Where dragons look

A photo of Shuri Castle main hall (seiden) taken in 1877 was confirmed. It is the oldest photo of Shuri Castle. The photo was taken by Jules Joseph Gabriel Revertégat (1850-1912), a French lieutenant of the Navy who was on board the French 2nd class Cruiser “Laclocheterie” under command of Admiral Henri Rieunier (1833-1918).

They left Cherbourg on July 25, 1875, for a 32-month circumnavigation in the Far East, mainly in China and Japan. Jules Révertégat spoke Japanese and served as an interpreter on behalf of the French diplomatic mission. They reached Naha Port in May 1877 and visited the last king Sho Tai in his palace in the royal capital of Shuri. At that time, Ryukyu and France signed a treaty. According to Associate Professor Gota Tadashi, in the 1870s, French, British, and German groups were allowed to enter Shuri Castle.

The “Laclocheterie” returned to Cherbourg on April 13, 1878. Upon return, Revertégat wrote a 7-page article entitled: “Une visite aux Îles Lou-Tchou” (A visit to the Ryukyu Islands) which appeared in the travel journal “Le Tour du Monde” in 1882.

At that time, Revertégat also published several prints, including of Shuri Castle and of the Zuisenmon Gate. Some of the prints had also been introduced in “Aoi me ga mita Dai Ryūkyū” (Nirai, 1987), but at that time their date of origin was unknown. Now the date of 1877 was confirmed from the photo of Shuri Castle, which served as the basis for one of the prints.

The photo was first introduced in a 2010 paper by a descendant of the cruiser captain, but had remained largely unknown previously. Therefore, the photo was not used for the 1992 restoration of Shuri Castle. This is significant because the orientation of the Great Dragon Pillars in front of the main hall (seiden) had remained controversial previously, but in the photo they are facing the front. Therefore, the photograph confirms for the first time that the Great Dragon Pillars were facing the front in 1877.

Numerous photographs are still extant in the private collection of Hervé Bernard.

Copyright Hervé Bernard.

Main sources:

Revertégat, M. J.: Une visite aux Îles Lou-Tchou. In: Le Tour du Monde. Nouveau Journal des Voyages. publié sous la direction de M. Édouard Charton et illustré par nos plus célèbres artistes. 1882, Deuxieme Semestre. Libraire Hachette Et Cie. Paris, Londres, 1882. pp. 250-256.

The large dragon pillars face front … The oldest photo of Shuri Castle? Taken in 1877 at the end of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Ryukyu Shinpo, November 14, 2020.

© 2020, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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