You will need to show a ticket or castle passport to enter.
Once inside, you get to hear some of Okinawa's top musicians and see professional dancers and singers perform. And there is a beauty contest/pageant, of sorts, whereby a king and queen are selected to play the roles of royalty in the annual Ryukyu King and Queen's Coronation Ceremony.
Moonshine or not, This is the Best Time to See Shuri Castle
There may be clouds in the sky, obscuring a clear view of the harvest moon but, there is no better time of the year for catching the brilliant illumination shining on those red castle walls.
Japan National Tourism Organization
Shuri Castle Day and Night at the Moon Viewing Festival