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9 Highlights from Okinawa’s “Gusuku” World Heritage Site

In 2000, the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu became Japan’s 11th registered World Heritage Site. They’re composed of nine historic sites from the Ryukyu Kingdom, which held sway over Okinawa from the 14th to the 18th century. Of these nine, most of them are a type of fortification called “gusuku” in Okinawan. Today we’ll be introducing the highlights of these World Heritage Sites in the order we recommend for going to see them.

 

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

1. Nakijin Castle Site

今帰仁城跡

Okinawa-world-heritage2
With a wall totaling 1,500 m in length on a hill 100 m above the sea, Nakijin was famous as an impregnable gusuku. Nowadays, you can even get married here, and the site has been getting attention for its “World Heritage weddings.”

 

2. Katsuren Castle Site

勝連城跡

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http://www.okinawa-spot.com/

This is said to be the oldest castle in all of Okinawa.

 

3. Zakimi Castle Site

座喜味城跡

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Designed with craft and care to prevent enemy invasion, the curving wall of Zakimi is quite beautiful.

 

4. Nakagusuku Castle Site

中城城跡

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Designated as one of Japan’s 100 Famous Castles, Nakagusuku is the best-preserved of the Okinawan gusuku. There are records remaining indicating that Commodore Matthew C. Perry spoke highly of the site when he arrived here by boat in 1853.

 

5. Shuri Castle Site

首里城跡

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Everywhere you look here, you’ll find signs of unique artistry that fuses Japanese and Chinese architecture. The main hall (“seiden”) in the middle of the site is Okinawa’s largest wooden structure.

 

6. Sonohyan-utaki Ishimon

園比屋武御嶽石門

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http://www.tabirai.net/

Found at the corner of Shuri Castle, this stone gate stands before a holy grove in which the gods are said to reside.

 

7. Tamaudun

玉陵

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The word “Tamaudun” refers to the graves of the Ryukyu Dynasty, and this sizeable mausoleum speaks to the incredible might of the dynasty wielded.

 

8. Shikinaen

識名園

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The entrancing allure of this garden stems from its fusion of three different garden technique traditions: Chinese, Japanese, and Okinawan.

 

9. Sefa-utaki

斎場御嶽

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A holy site famed as a “power spot,” if you go to the back of the area (“Sangui”) formed by two giant overlapping rocks, you’ll be able to see Kudaka-jima Island, also called the Island of the Gods.

 

Tip: 
You’ll be able to get between these sites smoothly if you head out in the order we’ve introduced them in. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to go to all 9 places in one day, so we recommend breaking it into two halves spread over two or more days Even if you hardly know a thing about the history of Okinawa, the splendor of the places alone makes them satisfying destinations.

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