Nakijin jo
Friday - March 3, 2017

We stuck around for 30 minutes or so admiring the characters on that curbside park in Nakijin Village then proceeded on to the castle site.

I hadn't been out to Nakijin-jo since 1988 so it was nice to be back. I have to admit that there was very little that looked familiar.
That may be due to the passage of time or, perhaps more likely, the work that's been done since the '80s to make it a nice park.
I did recall the "gun ports" in the wall that flanked the main entry gate and have some old JVC VHS video of that here:

Video technology has surely come a long ways since 1988! Here's a comparison of the gun port screen shots. After 29 years those are probably the same cherry trees!
With the exception of those ports it was like seeing Nakijin-jo for the first time and I really enjoyed the opportunity to take in the details.

DyLon's overview of Nakijinjo

Nakijin Castle, or Nakijin Gusuku (Ryukyuan castle or fortress) is located in Nakijin Village, Okinawa, Japan.

It was the residence of a Ryukyu Kingdom governor and is currently in ruins.

Work began on its construction in the late 13th century and it had reached its final form by the beginning of the 15th century.
The castle is strategically sited on a lone hill, well defended by natural features (river, cliffs and deep valley).

The fortress includes several sacred Utaki groves, reflecting the gusuku's role as a center of religious activity.

It is famous for the Hikan cherries which bloom in northern Okinawa between mid-January and early February.
Those blooms are the first to show themselves in all of Japan!

Once inside the main gate - Heiromon - you can look backward through the gun ports to see the approach to the gate
and the beautiful cherry blossoms. This would have looked so much better a month earlier!

Turning forward into the fortification we walked along a tree-lined stone path leading into the kidan.

The stairs extending from Heiromon were built in the 1960s. The original road leading to the castle was on the right side of the
present staircase. In 1980 a stone path was found during excavation. Along this path lay two large boulders which narrowed the
path making it difficult for invaders to get to the castle.
(Above text gleaned from placards adjacent to the site)

Unlike the perfectly cut stones to form the walls, as seen at other castle ruin sites such as Zakimi or Nakagusuku,
we found these walls to be constructed with stones set in haphazard and ill-fitting fashion.

During the archaeological excavation which took place between 2007 and 2010, large-scale stone work remains called kidan were found.
It is thought that a wooden building was constructed on top of these remains, however the cornerstones that supported the pillars of the
building and other components were unfortunately missing and thus the dimensions of the building are not known.
Within the ten wards of the castle the ancillary facilities where kidan and other stone works are evident have many unknown properties.
However, since buildings that use stone work are found limited to the central areas of the castle, such as the main ward, Umiya Court, and Uchibaru,
it is presumed that these buildings held important functions. The building sites that were excavated are believed to be from around the 16th Century.
(Above text gleaned from placards adjacent to the site)

A trace of a furnace was found along with ruins of an earth-fast post building. Six post holes are located around the trace of the furnace.
The trace of the furnace is approximately 240 centimeters in length, 170cm in width, and 80cm deep. The wall and floor were burnt red by fire.

A large number of carbonized seeds, such as rice, wheat and millet, were found in the bottom layer of the furnace.
Therefore, it is considered that the ruins were used as facilities related to foodstuffs used for cooking.

The age of the porcelain excavated from the ruins suggests that the furnace was probably used in the latter part
of the 14th Century and abolished around the first half of the 15th Century.
(Above text gleaned from placards adjacent to the site)

Because the name "Kouri" is pronounced "Fui" in the Okinawan dialect (Uchinaaguchi), this structure is called Fui Dunchi.
The small shrine faces northeast, in the direction of Kourijima (Kouri Island).

Kouri is the only outer island that is a part of Nakijin Village and the island's residents pray at this shrine in
August of the lunar calendar. Prayers are offered by the Noro Priestess of Nakijin during the religious events of Imadomari.

This structure was reconstructed based on old photos and relocated to this site in 2010.

