Nakijin castle

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A view of the walls of the Shigema enclosure, seen from within the main enclosure
A model of the castle's walls, showing the overall layout
The Heirôjô, used today as the main gate to the castle
Shrine to the Hearth Deity (Hinukan)
  • Type: Okinawan Gusuku
  • Founder: Haniji
  • Year: c. 1315-1320s
  • Destroyed: after 1665
  • Status: Ruins
  • Japanese: 今帰仁城 ・ 今帰仁グスク (Nakijin-jou / Nakijin gusuku)
  • Okinawan: 今帰仁城 (Nachijin gusuku / Nachijin gushiku)

Nakijin gusuku was the residence and administrative center of the Okinawan kingdom of Hokuzan, which controlled the northern part of Okinawa Island in the Sanzan Period of the 14th-15th centuries. The fortress covers roughly 38,000 square meters - roughly the same land area as Shuri castle; double that of Nakagusuku gusuku - and is often cited as the largest of Okinawa's gusuku.[1]

Though there had been Lords of Nakijin prior to the creation of the Hokuzan kingdom, and thus some form of chiefly residence can be presumed to have been on or near the site before, it is believed that the gusuku form of Nakijin castle only emerged at the founding of the kingdom, or perhaps later; some sources give the year 1383 as the year that Haniji, generally cited as the first king of Hokuzan, became lord of Nakijin gusuku.[1] The fortress is located atop a rocky outcropping on the northern coast of the Motobu peninsula, facing out over the South China Sea.

The castle is separated from the main mountain mass of Motobu on the east by a steep drop into a gorge with a stream at the bottom. Another steep drop to the north and northeast from the castle drops down to the shoreline. A small harbor inlet here once served the castle, while Unten harbor, the main port of the Hokuzan kingdom, lay roughly 5-6 miles to the east[2].

The compound is divided into nine enclosures, which move up the hill from west to east. The widest enclosure, the uushimi enclosure, contains the Heirôjô, as well as areas for martial arts practice, training of horses, and a quarry. Though originally a rear gate of the castle, the Heirôjô came to serve as the main gate for tourists and other visitors following its reconstruction in 1962.

The kaazafu enclosure lies to the right, and stone steps lined with cherry trees lead higher and deeper into the compound. The uumya enclosure contained the three chief palatial buildings in the complex: Hokuden and Nanden (North and South Halls), and Seiden (Main Hall). The next enclosure, moving further up the incline and closer towards the areas of central importance, is the uuchibaru, which housed the women of the Nakijin court, and contained a sacred stone that represented the guardian deity of Nakijin. The topmost enclosure contains a shrine to the hearth deity, or hinukan.[1] The royal residence was located here, at the highest and innermost part of the complex, and was surrounded by a small garden with a spring. Three shrines (uganju) stood at the highest point of the precipice.[2]

A path leads from here to a rear gate of the castle, called the Shijima-jô or Shigema-jô. Excavations in this area uncovered numerous Chinese celadons, Vietnamese and Thai ceramics, and Chinese coins, indications of Nakijin's maritime power and activity.[1]

In a less inner enclosure, located at a somewhat lower elevation, were four wooden structures, including both administrative buildings and residences for certain of the castle's closest vassals[2]. As was typical of gusuku construction at this time, the stonework of the walls was very solid, but quite rough, with a relative lack of precision fitting or fine cutting[2]. Roughly 1500 meters of limestone castle wall remain today[3]; stones are piled three to eight meters high, and two to three meters thick. A deep valley cut by the Shijima River which runs behind the castle makes it almost entirely unapproachable from that side.[1]

The castle saw three generations of rulers before being attacked and seized by the armies of Chûzan in 1416. So-called "wardens of the North" (Hokuzan kanshu) appointed by the royal government beginning in 1422 would continue to make their residence there for several centuries afterwards. The castle was burned down by invading armies from Satsuma han in 1609,[4] and though rebuilt to some extent, and briefly restored to use by the Hokuzan kanshu, the post was abolished in 1665 and the castle left to ruin.[1]

As a tourist site, the ruins are particularly known for the beautiful view out over the South China Sea, for the impressive grandeur of the castle walls, and for the overall amount of space taken up by the castle grounds[5]. Hokuzan in general was characterized by wider spaces, or at least less dense settlement and population, than Nanzan and Chûzan, the other kingdoms on the island at that time. Nakijin is also consistently among the first places in the country to see, and celebrate, the sakura blooming each year[5].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Kitahara Shûichi. A Journey to the Ryukyu Gusuku 琉球城紀行。 Naha: Miura Creative, 2003. p47.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Kerr, George H. Okinawa: the History of an Island People. Revised Ed. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2000. pp. 61-62.
  3. "Nakijin-jô-seki." Okinawa Konpakuto Jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). Ryukyu Shimpo. 1 March 2003. Accessed 29 September 2009.
  4. Pamphlets available on-site.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kadekawa, Manabu. "Nakijin-jô-seki." Okinawa Chanpurû Jiten (沖縄チャンプルー事典, "Okinawa Champloo Encyclopedia"). Tokyo: Yamatokei Publishers, 2003. p55.
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