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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Shikina-en also known as Shichinanu udwun reduced to ashes in the Battle of Okinawa, leaving no trace behind. After 20 years of restoration since 1975,  it became a site that allows one to appreciate the graceful atmosphere of Ryukyu culture, including foreign visitors, now re-designated as a special place of national scenic beauty. 

Shikina-en is situated on a hill two kilometers south of the Shuri Castle. In contrast to the Uchaya udwun known as the Tō-en (East Garden) in Sakiyama-chō, Shuri, Shikina-en was called the Nan-en (South Garden)—the Ryukyu dynasty’s secondary residence. 

Its date of construction is unknown, though it is said to be around the end of the 18th century, presumed from a record of the reception of Zhao Wenkai, the senior envoy, and Li Dingyuan, the vice envoy, at the occasion of tribute of King Sho On in 1800. 

The abundant spring water of Ikutoku-sen as the water source, a pond with two small islands, a stone bridge, and a hexagonal pavilion arousing exoticism lies in this garden. The dredging of this pond doesn’t interfere with the surrounding water or geological system, thus it can be called an ecological and natural production in today’s terms. In other words, unlike the artificially forceful technique that assembles a great deal of labor, the garden was planned so that the water would flow and the rocks and soil settle themselves as they may.

The beauty of Ryukyu architecture glows even more with a thick evergreen forest placed in the background. On this masculine cyclorama, the coloring and fragrance of each season once could be enjoyed by this pond—plums for spring, wisteria for summer, bellflower for fall.

There is an old idiom called Nagari Buni –a floating boat – which means “to let oneself carried away in the eternal flow of time on a boat floating on the pond.” 

Coloring phases drawn with the rooftops of pavilions of all sizes, the light and the shade of red tiles on a drifting diagonal plane; the various changes of tones on the surface of the pond, glimpsed in the stillness of the dawn and the dusk; all these tranquil flow of space and time, clearly distinguished from the clamors outside, brings a graceful charm to this place.

Albeit the fact that this exquisite symphony of architecture and gardens is placed among other scenic beauties such as the Katsura Imperial Villa or the Shugaku-in Imperial Villa of Kyoto, the fineness of harmony in Shikina-en is found in how its taste differs from Japanese gardens planned in circular styles.

As a side note, the ground area of this garden is 41,997 meters square, and the total area used for architecture is 643 meters square, with 525 meters square for the pavilion.

There are plans to reconstruct the East Garden, Uchaya udwun in Sakiyama-chō, Shuri as well in the near future. Contrasting with the gusuku architecture, Shikina-en is displaying its beautiful figure all the more today, harmonizing with nature as the essence of refined Ryukyu architecture.