The KES school bus drives ahead. Meanwhile we’re stuck at a red light in the Tamagusuku area of Nanjo.  My toddler, Justice, is the in backseat bouncing with excitement from our field trip to Okinawa World.  Priding myself on a good sense of direction in Okinawa is pointless as this was the farthest we’d ever been away from Kadena. Now a stranded foreigner without a map.  Green turns the light, it’s decision time.  Left or right?  Right.  The light was yellow by the time I made up my mind!

A couple U-turns later we made it onto the expressway, praying we’re headed in the right direction. The wrong exit lead us onto a slow moving road to nowhere, or so I thought. The first sign says we’re in Uruma, the next points to Katsuren Castle Ruins.  Being a history buff, I love ancient stuff, there’s no way I’d pass up such a golden opportunity.

Kats Girl

My prayers were answered.  We may not have made it home, but discovered an ancient gem among the clouds. Driving up the long winding road seemed to take forever but we found the castle still standing tall across the street from the museum.  The museum staff showed us the displays, historical information, and yes restrooms!  Nice people, no English.  It was free to go into the castle so I grabbed my Nikon and start trekking up an enormous hill with Justice leading the way. It was an awesome workout up the steepest concrete hill I’d ever climbed. Bonus: Justice took a well deserved nap on the ride home!

Kats Top

There’s a grassy knoll, a wooden staircase that leads to three upper levels of ruin. The view from the very top was magnificent. We could see everything in every direction and felt as if we stood among the clouds.  To the West a cityscape of Uruma.  Looking north to south a birds eye view of the Philippine Sea.  My eyes fixed upon that big island out there in the East wondering if it was Ikei.  Not only is it Ikei Island, but Miyagi, Henza, and Hamahiga are all out there waiting to be explored off Highway 10 or Kaichu Rd.  Tsuken Island sits south of the others and you cannot drive there, but it does have a beach free from tourists.

Kats Stairs

The very next weekend I made a point to drive my husband and our son to see Katsuren Castle.  This place could not be kept secret.  The drive there seems slow. Nevertheless a scenic and relaxing ride.  So roll down the windows and take in the fresh Okinawan air.

On your journey to the highest level of the ruins you’ll notice the crumbly rock stairs look a tad bit dangerous, but with tennis shoes is quite sturdy.  Keep hold of the young ones and put your courage cap on because it’s definitely worth the trek into the sky.

Kats wall

Hours: Open 24 Hours

Entrance Fee: Free

Phone: 098-978-2201

Directions: Exit the Okinawa Expressway at Okinawa Minami and make a left onto Highway 23. At the Ikento intersection turn right onto Route 16. Follow the road straight for several kilometers until you go uphill as the road gently curves left. Halfway up the hill, there is a sign pointing to the Katsuren Castle ruins on the right.


*Directions are from Jason Kimball’s Blog and there is also a map and a short historical brief at this link.
*Katsuren Photo with historical information written in English. The monuments are in Japanese so until I got home to do the research I had no idea what we were looking at! The second trip was more meaningful knowing the history behind the castle.
*Full Album of Katsuren photos on Facebook


  1. A quick clarification on directions as the ones stated in the above review confused us….

    Head North (toward Nago) on Expressway, then take Exit 5 (Okinawa Kita). Go straight through light after going through toll booth, and continue on this road (route 36). Take a left onto route 33, and then a right onto route 16. You will see the Katsuren Castle ruins on your right, and a Visitor’s Center across from it with a parking lot on your left. We went on a Sunday and arrived before 11 am. It wasn’t very busy. However, by the time we got back to our car around noon, there were significantly more visitors. I highly recommend taking time to visit this historic site! Bring your water to stay hydrated!

  2. From Camp Foster, take the 81 all the way past Awase to the 16. (The 81 becomes the 227, then the 85, then the 33 before it runs into the 16, but it is all the same road.) Look for the overhead signs for the 16. Turn right onto the 16 and go about 2km. The castle will be plainly visible up and ahead of you as you drive along the tiny prefectural route 16. Parking will be on the left, castle across the street on the right. Sharing the parking lot is a small museum (“rest building”) with clean bathrooms, drink machines, and a really nice display of artifacts found within the castle ruins. Most of the displays have some English language translation. There is also a very nice brochure in English that you should pick up and read before going to the ruins. This is a World Heritage site and should not be missed! Please wear sturdy walking shoes because the climb up the hill to the castle is EXTREMELY steep, especially the climb to the top enclosure. Also, like most Japanese outdoor sites, it is expected that your kids will know enough to not climb on the castle walls. (There are no safety barriers and they might plunge to their deaths.) If you have kids that are too young to take safety seriously, hold on to them or stay in the lower enclosures. My family avoided unsafe behavior and had a great time exploring and admiring the views. There are several nice shrines called “utaki” that are also photo-worthy.

  3. M. Crabtree, I just looked on a map and if you go out Kadena’s gate 3 and turn right onto 74 (the light right outside the gate) and take that down a little ways to 16. Make a left onto 16 (it T’s off at 74) and follow that down until you see the sign pointing to the right.