The term ‘Gusuku’ refers to castles, fortresses and sacred places of Ryukyu islands of Japan. Ryukyu islands are the chain of islands extending from Kyushu to Taiwan. The largest of these islands is Okinawa. These islands were previously part of the Ryukyu kingdom. The architecture here is slightly different from the mainland`s. There are many Gusuku sites and cultural properties. Most of them are in ruins due to past wars and natural disasters. Only a few are either completely or partially reconstructed and are recognized by UNESCO.
Shuri Castle is the only fully restored castle in the islands. It is situated in the Okinawan capital of Naha. The castle had been destroyed completely during the Battle of Okinawa during the second world war. However, it was restored in 1992 by using some historical documents and pictures.
The Ryukyu Kingdom came into existence from 1429 and the Shuri Castle has been the seat of administration and justice of the Ryukyu Kingdom for more than 450 years. It was considered a national treasure until second world war. There are royal gardens located on a small hill south of the castle in Naha called ‘Shikina-en’ which are developed in Ryukyu style. These gardens are very unique and are considered as a distinctive element by UNESCO alongside the castle itself.
Katsuren Castle is a partially reconstructed and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is situated near Naha and is easily accessible by bus or Okinawa Expressway. The castle is the center of Ryukyuan religion and has an active shrine in the courtyard. It was also a center of trade between Ryukyu and neighboring countries such as China, Korea and Southeast Asia. The castle has been damaged during earthquakes severely and is now restored partially to its glory.
Nakagusuku Castle is also a UNESCO site and is a partially restored one. It is situated in the village of Kitanakagusuku of Okinawa prefecture. It was built by the commander Gosamaru in the early 15th century to defend against the Lord of Katsuren Castle, Amawari. Visitors can see the six magnificent courtyards of the castle, stacked stone walls and panoramic views of East China Sea from the terrace.
Do not forget to visit these famous gusukus when you are on your holiday in Okinawa.