Atop a hill made of Ryukyuan limestone, 322 ft above sea level, sits Katsuren Castle, a Chuzan era castle also known as the “Ocean Gusuku”, thanks to its position observing the Pacific on two sides. Take a walk with me through its ruined gates, and soak in an important part of Ryukyu history.

Katsuren Castle

The history

Though the castle was originally constructed around the 13th century, it wasn’t until the mid 15th century that it entered its prime; this is when Lord Amawari, a powerful Aji, took up residence. He was an ambitious lord born from peasant stock, who took power by force. He went on to marry the daughter of the King, further solidifying his position. He was of great concern to the King Sho Taikyu, who asked Lord Gosamaru to build Nakagusuku Castle between Katsuren and the royal capital of Shuri. Amawari accused Gosamaru of plotting to overthrow the King, and led an army to Nakagusuku to attack.

This lead to Gosamaru’s death by suicide. It’s alleged, though there is no hard evidence, that Amawari’s treachery (for it is he who wished for the throne) was discovered after he beheaded Gosamaru and took his head as a prize to the King. In the mouth of Gosamaru sat a note detailing the treason he had committed. Amawari was defeated by the Kings army at Katsuren and executed. Whilst the tale of the beheading and the note may be fanciful story padding, it’s certain that Amawari was an ambitious lord.

Katsuren Castle

Modern Katsuren Castle

Colorful history aside, modern day Katsuren is a delight to visit. The winding path leading up is steep but not too challenging, and at least part of the castle (its lower grounds) are wheelchair and stroller accessible thanks to a sloping road. There are also stairs for access. There is ample parking, vending machine for drinks, restrooms, a gift shop, and an information desk with information in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English. It’s free to visit, and is dog friendly providing you keep your pooch leashed and clean up after them.

Katsuren Castle

View from Katsuren Castle

The view from atop is quite lovely, not quite a panorama, but with the Pacific ocean visible from two sides, and the countryside rolling out below you, it’s still a great photo opportunity. Katsuren is smaller than Nakagusuku and Nakijin, however its still an architectural treat worthy of your time. Treading the same paths as the royalty that once resided, seeing the sights they once saw (albeit altered somewhat), and breathing the fresh Okinawa air isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon. You can find Katsuren castle here: