Japanese Castles: Nakijin Castle Ruins
Nakijin Castle 今帰仁城
There are five castle sites that make up the World Heritage Gusuku Sites and related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, gusuku being the Okinawan word for fortress or castle. Four of the castles are located in what are now built up, urban areas.
The one exception being Nakijin Castle, and the more remote location makes the castle seem more impressive. It is the second largest castle site in Okinawa after Shuri Castle in Naha, and the grounds extend over 14 acres and with more than 1.5 kilometers of wall.
Located on the north coast of the Motobu Peninsula in northern Okinawa, Nakijin Castle occupies a hilltop at roughly 100 meters above sea level with great views over the East China Sea and into the mountainous interior of the peninsula.
History of Nakijin Castle
Nakijin was constructed in the 13th century, though archeology has confirmed that some form of structure was here earlier than that. At that time Okinawa Island consisted of three kingdoms, with the Hokuzan controlling most of the north of the island.
While being the largest kingdom in land area, it was the least densely populated. A few kilometers east of the castle was the kingdom's main harbor where trade with China was conducted. In the first years of the 15th century the Sho family rose to power in Chuzan, the middle kingdom, and conquered Hokuzan in 1416, and a governor for the Sho was installed in Nakijin.
A few years later Chuzan conquered Nanzan, the southern kingdom, and the island became a unified kingdom. In 1609 the Satsuma Clan from Kagoshima in Japan invaded and during the fighting most of the castle burned down. A few years later it was abandoned but religious sites within the castle grounds continued to be visited. During the Battle for Okinawa in 1945 the castle was bombed by the U.S. military.
Okinawan gusuku are quite different from Japanese castles. Nakijin is constructed out of smaller limestone rocks that have only been worked a little if at all, rather than the large, accurately hewn stones that Japanese castles are made of, and whereas Japanese castles will usually be composed of straight walls, here they snake around the contours of the hillside and undulate, but that makes them impressive in a different way.
The grounds of Nakijin Castle contains a number of excavated utaki - Okinawan sacred sites - that once must have been similar to Sefa Utaki, Okinawa's most famous sacred site on the southern coast.
Next to the car park is a small museum, the Nakijin Museum of Culture & History, entrance to which is included in the entry fee for the castle, but it is also possible to just visit the museum at a cheaper price. The displays cover not just the castle, but artifacts and archeological relics from the surrounding area.
From the car park the path heads up the slope on a long path towards the reconstructed main gate which is quite small and more like a door. From there paths lead off to different areas or up to the highest point where the palace and ceremonial area was located. Several sacred areas, still used, are in this area.
Nakijin Castle is often the first place in Japan that the cherry blossoms appear and so a big festival is held in the first week of February.
Churaumi Aquarium is only 7 kilometers from Nakijin Castle so the two sites could easily be visited on the same trip.
Nakijin Castle Access
5101 Imadomari, Nakijin, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 905-0428
Tel: 0980 56 4400
Open 8am to 6pm, 7 days a week.
Adults 400 yen, kids 300 yen.
It is possible to reach Nakijin by bus, taking the highway bus 111 from Naha to Nago, and then transferring to local bus 66 which will drop you at the Nakijin Joseki entrance, and then its a 15 minute walk to the castle.
Like most sites in Okinawa a rental car is the easiest option.