With sakura season blooming (sorry) all over the Southern island of Okinawa, it would be a shame to miss out on any of them! I’ve already extolled the fun and beauty of Nago sakura festival and Motobu sakura festival, now’s the chance for Nakijin-Jo (Nakijin Castle Ruins) to shine. Here’s how it went down.
Nakijin-Jo sign in front of SakuraNakijin is in the Northern part of Okinawa (about 30 minutes from Nago, or 10-15 from Motobu), an area that sees the first sakura flowers of anywhere in Japan. My advice to future visitors hoping to see the sakura on Okinawa, would be to hit Motobu and Nakijin-Jo in the same day, starting at Motobu and working back down to Nakijin-Jo, especially if you aren’t staying in the North, as it’s quite a drive up (two hours from my location, add another hour from Naha, Okinawa’s Southernly located capital city). Anyway, depending on where you hail from, it’s a rather lovely drive through Nakijin to the castle ruins (“Jo” in Nakijin-Jo means castle ruins), it’s a quiet, pretty town consisting mostly of traditional-style Japanese buildings, some of which are brightly-painted (you can’t miss the green and yellow building sat by the roadside).
Castle groundsWhen you arrive, you’ll see plenty of staff on hand to assist with parking. This is a hugely popular festival, so parking close is at a premium. However, the furthest parking is barely a 5 minute walk, up a small incline, so no big deal. First thing you’ll see is the festival area, opposite the entrance to the castle ruins. It’s small, but it has plenty of food stalls, local crafts and games, as well as entertainment. At time of visit, the entertainer was a magician and juggler. He did tricks with fire, too, and was extremely engaging and entertaining, different from the traditional singing and dancing you usually see. There was a lot more Western style food available, like popcorn and tacos, but also Oden, so there was still some Japanese food available. I enjoyed the traditional craft stalls, and this is the first time I’d seen these at a festival.
Sakura treeNakijin-Jo requires an admittance. There’s a ticket counter at the back of where the festivities are taking place. It’s only 400 yen per adult (less for children, students and seniors). The ruins alone are spectacular. Curved walls slither in and out of the multi-level landscape, with viewing platforms erected to take full advantage of the amazing views (you’ll get a clear shot of the ocean, and you can even see where the water changes from a light turquoise to a deep azure). The sakura line the steps leading up to the main body of the castle (it’s all open air, surrounded by walls. This is an ancient World Heritage site, not a reconstruction, so the main building is long gone, with only remnants of it’s former glory standing in its stead). It’s a breathtaking sight. Almost all of the trees were fully bloomed, great for photos. The best shot, aside from close up, was from the top looking back. Catch all the trees, the ocean, the island, and your loved ones, all in one picture. A great memory. There are trees spread through the grounds, but this is sparse compared to the entranceway. However, it’s a peaceful place to walk round, more than one great view and well kept.
Castle steps from below
Castle steps from aboveAlthough this was a relatively small site for Hanami (sakura viewing), the trees were especially beautiful, adding a pop of colour to their grey walled surroundings. I saw a lot more people in traditional wear here too. One lady (Who I sadly did not get a photo of) was resplendent in an Okinawa kimono. For a short moment, watching them amongst the sakura and castle grounds, you were taken back in time. A wonderful sight.
Couple in traditional wear