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Stand upon ancient walls of Ryukyu history

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-01-08

If you would like to visit some historical sites around Okinawa, you should definitely put Nakagusuku Castle on your list of places to see this year. The castle was built in the first half of the fifteenth century by Lord Gosamaru, one of Okinawa's most famous warriors. Nakagusku's stone walls sit high on top of Nakagusku village, rising above the Pacific Ocean on the east coast of the island. The castle's remains characterize the Ryukyu Kingdom era, and eerily declare their once powerful presence. It is one of the best preserved castles within the Prefecture, and is also one of the most impressive.

After passing through the entrance to the park, follow the signs and walk along the northern face of the castle. Signs will point the way, giving you a choice of entering from the castle's "ura mon" (rear gate) or the "sei mon" (main gate), which is located much further away. To get a real historical perspective of Nakagusuku, take the long route to the main gate - you will slowly be drawn toward its energy as you walk along the lushly covered slopes at the castle's base. Huge trees and sub-tropical vegetation hide the castle's ruins, until you reach the far end of the grounds. Walk up the remnants of a stone road where you will come upon a small, green field overlooking Nakagusuku Bay. Cliffs drop down, covered with thick forest. You can begin to imagine the natural defense Nakagusuku's surrounding terrain provided. From here, continue to your left and follow the signs to the main gate, where you will enter a world of legend and mystery.

As you approach the archway that will lead you into the castle's interior, you already begin to appreciate the fine craftsmanship that was needed to cut each one of the huge limestone rocks. Every piece fits together like a puzzle, and the perfect curve of the main gate's archway is a testimony to the skill of the engineers and builders of the era.

At the castle's southern citadel, you will come upon very spiritually important landmarks. Stand in silence as you imagine the deep rooted traditions that took place within this area. Here, royal family members, high priestesses, and Lord Gosamaru himself prayed at both the "Utugura Hinukan" and the "Amagoino utaki". Both places are clearly marked: the former a sacred place for prayer, while the latter was a site used to pray for rain. Like many prayer sites in Okinawa, beautiful trees and plants surround the area.

Entering the first citadel, you are immediately struck by the castle's awesome stone walls, which form beautifully curved lines. You can climb up these ancient walls to get an impressive view of both the second and third citadel, which were constructed at lower tiers. Centuries ago, Gosamaru and men from his army probably walked the same walls, where they could see any approaching enemy. Through excavation, archeologists and historians have learned that Lord Gosamaru had his main quarters located in the first citadel, and also held most of his important functions and gatherings here. The spot was also very famous for its full moon viewing parties, which Gosamaru held regularly.

It was also within these very walls that Gosamaru met his fate. The very loyal chieftain was preparing his men to do battle with the over ambitious Lord Amawari of Katsuren Castle, located further north. Amawari however, knew of Gosamaru's plans and secretly went to Shuri, where he fooled the king into believing that Gosamaru was actually planning to attack the throne. The king quickly sent his own forces to Nakagusuku, but Gosamaru, being loyal to the end, chose not to fight against the king and committed suicide instead. Later, the king learned of Amawari's treachery and sent his army after him. Gosamaru's tomb is also located near the castle and can be visited.

You can explore the other areas of the castle, which include ancient wells, stairways, and other interesting sites, as you please. Each path leads you to a new find. Eventually, you will come to the rear gate, which leads out onto a massive green field. The walls of Nakagusku stand proudly in the distance, the same way Lord Gosamaru once did himself.

To get to Nakagusku Castle, start from Camp Foster's American Legion gate where Sam's Cafe is also located. Go straight at the traffic light over Route 330. Look for signs pointing the way to Nakagusuku Park. Turn right at the sign, and head up the hill, and you will run into the castle.

The castle is open everyday from 9 am until 5 pm. There is a small admission fee of 300 for adults, 200 for high school students, and 100 for junior high school children.

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