The former palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Shuri Castle is an important part of Okinawa’s history and culture.
Seeping through its walls of bright vermillion red, it’s extravagant displays of decor and its distinctive architecture reflecting the kingdom’s influences and ties with both China and Japan, is an atmosphere of pride and power that can easily capture the heart of any visitor.

Unfortunately, to the shock and sorrow of many, the main buildings of the castle fell victim to an unforeseen fire that broke out during the night of 31st October 2019. Of course, with the castle’s cultural importance having touched the hearts of fans both in and outside of Japan, it wasn’t long before talks of reconstruction and donations to the cause had begun. Restoration efforts started in 2020, with the governor of Okinawa estimating completion by 2026.

Starting in 2020, the restoration efforts have been estimated to be completed by 2026, with the governor of Okinawa announcing ‘the reconstruction of the castle to be the fastest one yet’. Sure enough, the castle grounds were quickly reopened to visitors following the fire, and the work and progress of the rebuild are visibly on display.
But for those who have yet to see the complex in its full glory, it can be hard to grasp the true significance and scale of the castle in its current state; that’s why Okinawa Churashima Foundation is developing a replica of the castle on their VR site Virtual OKINAWA.

The opening of virtual Shuri Castle allows visitors to enjoy simulated sightseeing alongside friends of the grounds. By introducing individuals to the castle through the power of virtual reality, Okinawa Churashima Foundation hopes to strengthen the desire to rebuild and contribute to the preservation of traditional Okinawan culture.

Not just limited to the castle grounds, the Virtual OKINAWA project includes a number of VR reproductions of some of Okinawa’s famous sightseeing spots and unique events such as Naha’s Kokusai-dori shopping street and performances from Okinawa’s Eisa Festival.
Through this unique metaverse world, individuals can experience the thrills and charm of Okinawa from the comfort of home whilst simultaneously contributing to the development and revitalization of Okinawa’s tourism industry after both the burning of Shuri Castle and the damage caused by COVID-19.

Currently Virtual OKINAWA is only accessible through the virtual reality headset compatible ‘VRchat’ application, but with the addition of the castle – which is set to be available from spring of 2022 – individuals will also be able to experience Virtual OKINAWA from their smartphones.

As we await the release of Virtual OKINAWA’s Shuri Castle, head on over to the official website to see what other parts of the archipelago’s culture you can explore, or if you prefer a more hands-on experience, consider supporting the project by purchasing food and goods from local Okinawan stores via THE VIRTUAL OKINAWA SHOP.

By - Connie Sceaphierde.