- The Unchanged Scenery of King Hokusan’s Nakijin Castle Ruins
- ＞Notable Spots Around the Ruins - 1. “Kupa no Utaki”
- ＞Notable Spots Around the Ruins - 2. Nakijin Norodennai Hinokami No Hokora”
- Find The Legend of Minamoto no Tametomo With A Guided Exploration of Nakijin Village’s Remains
- ＞Must See Scenery Of “Unten Observation Deck”
- ＞ Check Out The “Monument to Minamoto no Tametomo’s Arrival”
- ＞The Cave Where Minamoto no Tametomo First Lived
- ＞Graves Of Guardians Dispatched From The Ryukyu Kingdom
Nakijin Village, located in the northern end of the Okinawa Island, is a place full of ancient houses, a beautiful coastline, and an expansive scenery. The World Heritage Site, “Nakijin Castle Ruins”, is known as a very popular tourist site. The Nakijin Castle Ruins is one of the prefecture’s most beautiful sites, and is also famous for cherry blossoms that bloom from the second half of January.
However, there are actually not many records related to the Nakijin Castle Ruins in historical documents. Currently, excavations are being conducted at the ruins, with many historical landmarks important to understanding Okinawa being found and preserved.
Today, we will go on a journey to Nakijin Village’s must-know historical spots.
The Unchanged Scenery of King Hokusan’s Nakijin Castle Ruins
The Nature-Filled Coastline Of Nakijin Village’s Nagahama Beach
Nakijin Village lies at the northern end of Okinawa Island, near the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. This pleasant location, full of nature, feels as unchanged from the old days of Okinawa. Time seems to pass slowly here, with both cars and visitors taking their time in transit.
Nakijin Is Famous For Watermelon. They Fill The Stores of Nakijin Throughout The Year.
In Nakijin Village, you can find the Nakijin Castle Ruins, which is where the ruler of northern Okinawa, “King Hokusan”, sat before the island was unified under the Ryukyu Kingdom.
What is “World Heritage Site - Nakijin Castle Ruins”?
Nakijin Castle Ruins Was Registered As A World Heritage Site in 2001
Upon arriving at the Nakijin Castle Ruins, visitors may be intimidated by the curved castle walls that appear to rise from the ocean like a wave. Let’s take a look at the history of the Nakijin Castle Ruins that lie behind these walls.
Although Nakijin Castle is a World Heritage Site, no one knows who actually built it. It is believed that it was built during the Gusuku (Castle) Period (12th to 13th century), a time where many powerful warlords built their own castles.
Afterwards, “Hokusan” ruled northern Okinawa, “Chusan” ruled the middle region, and “Nansan” ruled the south, in a period which came to be known as the “Sanzan”, or Three Mountains Era.
The Sanzan period continued for over a 100 years, However, in 1416, the leader of Chusan, “Shouhashi”, was destroyed by Nakijin’s King Hokusan.
The Castle Was Built On Top Of A Mountain
The last king of Hokusan was called “Hananchi”. According to historical records from the Ryukyu Kingdom, Hanachi was “unparalleled in both military arts and wicked acts”. Hanachi then “fought with Shouhashi, and then committed suicide after being betrayed by his close associate”.
Something to keep in mind about these records written about the last moments of Hokusan is that they were written by the Ryukyu Kingdom, who was trying to unify Hokusan, Chusan, and Nansan - the records may have been written in a way to support the Kingdom’s cause for unification.
Due to the historical truth not being quite clear, in modern times, the history of the King of Hokusan is portrayed in a romantic fashion.
The Once “Impregnable” Nakijin Castle Ruins
Notable Spots Around the Ruins - 1. “Kupa no Utaki”
If you visit the Nakijin Castle Ruins World Heritage Site, make sure to check out “Kupa no Utaki”. At first look, it may just look like a mountain. However, this mountain that appears to emerge from the castle ruins was used by ancient people of the island as an object of their faith.
The road that leads to the top of this mountain is quite dangerous to walk on. As a result, a place to worship Kupa no Utaki, named “Sakanke”, was built in front of the Nakijin Castle Ruins ticket purchase area. To this day, many people come to this space in order to worship.
“Sakanke”, Looking Out Upon Kupa no Utaki
■What is “Utaki”?
Buddhism and Shintoism are not widespread throughout Okinawa. Ancestor worship, as well as the faiths “Utaki” and “Niraikanai” which are unique to the island, are still have a strong presence. The traditions and culture of Okinawa have deep ties to these faiths.
The “Utaki” faith is a religion that varies to each village, where each “Utaki” is a god. These “Utaki” come in different shapes and sizes - there are areas where entire mountains or forests are thought of as “Utaki”.
”Soitsugi”, An “Utaki” Found Inside The Nakijin Castle Ruins.
Inside the Nakijin Castle Ruins, there are three to four Utakis, including “Soitsugi”, that are still worshiped by locals to this day. Among all the Utaki in Okinawa, ”Kupa no Utaki” has an especially holy and important position.
