CONTRIBUTED BY ANTHONY CAMINA
Ground zero during cherry blossom season, this majestic 71.1 hectare park sits high above the urban skyline on Mt. Nago. Once the residence of the great Nago Aji, the remains of the castle (chiefly experienced in the tall staircase and sacred Haka) are but one of the many attractions at this site. In late January the annual Nago Cherry Blossom Festival is hosted here as the lovely pink sakura (cherry blossoms) of Okinawa are the first to bloom in all of Japan.
First understand that this park is huge and will probably take an entire day if you plan on visiting every area in the park, not counting all the hiking trails. The areas all have names and are designated with a specific alphabet letter. This article will describe most of the areas from the ground up but not necessarily in alphabetical order.
At the main entrance of the park you will find a small parking lot, restroom, informational signs, large maps, the start of the staircase, and during the Cherry Blossom Festival many food vendors. I do not recommend parking here if you intend on going up the stairs and exploring the park, especially if you have kids. You will wind up doing what I did and have to run back to the car from the top of the staircase to pick up/rescue your exhausted crew, and these stairs my friends are only the start of the park.
The first actual lettered area is “I,” the Creek (Small River) Area. This part of the site is actually more like a side park with a creek, picnic tables, vending machines, restrooms, and a manmade Koi pond with waterfall. Behind the green bridge is a very interesting area that looks like a stage. It is nicely kept up with and a good place to spend time if you have little ones.
The next area is the “A” Tall Palms Picnic Area. Again there are tables and pavilions which provide the first impressive views of the Nago skyline. There is a somewhat narrow parking area here that you can use. Paved footpaths around art sculptures will eventually lead you to an impressive and picture-worthy suspension bridge.
Just beyond the suspension bridge and through a vine-covered archway is area “B,” or the Umaku Children’s Playground. If you have little ones, then this is where you are going to spend quite a bit of time. The layout, size, and array of equipment for the kids to play on are quite impressive.
The area has also been recently completely renovated (causing some to mistakenly think this park had been closed). There are zip lines, monkey bars, roller slides, bathrooms, vending machines, and grassy hills which are great for sliding down. If you are perceptive you will see stairs and a cobblestone path leading off to other pavilions.
If you are adventurous and follow the back paths leading away from the playground, you will find the often overlooked Ijdouaru Park, or area “K.” This little park is truly a gem as it has one of the most unique slides on the island. It is well worth checking out but basically takes you back down to ground level, which means…yup, you are walking back up some serious stairs to get back to where you were.
To explore the next area, I highly recommend you get back to your vehicle. It will take a minute and some twisty turns to get to the “J,” The Ganju Hiking Area. This is where the really breathtaking views in the park really start to show themselves. If you are lucky you can claim a spot in the large covered pavilion which has spectacular views of the East China Sea.
This park has a large grassy field surrounded by a walking path. It is not uncommon to see people playing Frisbee, flying a kite, or the older generation playing ground golf. Periodically spaced on the path are exercise stations which range from dip bars, abdominal benches, and pull-up bars to balance/flexibility equipment.
At the rear of area “J” is the hiking trail mentioned in the title of the park. They are beautiful and long but if I go into what they are all about, this article will be a major novel so I will just move on.
Next up the road is Sunshine Mound, aka area “H.” This little park is quite charming as the artistic statues are as impressive as the view. Like most of the areas the vending machines, benches, and restrooms are easily accessible.
Area “D” is figuratively and literally the pinnacle of the park. Appropriately named “Cherry Blossom Area,” the views do not disappoint. This area also has one of the largest parking lots in the entire park. I highly suggest visiting the three-story observatory. It is a great place to eat a packed lunch and provides one of the most impressive panoramas of Mt. Nago. The smart park visitor will go to this place first and then work your way down.
Descending from the Cherry Blossom Area, you will notice a very beautiful pavilion with breathtaking views you may not have noticed on the way up. One of the Ganju hiking trails also ends up at a well manicured path just below the roadside pavilion.
While this guide covers the main areas at Nago Castle Park, it by no means covers everything the site has to offer. There are stone lantern paths, shrines, and a king’s tomb who await those willing to explore this ancient enchanted mountain. Grab a camera, pack a lunch, and head out with a good pair of walking shoes to one of my favorite places on Okinawa and one of the top 100 cherry blossom sites in all of Japan.
Address: 2 Chome-2-1 Ōhigashi, Nago-shi, Okinawa-ken 905-0016, Japan
Directions: From the Expressway 10 exit (Kyoda): travel north on Highway 58 along the seawall. After passing MacDonald’s new building on the right you will see a white point of interest sign over the road which reads “Nago Central Park.” Nago Castle Park and Nago Central Park are basically the same place. Turn right just after this sign and pass the San A and Orion beer factory. Take a left at the first light past Agarie Elementary School and an immediate right. The parking lot which has the start of the Castle Staircase will be on your left.
Map Coordinates: 26.587690, 127.990220