The Kingdom’s Ruins in the North of Okinawa Honto
Nakijin Castle’s ruins are located on the Motobu Peninsula, in the north of Honto, Okinawa’s main island in Japan. These vestiges of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s former fortress are part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and provide a wonderful historical and spiritual visit. At the beginning of spring, Okinawan people gather under the site’s blooming cherry trees to celebrate ohanami.
Ruins are often the sole remnants of the former independent Ryukyu Kingdom (1429 – 1879) and are categorized into 2 great types:
- The sacred sites called utaki (御嶽); and,
- The fortresses called gusuku (ぐすく).
This historical heritage, that has been severely damaged by successive invasions of Okinawa archipelago, is now protected since 2000 by the UNESCO and listed in the World Heritage as "Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu". Nakijin Castle 🏯 is a typical example of a fortress’ ruins, located in Motobu Peninsula in the north of Honto, the main island.
During the Sanzan era (1322 – 1429), before its territory was unified, the island was divided into 3 feudal domains, with the northern kingdom called Hokuzan being home to Nakijin-jo castle. Perched on a rocky belvedere, it was overlooking the landscape and from its higher point it commended a panoramic view on the East China Sea. Three generations of lords have ruled the castle until the fall 🍁 of the kingdom of Hokuzan, before it became the vassal of Chuzan’s central government, established in Shuri Castle, at the beginning of the 15th century.
Nakijin-jo buildings were completely burned in 1609 during the conquest of the Ryukyu Islands by the army of the powerful Satsuma domain, ruled by the Shimazu clan and based in Kyushu. Nowadays, the population considers this feudal vestiges both an archaeological site and an important spiritual site of the Ryukyuan culture.
A sakura spot in the heart of the fortifications
Visiting the ruins of Nakijin Castle is a pleasant ascending walk along the tall fortified walls, perfectly hugging the curves of the natural landscape. The several landings with plazas let visitors imagine where were built the high ranking officers and trustful warriors’ residences, as well as the various administration’s buildings.
Nature has since reclaimed its rights, but the site is maintained and details of the fortress walls, such as coralline limestone used in their construction, are viewable. The grey tones of the fortifications perfectly match the green of the vegetation and the blue of the sea. The castle is also very popular among the locals to celebrate hanami, the cherry tree flowers viewing. There are indeed many kanhizakura cherry trees 🌸 on the site, that turn a dark pink at each beginning of spring, that is to say from mid-January to early February in Okinawa.
History amateurs can admire part of the recent years’ archaeological digs from the site and the attached villages, as they are displayed in the neighboring museum called in English "Nakijin Village History and Culture Center". There are also early Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) Chinese potteries attesting of the fruitful trade relationships of the kingdom with Continental Asia. Items of the times’ daily life are also displayed such as working tools and a few weapons.