Gusuku, Sonohyan Utaki, Tamaudun, Shikina-en, Sefa Utaki


The most sacred place on the island. One of the seven original utaki created by the founding goddess of Ryukyu.


The Castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom and other related monuments are being recommended for registration as World Heritage Sites. These are castle sites and related areas that were built from the unification of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the latter half of the 14th century through to the end of the kingdom in the late 18th century and represent the unique and distinctive culture of the Ryukyu Islands. The emphasis for registration is that, while relatively unknown to the world, they exist as important cultural legacies from a prosperous trading kingdom of ancient Asia.


The term Gusuku is written with the Chinese character for castle. However, in Okinawa this term is used to designate not only fortresses but also tombs, sacred places for prayer, and early village communities.

Of the nine sites being recommended for World Heritage status, five of them are castles: the reconstructed Shurijo Castle and the remains of Nakijin, Zakimi, Nakagusuku, and Katsuren castles. The remaining sites are not castles per-se but fall under the broader definition of cultural legacies.

The first of these other sites is Tamaudun, built in 1501, which was the royal mausoleum of the second Sho Dynasty. The front courtyard is made of filled coral.

The other site, Shikinaen Garden, was used to entertain Chinese investiture envoys. The most beautiful garden created in the Ryukyu Kingdom, it boasts an artificial pond in the shape of the character for Kokoro (Heart or Mind).

The utaki or sacred groves of the Ryukyus are spiritual spaces and are considered another style of gusuku (literally translated as castle). The two utaki recommended as World Heritage sites, Sefa-utaki and Sonohyan-utaki are deeply related to beliefs in traditional Okinawan nature worship.

Sefa-utaki is considered the most sacred of places and from it Kudaka Island, thought to be the island of the gods, is visible.

The second, Sonohyan-utaki, was where the king would pray for a safe journey when he would depart Shurijo castle. The gate to the grove is constructed of stone except for the doors, which are of wood.

Rebuilt after the destruction of WWII, they continue to be places of worship in the daily lives of the island's people.

It is hoped that by receiving World Heritage Site status these legacies from the Ryukyu Kingdom will contribute to world culture through their spirituality and beauty.
 Tamaudun mausoleum
Tamaudun mausoleum
Bones of the royal family were placed in the three gabled tombs in the inner court.

Shikina-en garden
Shikina-en garden
The largest country villa of the royal family built in the 18th century

Sonohyan-utaki stone gate
Sonohyan-utaki stone gate
Prayers were offered for important ceremonies of the kingdom


Sonohyan Utaki
Address: 7,1-chome, Mawashi, Naha City Okinawa, Japan
(Naha City Board of Education)
Free Admission Take city bus line #1,12,13,14,17 to the bus stop Ikehata
Address:3,1-chome,Kinjo-cho,Naha City Okinawa,Japan
(Tamaudun Management Office)
(Naha City Board of Education)
Fees:Adult 200yen
Children 100yen
Hours: 9:00- 17:30
Take city bus line #1,12,13,14,17 to the bus stop Ikehata
Udunbaru, Naha City Okinawa, Japan
(Shikina-en Management Office)
(Naha City Board of Education)
Fees: Adult 300yen
Children 100yen
(from April to September)
(from October to March)
Take city bus line #1,5 to the bus stop Shikina-en Mae and walk 2 minutes
 Sefa Utaki
Address: Sayaha-baru,2,Aza Kudeken,Chinen Village Okinawa,Japan
(Chinen Village Office)
(Chinen Village Board of Education)
Free Admission Take bus #38 to the bus stop Taiiku Center Mae and walk 5 minutes


It is the hope and pride of Okinawans to continue to pass on the culture created by our ancestors during the Ryukyu Kingdom and inherited by us.

Last year, the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs recommended that nine sites in Okinawa Prefecture, including Shuri-jo Castle, known collectively as the "Ryukyu Kingdom Gusuku Castles and Related Historic Sites", be registered as World Heritage Sites.

The World Heritage program was created out of a convention adopted by signatories from 156 countries at the general meeting of UNESCO in 1972. This system was established to aid international cooperation in the protection and preservation of the world's natural and cultural legacies for the benefit of all humanity.

The announcement regarding the registration of these sites is expected in December, 2000 and all Okinawans are eagerly awaiting what we hope will be a positive outcome This is the third in this series on the areas being nominated as World Heritage Sites.