Notable Spots Around the Ruins - 2. Nakijin Norodennai Hinokami No Hokora”
Road Leading To The Noro Residence Ruins, Near Nakijin Castle Ruins
”Nakijin Norodennai Hinokami no Hokora” is our next notable spot, located in an area that is a quick walk from the Nakijin Castle Ruins ticket booth.
These ruins were the residence of the “Noro”, placed here by the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Noro were a religious group that performed the region’s rituals and managed the Utaki. Today, a shrine that was visited by children at the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom still remains, enveloping the ruins with a holy atmosphere.
One of the interesting traits of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s 450-year reign is that a religious organization ran by women had a large amount of power. These women were deployed throughout Okinawa, given an official place in the Kingdom’s administration and were called the “Noro”. It is thought that the Ryukyu Kingdom used the power of religion to command and mobilize its inhabitants.
In Okinawa, it is normal for farm villages to be located very close to castles. It is known that during Nakijin Castle’s heyday, farmers lived near the castle as well. From the time of the Hokusan King, farmers split into villages next to castles on the top of the mountains. Two of these villages were called “Nakijin Village” and “Oyadomari Village”.
After these castles were abandoned, the Noro and inhabitants of the Nakijin and Oydomari villages moved from these mountainous areas by the castles to the oceanside. The “Imadomari” Village was born from the combination of these two villages.
In 1879, the Ryukyu Kingdom became Okinawa Prefecture, and the institution of the Noro was abolished. However, the traditions of the Noro (known now as Agents of Noro), including the performing of rituals by priests at Utaki and other places of worship, still continue in the Imadomari Village. Imadomari has become a place where the traditions and culture of Okinawa still remain.
Houses Are Set Up In A Grid Pattern In Imadomari Village
Imadomari Village is a three minute drive from the Nakijin Castle Ruins World Heritage Site. The “Imadomari Fukugi Namiki Village” is popular for its location by the sea and its preservation of the scenery from Okinawa’s past.
Imadomari Village’s Fukuigi Namiki Road
The Fukugi Trees are used to protect from strong winds, flooding, and forest fires. Villages located near the coastline are encircled by these Fukugi trees, which has protected people from typhoons and other natural phenomenon. In the spaces between the Fukugi trees, you can see the ancient style houses from the Ryukyu era. Their beauty, unchanged from this past era, represents the lifestyle of Okinawa.
In addition, many worshipers come to visit the “Nakijin Noro Dennai”, which moved to the Imadomari Village alongside the farmers. From 9:00 to 17:00, anyone can come worship - if you’re lucky, you might meet a real Noro.
”Noro Dennai” In Imadomari Village
Find The Legend of Minamoto no Tametomo With A Guided Exploration of Nakijin Village’s Remains
We joined a “Nakijin Castle Study Group” that guides visitors through the area in order to learn more about Nakijin Village’s history and traditions.
“Hashi no Eki Rikarikawarumi” Overlooks Yagaji Island and Kouri Island
We will be walking on the “Unten Course”, which looks out from “Hashi no Eki Rikarikawarumi” to the indented coastline and Unten Port.
”Hashi no Eki Rikarikawarumi” is a scenic spot at Nakijin Village. From here, you can see the Hanejinai Sea, Unten, Yagaji Island and Kouri Island. In the far distance, you can also make out the mountains that make up the northern end of the Okinawa Islands. These beautiful islands make for great pictures if the weather is nice.
The azure blue waters and floating islands allow for a beautiful view of nature that cannot be found anywhere else in Okinawa Prefecture.
The indented coastline of the Unten Port keeps ships at sea safe, even during stormy weather. Unten Port has functioned as an important port since olden times, utilizing the constantly calm waters of the Hanejinai Sea. The ports of Naha and Unten are two major locations for trade between China and Japan.
Guide of the “Nakijin Castle Study Group”, Mr. Koura
After meeting with our guide from the “Nakijin Castle Study Group”, Mr. Koura, we’re off to the Unten Course.
Must See Scenery Of “Unten Observation Deck”
See The Kouri Bridge From The Unten Observation Deck
The first stop on our course is the observation deck at Okinawa’s National Park “Unten Morisono”.
The Kouri Bridge, extending over 1,960m to Kouri Island, can be found here, unfurling before a number of mountains.
According to Mr. Koura, the black section is a large coral reef. The area extending from the left to the right of the front of the bridge represents the sea route to Unten Port. You can tell how deep the sea route is based on how dark the color of the water becomes at the center. Ships weighing over 10,000 tons are able to use this route to travel from Unten Port to the Hanejinai Sea. There are not many other sea routes that fit the requirements for this kind of ship class.
There is also a ferry set up in a separate area from Unten Port that travels to Iheya Island and Izena Island on the north end of Okinawa Prefecture.
