Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Castle Ruins at Chinen

If you’re going to come to Okinawa for a visit, you have to make it a point to get around and see the major castle sites. Tiny Okinawa boasts five castles that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and not one of them looks remotely like the one seen in the “Karate Kid.” The main castle site at Shuri resembles a miniature of the Forbidden City in Peking China and is where the Ryukyu kingdom was unified from three separate kingdoms into one. Also on the list are the ruins of Nakagusku, Nakijin, Katsuren, and Zakimi castles.

Four of the five were part of the central kingdom of Chuzan. Only the ruin of Nakijin, which was the seat of the northern kingdom of Hokuzan made the “A” list. Even less is known about the network of castles that once made up the southern kingdom of Nanzan. Perhaps this is in part because of the devastation wreaked on these sites as a result of the battle of Okinawa. This is where the most desperate fighting took place.

What few people realize is that there are more than 200 castle ruins scattered across the prefecture. Most are little more than the rough stone foundations where they once stood. Time has slowly absorbed many back into the forests from whence they came. These castle sites were built in high places and served as either military outposts or the palatial homes of the rich and powerful chieftains who ruled the district in which they stood.

Of the sites that belonged to the southern kingdom of Nanzan, perhaps the site at Chinen is the best preserved. What little we know about it could hardly fill a single paragraph in a tourist brochure. It was the palatial home of Lord Chinen and most importantly, this is where wet rice cultivation was first introduced to Okinawa. The rest is pretty much inconsequential and remains a mystery lost to the ages.

The castle is presently undergoing a long and arduous restoration. The archways over the main entrances are being reinforced to make the castle’s courtyard safe as well as accessible to visitors and portions of the walls are being rebuilt. Whether they collapsed as a result of their age, the fall of the kingdom of Nanzan or as a result of the battle of Okinawa is not presently known?

The ruins of Chinen castle sit high on the bluff and offer visitors a fantastic panoramic view of the villages below and the coral reefs and beaches along the islands southeast pacific coastline. For visitors it’s a chance to take a step back into time for a glimpse of what life was like on Okinawa during the age of kings, princes and warlords.

The best way to get to Chinen castle is to approach it from the south along highway 331 which follows the islands southeast coast. That’s because if you approach from the north, the sign directing you there is posted after the intersection where you need to turn off the main highway. From there, you’ll have to make your way up a steep and narrow winding road through a housing area to the castle grounds.

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  1. Remember that tour well; I thought I lost my ride home on that one !

    Great description and it makes for a good arguement; should the castles be restored to brand-spankin' new or somewhere in between ruins and new?

  2. My son and I just went there today. We also visited the tomb of Lord Chinen. Loved it. Great site.


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