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Feel Okinawa's history at Nakijin Castle

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-18

Nakijin Castle is one of those historical places that everyone should visit while they are on Okinawa. Standing on top of one of the remaining walls, looking over the East China Sea, you can imagine the ancient days of the Ryukyu islands, and picture the Lord of Nakijin Castle looking out over the same blue sea contemplating his many plans.

Nakijin Castle is believed to have been built at around the 13th century, and was gradually expanded over a number of years. It played an important part in Okinawan history, and influenced the culture of the north, which still to this present day has distinct differences from southern Okinawa in language, religious ceremonies, and other aspects of Okinawan culture.

During the 13th century, Okinawa was governed by territorial lords and chieftains called "anji". None of the lords could be recognized as a true king during this century, as their power and authority was limited. Each lord had their own retainers and estates. The "anji" governed the lands surrounding the castles of each lord, and paid their allegiance. They carried arms, and proclaimed themselves the head of the smaller outlying villages. Through this system the lords were able to control their own areas and levy taxes through the "anji".

In the early part of the 14th century, three major areas emerged. The south came to be known as "Nanzan", and was controlled by the lord of Ozato CCastle. The central area, called "Chuzan", was dominated by the lord of Urasoe Castle, who enjoyed a more modern style of central government already in place, and was in control of the major castle towns and harbors. The third area, "Hokuzan", was overseen by the lord of Nakijin Castle in the north. The three seperate provinces each competed for recognition among China, and regularly traded independently of each other.

Excavation at the Nakijin site has revealed its independent past, with artifacts from China, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia. It is also believed that the castle played more of a significant role in the religion of the Ryukyu islands. A small "Fire-god" shrine is located within the enclosure, and there are many praying areas covering the castle grounds. The highest area of the castle gave its lord and other important dignitaries a commanding view of the East China Sea, enabling easy sight of any attackers approaching by sea. The rugged mountains and steep valleys surrounding the other sides of the castle posed a formidable barrier, further protecting it from encroaching enemies by land. The view overlooking the East China Sea was not only important for early warning of any approaching vessels, but it also gave a clear view of the religiously important island of Iheya. "Noro", or high priestesses came for this island, therefore all prayers were done facing that direction.

Any visitor to the castle will be first impressed by the long and high walls that extend around the perimeter. Sections of the wall can bee seen protruding from the mountain forests, making their ancient existence be known. During January and February, cherry blossoms line the many stairs of the entrance way, which seem to take you straight towards the sky. A small fee of 150 is charged for entrance, and a pamphlet in English explaining some of the history of the castle is available free of charge.

A visit to the castle should also include a drive or walk through Nakijin Village, located just at the foot of the mountain, below the castle. The village has plenty of old style Okinawan houses, and many narrow tree lined streets waiting to be explored. A smile and a greeting are often returned by the friendly locals.

Nakijin is located in Motobu Peninsula, north of Nago. There are many roads that lead to the castle, some of which are very winding and old. The easiest way to get there is to continue north from Nago on Highway 58, following the signs to Hedo Misaki. Look for the second sign pointing the way to Nakijin. You will turn lift off the highway and follow the coast of the Haneji Inland Sea. Continue along this road for another 30 minutes and you will enter Nakijin. Signs to the castle will appear, and you will turn left again to head up the mountain of Nakijin Castle. If you do take another route, do not worry. The area is filled with nothing but green mountains and farm fields, so enjoy the pleasant scenery.

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