Okinawa's Kitanakagusuku in a Day
Kitanakagusuku has an interesting claim to fame; it’s the village with the longest life expectancy for women. It’s also host to the Gusuku route, as well as many incredible historic points of interest, stunning ocean views, and friendly, kind residents. It’s very easy to spend an entire day here. Let me show you some of its highlights.
There are two hamlets within Kitanakagusuku: Ogido and Ogusuku. Visiting here is like travelling back in time, with traditional stone walls, an abundance of Fukugi trees, and ancient wells. This area was actually inhabited long before the establishment of the Ryukyu Kingdom! Both hamlets are interspersed with many natural springs, providing a clean water source for inhabitants for centuries. They are beautifully kept by its loving residents, with streets lined with orchids, sculptures, and shisa decorations.
Gusuku Route (a World Heritage site) was also chosen as one of the 500 best walks in Japan and top 100 cultural walks in Japan. Join me along this amazing historic trail, and discover everything Kitanakagusuku has to offer.
Start: Lord Gosamaru’s tomb
The route starts at the tomb of Lord Gosamaru. From the vantage point here, you can enjoy spectacular ocean views. The tomb itself is located about 150m up a set of stairs.
Spot 1: Nakagusuku Castle Ruins
First point of interest is the stunning World Heritage Site Nakagusuku Castle Ruins. A well maintained site of roughly 1km, it has incredible panoramic views, large parts of the original structure still in place, and an interesting past. Entrance fees apply, but at only 400 yen for adults and less for children, it’s a snip.
Spot 2: Seiho Oyama’s birthplace
A monument stands on the site of Seiho Oyama’s birthplace, discoverer of the Minotagawa man, a fossilised human skeleton dating back a mind-boggling 18000 years! This was in Minatogawa quarry. In total between four and nine skeletons were found well preserved, helping to shed light on human roots in Asia.
Spot 3: Roadside pottery and sculptures
Ogusuku hamlet is adorned with almost 40 sculptures and over 50 pottery works, changing the humble hamlet into a veritable outdoor museum. Quirky and beautiful, they’re definitely worth a look.
Spot 4: Agarinuka Park
Home to a well and pond, this mini park is awash with colour in the form of orchids and flowers. Its pavilion, Ogusuku Tea House, sits serenely along the prefectural road. It’s also a great spot to view butterflies, particularly Paper Kites and Great Orange Tips.
Spot 5: Chibuka Garden Park
Another pretty park, Chibuka Garden Park was built around the oldest well in the hamlet. Close to this is the Chunna Residence where the Ogusuku and Ogido Hamlets originated.
Spot 6: Hijaga Park
Another park! Hijaga has a playground and a pavilion built around a well that’s used for drinking water. The park is also popular for flower viewing parties.
Spot 7: Shisa sculptures
A little nest of 14 Shisa sculptures has been arranged by the Shisa Scenery Creation Association, which was originally formed by the pottery members of the Kitanakagusuku Cultural Society.
Spot 8: Ogido Shell Mound Monument
Dating back to the Jomon Period (3500 years ago), it was discovered by Ryuzo Torii in 1904. The monument itself actually stands outside the entrance to a private residence, with the shell mound a short distance away.
Spot 9: Ogido Poem Inscribed Monument
This pretty monument has the words of famous folk ballad Hichimunku-duchi inscribed upon it. It’s sung in a call and response style, retelling the tale of a very steep slope leading up to Ogido and Ogusuku.
Spot 10: Me-nu-Asatu Street
The flora and architecture here matches that of old Okinawa. A monument with Sanskrit sits on the West corner of the stonewall (tip: it’s hidden behind a traffic mirror, it’s small so easy to miss! Keep your eyes peeled).
Spot 11: Ogusuku Community Centre
In keeping with a traditional style of construction, the community centre is a hub for culture, adorned with Shisa and sculptures.
End: Nakamura House
This is typical of traditional-style construction. Rare in its excellent condition, it’s a wonderful trip back into the past. Enjoy its pristine grounds, its crafty koi fish (you can feed them for 100 yen), the beauty of its architecture, and the hospitality of the staff. There’s a gift shop, and with your entrance fee you get complimentary tea or coffee, and a traditional brown sugar dessert to try.
Other points of interest
There’s more! Off the Gusuku route you can also find some interesting gems. Here are my favourites.
Objet d’art Square
Next to the community centre is a pretty square, literally littered with interesting sculptures, worth a quick look whilst you're at the community centre.
Ogusuku Tea House
A rest pavilion known to locals as a “tea house”, though sadly you aren’t able to purchase refreshments here. Has a lovely outlook over Agarinuka Park.
A private residence close to Nakamura house is adorned with many, many Shisa faces.
Nakagusuku is littered with wells. These tap into natural springs, and up until a modern water system was installed in the 1960’s, they acted as the villages primary water source.
Naritasan Fukusenji Shrine
A short 5 minute drive from the castle ruins is the stunning Buddhist temple Naritasan Fukusenji. Drive up to the smaller temple to have your car blessed, or enjoy the peace and serenity of the main temple. This is a popular shrine for New Years celebrations. It also has wonderful ocean views.
Shisa (also known as Shi-Shi), are lion dogs synonymous with Chinese culture, which has had a heavy influence on Okinawa over the years. They usually come in pairs, one with an open mouth (said to chase evil spirits away), and one with a closed mouth (said to keep good spirits in). There are many on Okinawa, and they can be seen in abundance (and variety) in Nakagusuku.
Phew! This list may seem daunting, but Kitanakagusuku isn’t very large. A day is more than enough time to spot all of these wonderful things. My best advice? Take a leisurely pace. A lot of things are hidden or in a strange location, so keep your eyes peeled! And enjoy!
Final pro tip
Before you start, head to Nakamura House and grab a Gusuku Route map from the gift shop (it’s free), and park your car (if you have one) in the large car park here.