"Ryukyu Kingdom Gusuku Castles and Related Historic Sites"

The sites under consideration for World Heritage Site status are comprised of two important cultural properties, seven historical sites, and one scenic spot. They were all constructed or established in between the late 14th century to the end of the 18th century, from the time of unification of the Ryukyu Kingdom through its dissolution. The group of sites expresses the distinct features of the history, culture and nature of the Ryukyu archipelago region.

1) Nakijin-jo Castle Remains (Kunigami-gun Nakijin-son Village) Designated Historical Site
Castle of the king who ruled the northern kingdom, Hokuzan, in the Three Kingdoms period, directly before the establishment of a unified kingdom in 1429. The three kingdoms were Hokuzan in the north, Chuzan in the central area, and Nanzan in the south. In 1416 the Hokuzan kingdom was defeated by the Chuzan kingdom and this castle later became the residence of a supervisor dispatched by the Ryukyu Kingdom to watch over the area.

2) Zakimi-jo Castle Remains (Nakagami-gun Yomitan-son Village) Designated Historical Site
The powerful aji (regional chieftain) Gosamaru built this castle in 1420. After the downfall of the Hokuzan Kingdom the castle was constructed to keep a watch over the area. It was vital in stabilizing the region during the early period of the Ryukyu Kingdom's establishment.

3) Katsuren-jo Castle Remains (Nakagami-gun Katsuren-cho Village) Designated Historical Site
The residence of the influential aji (regional chieftain) Amawari, who resisted the power of the developing centralized power of the Ryukyu Kingdom to the end. In 1458 Amawari defeated the Ryukyuan King's loyal vassal Gosamaru who was residing nearby in Nakagusuku, after which Amawari attempted to capture the title of king for himself. He attacked Shurijo castle but suffered a major defeat and was destroyed. This process secured the power of the king from his base in Shuri-jo Castle. Designated a historic sight.

4) Nakagusuku-jo Castle Remains (Nakagami-gun Kita-Nakagusuku-son Nakagusuku-son Village) Designated Historical Site
In order to check the resistance of Amawari, lord of Katsuren-jo Castle, the Shuri king ordered his vassal Gosamaru to move to Nakagusuku-jo Castle from his former residence in Zakimi-jo Castle. This castle served an important role in the process of stabilizing the power base of the Ryukyuan king.


5) Shuri-jo Castle Remains (Naha City) Designated Historical Site
Shuri-jo Castle was the residence of the Chuzan king in the Three Kingdoms era. From when the three kingdoms were unified into the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1429 until its dissolution in 1879, the castle played a central role in the kingdom's political, diplomatic, and cultural life.

6) Sono-hiyan-utaki Ishimon Stone Gate (Naha City) Memorial Structure
This stone gate was constructed by the third king of the Second Sho Dynasty, King Sho Shin (ruled 1477-1526). The wooded area in back of the gate is called Sono-hiyan-utaki and is a sacred grove where the king would pray. The gate is designated as a National Important Cultural Property and the site is considered a part of the Shuri-jo Castle remains.

7) Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum (Naha City) Memorial Structure
This structure was constructed by the third king of the Second Sho Dynasty, King Sho Shin (ruled 1477-1526) as the royal mausoleum for the dynasty. It is an important example of the masonry techniques and design used in the Ryukyu region of modern Japan. Designated an Important Cultural Property and Historic Site.

8) Shikina-en Garden (Naha City) Historic Site, Cultural and Scenic Spot
This is the garden of and alternative residence for the Ryukyuan royal house. It was used not only as a place of rest for the royal family but also to entertain the Chinese investiture envoys and played an important role in the diplomatic relations of the royal court. It is an important example of the garden construction techniques and design used in the Ryukyu region of modern Japan.

9) Sefa Utaki (Shimajiri-gun Chinen-son Village) Historic Site, Cultural and Scenic Spot
This area was one of the most prestigious sites in the Ryukyu Kingdom. The third ruler of the Second Sho Dynasty, King Sho Shin (ruled 1477-1526) established an organization to conduct state religious ceremonies. Sefa Utaki played an important role as a sacred area where royal rituals and ceremonies were conducted to support the religious and spiritual aspects of the centralized monarchy. Sefa Utaki is an outstanding example of the expression of the distinctive way in which the Ryukyuans worshiped the natural environment. Designated a historic sight.