13 Different Places to Experience Okinawa's History

13 Different Places to Experience Okinawa's History

The 150-island prefecture of Okinawa is rich in Japanese history and culture. If you want to experience it, here are some places you definitely have to visit.

What is now known as Okinawa prefecture was once an entirely distinct kingdom from Japan: the Ryukyu Kingdom. The history of these islands alone is magnificently vast and would take more than a few articles to explain. In fact, the best thing to do would be to visit the islands themselves and personally experience everything that is uniquely Okinawan. Listed here are just a few of the many historical sites of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom that you can still admire today.

Nago Castle

They're known in the Okinawan dialect as "gusuku". Once the most majestic buildings in the Ryukyu kingdom, these castles are now simply ruins — but they still remain impressive and stately, even though most of their splendor has faded through the years.

The first castle in our list is Nago Castle. The best time to visit the ruins of this castle is in January when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. This is because the ruins are best known for being home to more then 200,000 cherry blossom trees that bring the ruins to life and provide a breathtaking juxtaposition of antiquity and life.

Nakagusuku Castle

One of the 100 most famous castles in Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Nakagusuku Castle is one of the most preserved castles in Okinawa today. Containing six courtyards and stacked stone walls, this is one of the places you must visit to get a glimpse of what Japan was like in the 15th century with wars and battles between opposing castles.

Shuri Castle

Easily the most famous of all the castles in Okinawa, Shuri Castle or Shuri-jo is the only castle that has been fully reconstructed by hardworking locals to its former glory even after its complete destruction on the May 27, 1945. It can be said that the castle is the only one of its kind in the world, because it's an example of true old Okinawan architecture. The building has traces of mainland Japanese, Chinese, and Okinawan elements. It served as both a palace of residence for Ryukyu kings and a fortified castle until the kingdom formally became a prefecture.

Like the Nagagusuku Castle, Shuri-jo is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top 100 in Japan. A visit to Okinawa wouldn't be complete without visiting the castle, as it truly offers a look into the majesty of the enchanting kingdom of Okinawa centuries ago.

A lot of places of interest are also found in the surrounding area of the castle. One of these is Sonohyan-utaki, which is a sacred place where the Ryukyuan king would go to pray for safe travel. Another is Tamaudun, a mausoleum built for the Ryukyuan line of royals.

Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters

During World War II, this series of underground passages served as the headquarters of the Japanese navy. Okinawa went through one of the most tragic losses during the war with the invasion of the US forces. Trek through these still intact headquarters to get a somber view of the lives of these brave soldiers, with many even committing suicide towards the end of the war after losing hope of winning. This site serves as one of the world's many reminders that war is never okay.

Peace Memorial Park

The Peace Memorial Park is the primary World War II monument in Okinawa. The park's area includes the Peace Memorial Museum, which shows the events that transpired in Okinawa during the war, memorials donated from the other Japanese prefectures, and what is known as the Cornerstone of Peace, which is composed of stone structures containing the names of all the soldiers that perished in the war. The park is a beautiful yet saddening portion of Okinawa's history.

Himeyuri Monument

The Himeyuri Monument lies west of the Peace Memorial Park, and serves as a tribute for the students of the Okinawa Daiichi Women's High School and Okinawa Shihan Women's School who died while serving as nurses to the Japanese soldiers during the war. For many, this is the most emotional portion of the World War II memorials because it shows us innocents who never even dreamt of being involved in wars in the first place, and yet saw a large part of the most gruesome aspects of the battle.

When you're here, you can visit both the monument and the museum beside it. Part of the monument is a cave that the girls hid in. The museum contains more of a glimpse into the working conditions that the girls had to live through, as well as a look into their lives, with each of their names and photos listed and statements from some of the survivors. A word of warning: if you're the type who gets emotional easily, bring a pack of tissues.

Nakamura House

Another landmark of Okinawan history that offers us more of a look into the lives of the wealthy is the Nakamura house, the home of a rich farmer and his family. Each aspect of the house, from the surrounding trees to the furniture inside is characteristic of Okinawa's culture.

Ryukyu Mura

The Ryuku Mura, an Okinawan theme park, not only gives you a visual of a Ryukyu Kingdom village, but also lets you experience being a native Okinawan. The theme park has regular taiko (traditional Japanese drum) performances, parades, and reenactments of ancient ceremonies. You can even witness interactions between a habu and a mongoose during the hourly habu show. The ride is long, but it's worth spending the entire day there as there's always something to do.

Again, Okinawa is full of history. It has relics and remembrances from the time of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom to the devastation of World War II. Even non-history buffs will be sure to find themselves fascinated by all the things they can learn about Okinawa.

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