CONTRIBUTED BY JENNIFER MARTINEZ
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.
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!
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.
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.
Hours: Open 24 Hours
Entrance Fee: Free
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