The sprawling, grandiose seat of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom is far more reminiscent of Beijing's Forbidden City than Kyoto's Imperial Palace. A marvel for the eyes from the bright red walls and roof tiles to the massive gray and white walls ringing the vast stone courtyard, the original 15th-century castle was once part of an even more extensive property, but was mostly leveled during World War II when the Japanese Imperial Army made the complex its local headquarters.
After reconstruction in 1992, Shuri Castle was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a 10-minute walk from Shuri Station, the last stop on the monorail; follow the signs from the station. Go early to beat the crowds. A gatekeeper opens the Houshinmon Gate five minutes before opening by banging a gong.