The Area Around Unten Port Is Dotted With Historical Ruins
The geographically convenient Unten Port has experienced much throughout its history in Okinawa and Japan. For example, it was the location that the Satsuma invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1609. The French Armada, as well as Commodore Perry’s American Fleet, used this location as well to conduct diplomatic relations. Over this long period, it has proved its worth as an important port for Okinawa.
Iheya Island Bound Ferry At Unten Port
One of the stories of Unten Port is the “Legend of Minamoto no Tametomo”.
Minamoto no Tametomo was defeated in the war of the Hougen era in 1156, and was banished to Izu Oshima Island. Tametomo encountered a storm while escaping from the island to Okinawa. By “leaving luck to heaven”, he was able to arrive at Unten Port.
According to Mr. Koura, “This was written about with Japan in mind. The Ryukyu Kingdom was trading with both Japan and China at the time. afterwards, It becomes really interesting when you think of how Minamoto no Tametomo was written about during the period when Okinawa was controlled by the Satsuma.”
There is more to the story of Tametomo. A boy was born to Tametomo and a member of the Noro at Nakijin Village, who would later go on to become the leader of Nakasan. It is unclear whether Minamoto no Tametomo actually remained in the Ryukyu Kingdom or not.
Check Out The “Monument to Minamoto no Tametomo’s Arrival”
Monument to Minamoto no Tametomo’s Arrival
Next, we visited the “Monument to Minamoto no Tametomo’s Arrival”, located in the mountains.
The monument, based on the Legend of Minamoto no Tametomo, has words written by Togo Heihachiro, a famous warrior from the Bakumatsu Era to the beginning of the Showa Era. He is known for his heroism in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese war.
The stone monument was built in 1922. This was a time directly before restrictions were made on the use of Okinawa Language in favor of Japanese, in order to bring Okinawa into the fold of the Japanese nation.
Mr. Koura mentioned that “Historically, Nakijin is a very important location for Okinawa”. After feeling the sadness experienced throughout the history of the Ryukyu and Okinawa, we moved on from the monument in the mountains.
The Cave Where Minamoto no Tametomo First Lived
Wide Entrance To The Cave
The next spot we are visiting is "Tiragama". It's a cave that Minamoto no Yoritomo lived hidden after drifting to Unten.
Minamoto no Tametomo’s Handprint Marks And Legend Remains Here
Tametomo is said to have been 210 centimeters tall. A stone with his handprint on it is said to be preserved in this cave. It is also written that “the size of his hands were different by 10 centimeters, due to his use of bow and arrow”.
Graves Of Guardians Dispatched From The Ryukyu Kingdom
Important historical remains from the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom can be found around Unten Port. We visited two grave sites found among these historical remains.
We first went to see the grave site of prison guard nobles dispatched from the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom, when Daichi Shoushi was king.
Mumujanabaka, Found Deep Within The Mountain Pathways
Walking to this pathway leads to an open area.
Mumujanabaka Expands Throughout The Mountain
The gravesite was repaired in the 20th year of the Meiji Era, leaving the stone enclosure shape that remains to this day. Inside this enclosure lies small wooden caskets filled with bones of the dead. A picturesque view of the sea extends before the gravesite, while below lies Unten Port and village residents.
These Holes Provide A Look Inside
You may be surprised to see the ceramic funeral urn shrines inside. The impact of this gravesite, created by stones from the mountain, can be quite intimidating to visitors. If you consider that this gravesite was built not at Nakijin Castle, but above the Unten Port, you can realize its importance to the people working and living at the port.
■The Second Sho Dynasty’s Unishibaka
Stone Stairs Leading To The Grave
The next location we visited was the burial site of the guardians of Kitazan in the Second Sho Dynasty, “Unishibaka”. The first generation of guardians were originally buried in a location near Shuri Castle, called “Tamaudun”. The second generation onward, consisting of over 30 people, had their bones transported to Unishibaka.
Place Of Worship At Tamaudun
A large beefwood tree guards the entrance to the grave. The grave itself is surrounded by a variety of flowers and plants, and you can feel the comforting wind from Unten Port flowing into the grave.
The Spacious and Relaxed Unishibaka Grave
There is a grave between Unten Port and Unishibaka called “Yamato Grave”. Those working with the Satsuma of Japan who had travelled to Unten port and passed away on their stay seem to have been buried here.
Three Cats Hanging Out At Unishibaka
In the modern world, where airplanes have become the main way to get around, the limited destinations of Iheya Island and Izena Island at the Unten Port ferry allow for a more relaxing time at Nakijin Village.
Experience The Waves of History Created By the Ryukyu and Okinawa at “Nakijin Village”
Unten Port was not only a gateway to trade fort the island nations of Ryukyu and Okinawa, but also a location for many historical events. Locations related to Minamoto no Tametomo and the Noro in Nakijin Village and the “Nakijin Castle Ruins World Heritage Site” allows visitors to directly experience the history of Ryukyu and Okinawa. Come to Nakijin Village to consider the scope of history and to search for your own story.