Where castle walls emerge from tropical green
While Shuri Castle (首里城 / しゅりじょう) has been restored to its original splendor during the last decades, there are other fortifications on Okinawa (沖縄 / おきなわ) that are also representatives of a glorious but not always peaceful past. These castles may not enjoy the same attention and reconstruction, but they are no less worth seeing. Where the walls are deprived of their housing structures, they show their might and impact much more impressively.
A pretty spectacular example for that is the third-largest of Okinawa’s castles, the Zakimi-jō (座喜味城 / ざきみじょう), a fortification complex of which only the mighty walls have remained. It dates back to the early 15th century (completion in 1442) and was built by making use of the materials available at the previously destroyed Yamada Castle. The famous fortification master-builder, Gosamaru (護佐丸 / ごさまる), is said to have built the Zakimi Castle. As the ruler of the Yomitan (読谷村 / よみたん)-area (at that time called “Yuntanja”) he also participated in the victory over the castle of Nakijin (今帰仁 / なんきじん), the Hokuzan Castle (北山城 / ほくざんじょう). He is regarded as one of those people who had significant influence on the unification of the Ryūkyū-islands (琉球諸島 / りゅうきゅうしょとう) to one kingdom.
Part of the turbulent past of the castle is also a rather short episode during World War II., when it was used as a weapons stash for the Japanese defence forces. However, it was further affected during the first years after the war, when occupying US-forces installed a radar staion on the castle’s premises. For this installation part of the castle walls had to be demolished. The cultural heritage of those losing a war does obviously not deserve protection as much as the winning party’s assets… But these wounds have been remedied when the walls were restored afterwards.
Since the year 2000 Zakimi Castle is a registered World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Of course, at some of the world cultural heritage sites one sometimes wonder how they have made it to this distinct list. Maybe some people will be torn apart by this question when they visit Zakimi Castle. The whole complex has a distinct ancient touch, the walls’ shape and size are simply breathtaking. But, of course, there are bigger and much older castles in this world. However, one also realises that it may not be a legitimate approach to compare these walls with others. One gets a feeling for the fact that there are other criteria than age and size that dictate the value of a cultural asset. The mighty walls of Zakimi Castle, that enclose two inner courts on two different levels with their wavy shapes, can be called impressive by all means.
Also the castle is quite uniquely located on top of a 125 metres tall hill that provides (at least on clear days) a quite fantastic views over the west coast of the island and its interior. Everyone who comes here on a sunny day will be inspired by the play of colours of the sky, the walls and the tropical green.
2975 Zakimi,Yomitan-Village, Präfektur Okinawa
How to get there:
By car about 30 minutes from the Okinawa Expressway: Okinawa Kita I.C.
By bus with the lines 29 or 62 to Zakimi (座喜味 / ざきみ) and from there about 20 minutes walk.
Admission fee / opening hours:
No admission fee
Open the whole year through