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Nakagusuku Castle: A Spectacular Fifteenth-Century Fortress

By: Wendy Hively

Date Posted: 2000-12-15

There are approximately three hundred sites of castle ruins located throughout Okinawa, but none so extensive and well-preserved as those of Nakagusuku Castle. It was built by the Lord of Nakagusuku, Gosamaru Seishun, during the first half of the fifteenth century. Its name, Nakagusuku, means Central Castle and was built to protect the Chuzan, or middle, kingdom. The castle is strategically located 150 meters above sea level on a steep cliff above the old trading port of Yagi. The view from the top of the castle walls is spectacular with the Pacific Ocean to the east and the East China Sea to the west. In the distance are Tsuken and Kudaka islands. Upon Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, the entire grounds of Nakagusuku Castle were declared a National Historic Site.

Lord Gosamaru was a distinguished warrior during the feudal era and renowned for building castles. Before construction of Nakagusuku Castle, he built the Yamada fortress and Zakimi Castle in Yomitan. He was a loyal servant to King Sho Taikyu who later married Gosamaru’s daughter. Construction of these castles was done for the purpose of protecting Shuri and the King from outside attacks. In 1458, Gosamaru was brought to his demise at Nakagusuku Castle by Lord Amawari, who tricked King Sho Taikyu into believing that Gosamaru intended to invade Shuri and overtake the throne. Amawari was later defeated by the King who learned of the deceitful plan.

There are two entrances to the castle, the Yaguramom, or main entrance and the Arch Gate Way at the rear gate. At the main entrance is a stone marker on which the name of the castle is carved. The entire historical site stretches across 112,399 square meters with 14,473 square meters located within the castle walls. Construction of the castle lasted ten years and was quite an architectural feat. Massive stones, cut from Ryukyu limestone, formed the foundation and expansive outer walls. What is most impressive is the lack of any cement or mortar between the stones. Such magnificent and sturdy construction that has weathered time and the harsh island environment is truly awe-inspiring.

Inside the walls, the castle is divided into sections, known as citadels. The first citadel, also the largest, is where Gosamaru’s main mansion was built. Special ceremonies were also performed within this citadel, including the very popular “moon viewing parties”. Inside the west citadel is an open area, 115 meters in length, which was used to train horses. There are three wells located inside the castle walls that provided easy accessibility to water. Such amenities, which were unheard of during this time, gave fame and distinction to Nakagusuku Castle. Throughout the castle are special areas that are considered holy ground where prayers were said to ask for bountiful rain. Some of these sacred prayer spots are still used today. The Arch Gate Way, which marks the rear exit to the castle, allows the sun to shine in from the east. The construction of the arch is very impressive and has been compared to the architecture of the great Egyptian pyramids.

The castle is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is Y300 for adults, Y200 for high school students and Y100 for grade school students. A reduced rate is offered for groups of twenty or more. To reach Nakagusuku Castle from Kadena Air Base, drive south on Route 58. Turn left onto Route 130 and continue until the road intersects with Route 330. Turn right onto Route 330. Continue through several stoplights to Route 81. Turn left onto Route 81. Turn right onto Route 146. Approximately 2.5 km from the Route 146 turnoff, on the right side of the road, is the large red archway leading to the castle ruins. The grounds inside and around the castle ruins are very steep, rocky and uneven. Tennis shoes are strongly recommended.

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