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500 Years of Yomitanís History in Stone, Pottery, Painting and Cloth

By: Wendy Hively

Date Posted: 2000-09-29

As I walked through the forest of pine trees leading to the Zakimi Castle ruins, I could almost imagine what it might have been like during the fifteenth century. The castle sits atop a mountain, which allows a strategic view of the East China Sea. It was built by Gosamaru in 1426 to protect Shuri from potential attacks. All that is left of the massive fortress are the exterior walls that served to protect the main living quarters of the inhabitants. The ruins were declared a national historical site by the Japanese government and turned into a public park to celebrate the return of Okinawa to Japan.

The remaining portions of the castle are quite impressive. The walls are approximately twenty feet high and five feet wide with an archway at the main entrance and another in an interior wall leading to the main living area. The only evidence of the former living quarters is an outline of the stone walls. Construction of the castle must have been a meticulous task; it was done in such a way that each stone appears to have been hand-carved to fit perfectly with its neighbor. A set of stairs takes you up to the top of the walls where you can see the shrine built in honor of Gosamaru.

Just adjacent to the castle ruins is the Yomitan Historical and Folk Craft Museum. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Okinawa participated in trading with China and Southeast Asia. The importation of foreign goods through Yomitan harbor shaped the cultural traditions that still flourish in the twenty-first century. The first floor of the museum features exhibits that describe the lifestyle and customs of the Yomitan people. Highlighted in the textiles exhibit are weaving looms and kimonos made of lightweight summer cloth or heavier cloth for the winter. Until 1945, villagers wove their clothes by hand from the fibers of the banana plant that were grown at each home. In a neighboring room is an example of a typical Yomitan home, complete with a thatched roof, hearth and ancestral altar. Important archaeological relics include pottery and a complete human skeleton, dating back 7,000 years. Other exhibits feature fishing and farming equipment, war memorabilia and objects used for funerals and burials.

On the second floor is the Yomitan Art Museum where the collection of items on display changes from time to time. Examples of the traditional arts featured in the exhibition hall are paintings, pottery and textiles. During my visit, the highlight was a collection of the most exquisite pottery pieces Iíve ever seen. Pottery has long been an important part of the Yomitan culture; the earliest pottery pieces found in Yomitan date back to before the seventeenth century. Among the more modern bowls, vases and platters featured in the exhibit are pieces made by Jiro Kinjo; a renowned potter who was named a living national treasure by the Japanese government.

The museum is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. Entrance to the castle ruins and surrounding grounds is free, however, there is a small fee to tour the museum. The cost of an adult ticket is Y200 and a student ticket is Y50. To get to the castle ruins and museum, drive north on Highway 58 past Kadena Circle and past the turnoff for Route 6. Approximately 4 kilometers past Kadena Circle is a sign that reads Route 12, Zakimi. Turn left onto this road which runs through Yomitan Village. Follow the signs that lead to the Zakimi Castle ruins.

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