Shrine of the God of Fire

It is a shrine of the God of Fire whom the Hokuzan Kanshu worshipped in the Rykyu Kingdom Period. Although the Hokuzan Kanshu
withdrew to Shuri in 1665, the former site of the Hinukan was left and became a shrine. Even today, religious services of Imadomari,
called Shiro Uimi, held on August 10th of the lunar calendar, are conducted at locations such as the Hinukan Shrine of
Nakijin Satonushi. Also, many people visit this special shrine for Nakijin Nubui, one of the ancestral rituals
of a family clan which is a patrilineal kin group of Okinawa.
(Above text gleaned from placards adjacent to the site)

Within the Nakijin Castle site are two Ibe which are considered to be the most sacred of Utaki. The Soitsugi,
which is located northwest of the Umiya Court, is noted in the historical documentation, Ryukyu-Koku Yurai ki,
(Record on the Origins of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, 1713), as Jonai Shitano-Utaki, or referred with the divine name
of Soitsugino-Ishizu Oibe. During Gusuku Uimi a religious ritual held in August of the lunar calendar, the
Nakijin Noro Priestess offers prayers to the Soitsugi, asking for rich and prosperous harvests and other blessings.
Together with the Tenchiji-Amachiji (or Jonai Ueno-Utaki) and the Kami-Hasagi site at the Uchibaru,
it is revered as a sacred site of worship.

It is believed that the Umiya court of Nakijin Castle played a central role similar to the Una court of Shurijo, where political
gatherings and religious ceremonies and rituals were conducted. It is thought that after ascending the stairs of Shichi Go San
(seven-five-three), the Umiya court was surrounded by the Seiden (Main Hall) at the front center, the Nanden (South
Hall) to the right, and at the highest point to the north the remains of the Hokuden (North Hall). Remains of a structural
foundation could still be seen at the Hokuden site. Since its most recent fire which occurred October 31, 2019, I cannot
attest to survival of those remains though it is unlikely that they were lost to fire.

An annual ritual, Gusuku Uimi, is held in August of the lunar calendar. During this ritual the Nakijin Noro priestess that
conducts the ceremonies and rituals of Nakijin Gusuku offers prayers to the gods for the safety of the village, prosperity of the
descendants, and the happiness of the world, known as Yagafu.
(Above text gleaned from placards adjacent to the site)

Nakijin Castle is a Ryukyuan gusuku located in Nakijin, Okinawa. It is currently in ruins. In the late 14th century, the island of Okinawa consisted of three principalities: Nanzan to the south, Chuzan in the central area, and Hokuzan in the north. Nakijin was the capital of Hokuzan. The fortress includes several sacred Utaki groves, reflecting the castle's role as a center of religious activity. It is today known for the Hikan cherries which bloom in northern Okinawa between mid-January and early February, providing the first cherry blossoms each year in Japan.

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. It is located on the Motobu Peninsula, on a rocky outcropping, facing out over the East 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. A 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 to 6 miles to the east.

The royal residence was located 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.

In less inner enclosures, located at somewhat lower elevations, were residences for certain vassals, along with administrative buildings, stables for the horses, and garrisons for the warriors of the principality. 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. Roughly 1500 meters of limestone castle wall remain today.

The castle saw three generations of rulers before being attacked and destroyed by the armies of Chuzan in 1416. Lords of Hokuzan governing in subordination to the royal capital at Shuri would continue to make their residence here for several centuries afterwards.

In 1609, the Japanese feudal Domain of Satsuma invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom. After fierce fighting in the Amami Islands, they landed on Okinawa Island at Unten harbor. They attacked Nakijin Castle with heavy casualties on both sides, but the Japanese prevailed and burned the castle.

As a tourist site, the ruins are particularly known for the beautiful view out over the East China Sea, for the impressive grandeur of the castle walls, and for the overall amount of space taken up by the castle grounds. Hokuzan in general was characterized by wider spaces, or at least less dense settlement and population, than Nanzan and Chuzan, 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 blooming of the cherry blossoms (sakura) each year.
(Shamelessly sourced from Wikipedia)

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Posted 2017. Updated: Oct 18, 2022 Contact: