5 World Heritage Sites You Shouldn’t Miss in Okinawa
The Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, a registered World Heritage Site since 2000, consists of 5 castles and 4 related sites. A gusuku is an Okinawan fortress, and here are 5 of them to check out.
Shuri Castle is a castle that was used as the Imperial Palace and administrative organ of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan for about 450 years between 1429 and 1879. It is the centerpiece of sightseeing in Okinawa, and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to consider it the symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The highlight of Shuri Castle is its unique architectural style which was influenced by both China and Japan and is unique to the Ryukyu Culture. The bright vermilion color may remind one of Chinese castles, but the shape of the castle looks similar to that of Japanese Shinto shrines. Shuri Castle and its cultural assets extend over a vast ground, and include the main building, the South Hall, and the North Hall, among others. It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete a basic tour around it, so even though all of it is located with Naha, it is a good idea to ensure that you have plenty of time to visit.
If Shuri Castle is the man-made symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Sefautaki could be considered to be its natural symbol. This is a sacred place said to have been created by Amamikiyo, the god responsible for the creation of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and it is still used as a place of worship. As a rule, men are forbidden to enter this place and, according to the word-of-mouth tradition, in the past only kings were allowed near the entrance of the main path. This is a really holy place, so be careful not to disrupt it when sightseeing. The highlight of this place is the Sangui, a triangle-shaped tunnel made of rocks which is said to be a power spot overwhelming with light. As you pass through the tunnel and come out at the other side, you will be able to enjoy a distant view of Kudakajima, where Amamikiyo is said to have descended, from the Kudakajima Yohaijo. Kudakajima is also known as the "island of the gods". Make a wish at this Uganju as you enjoy the view of Kudakajima. It is a good idea to make a rather abstract or general wish instead of a very specific one. Be aware that the path may be difficult, so it is not a good idea to wear sandals or high heels when you visit!
We especially recommend the Nakijin Castle Remains to those who like ancient ruins. The Nakijin Castle was built in the 13th century to protect Yanbaru, the northern area of the main island of Okinawa. These days, only the walls of the castle are left to give a feeling of the prosperity of the past. As you walk through the rich greenery in the castle remains, you will not be able to help but to feel the natural law by which everything that prospers must decay. From the peak of the mountain, you will be able to enjoy not only a view of the Nakijin Castle as a whole, but also of the ocean. Even if you do not have a lot of time to look at the remains in detail, you will find that this place offers a wide array of spectacular views. Nowadays there is a service called "Wedding at World Heritage Site Nakijin Castle" where couples can wear traditional costumes and celebrate their wedding in the castle. If you are lucky, you may be able to witness a traditional wedding here!
Shikinaen is a garden built as a villa for the Ryukyu Imperial Family. Like other assets of the Ryukyu Kingdom, this garden is characterized by a mix of both Japanese and Chinese cultures, and it combines a Japanese-style design featuring a promenade around a pond with Chinese-style architectural structures such as bridges and hexagonal buildings. In addition, a traditional Okinawan method called "aikatazumi" (stone piling) has been used to build around the Ikutoku-sen fountain. This garden could be said to be a combination of Japanese, Chinese, and Okinawan culture. Isn't it great to think that you can come to Okinawa and experience Japanese and Chinese cultures too? This is located at about a 10 min. ride by car from the Shuri Castle, so we recommend going by taxi!
Like Nakijin Castle, only the stone wall is still standing at the Zakimi Castle Remains, but you can enjoy a really beautiful view here. The castle is not really a sightseeing facility, so you do not have to pay to visit it, and it does not have any fixed operation hours. In other words, you can visit anytime you want, morning or night. If you visit early in the morning or late in the evening, when there is nobody else around, you may feel as if you have this World Heritage Site all to yourself! In addition, visitors are allowed to climb on the castle walls here, so be sure to give it a try. Furthermore, the Yomitan Municipal Museum of History & Folklore is located right next to the parking lot at the entrance of the castle. If you are interested in the ancient history of Okinawa, we recommend paying it a visit as well.
In this article we have featured 5 places that we recommend, but the Sonohyan Utaki Ishimon and the Tama Udun, which are also registered as World Heritage Sites, are located near Shuri Castle. Make sure you find a way to tour around these sites efficiently to visit them all.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.