Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Katsuren Castle -Castle of talented lord who aim at whole Okinawa island-

Katsuren Castle

-Castle of talented load who aimed whole Okinawa-

Katsuren Castle


Name: Katsuren castle (Katsuren-gusuku)
Place: Katsuren Uruma city, Okinawa
Location: 26.33115164903593, 127.87924091588832
Type: Hill castle
Built: Originally 15th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls
Title: World heritage (collectively with other Okinawa castles),100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Katsuren castle (勝連城) is located on the hill at the foot of Katsuren peninsula in middle east part of Okinawa island. From the castle the vast expanse of sea is seen. This castle is famous as a residence of local lord named Amawari (?-1458).

Unite of three kingdoms

Prior to 14th century, Okinawa Island was governed by many small local lords and there was no centralized authority. Before the establishment of Ryukyu Kingdom at the beginning of 15th century, Okinawa island was divided into three kingdoms. 

The first is Hokuzan Kingdom which held north half of Okinawa island and resided at Nakijin castle, and the second was Chuzan Kingdom that reigned from current Yomitan and Uruma to Naha and located at Urasoe castle. The last was Nanzan Kingdom, which kept southern end of Okinawa island under Kokubagawa river and lived at Ozato castle. First Shuri castle might be the border fort of Chuzan Kingdom toward south.

At the beginning of 15th century Sho Hashi (1372-1439), an originally small retainer of Nanzan kindom, invaded weakend Chuzan kingdom and occupied it, then established Ryukyu kingdom in 1406. Next Sho Hashi ruined Hokuzan kingdom and Nanzan kingdom in 20 years, then finally united whole Okinawa island in 1429. After the death of Sho Hashi, there were several kings of short period, and in 1454 Sho Taikyu (1415-1460) succeeded the position of king. Sho Taikyu reformed Shuri castle and governed his kingdom assisted by his chancellor Kanamaru.

Rise of ambitious lord

On the other hand, there was a talented lord at the east side of island, named Amarari. He was originally a local small retainer but had a talent and ambition. Amawari became a commander of Katsuren castle, promoted foreign trades and agriculture, to grow his wellness. Katsuren are was prosperous, and local folk song “Omoro Soushi” praised Amawari as follows:
“Amarari at Katsuren, reign this area over 1000 year. Noble Amarari, who deserves to Katsuren, and Katsuren also deserves to Amawari”.

Katsuren castle is built over a long and narrow hill of 300 meter long and 100 meter wide. This hill consist of large and tall peak and small peak, being connected by saddle point. Katsuren castle uses these two peaks as a castle area, connected two hills by stone walls and places main gate and back side gate at both side of saddle point.

Structure of Katsuren castle

It is not clear whether of intentionally or not, but this castle has considerably straight line stone walls. Central area of Katsuren castle is roughly a shaped square area of 30 meter long at the tip of large hill. and might be used as a sacred place. Secondary area is about 50 meter long square area divided into two layer at the below of central area, and main building might be placed at this area. Central area and secondary area is connected by two line of stone walls beautifully sliding down from the top.

The front side of secondary area is protected by tall stone walls over 10 meter height. At the side of main entrance from saddle point, a beautiful guarding turret basement is built to control the entrance. Because of its square shape with vertical and straight stone walls, Katsuren castle seems like a castle of Western world.

Raise and fall of Amawari

Looking at the growth of Amawari, Sho Hashi became cautious and appointed his veteran general Gosamaru (?-1458) as a commander of Nakagusuku castle at the middle of Katsuren castle and Shuri castle. Gosamaru was an excellent general from the period of Sho Hashi and activated in the unification battle of Okinawa island . Gosamaru is also an excellent castle builder who constructed Zakimi castle at middle western part of Okinawa island. Gosamaru expanded Nagakusuku castle and prepared for the battle against Amawari.

In 1458, to cope with Gosamaru, Amawari made false accuse to Sho Taikyu that Gosamaru had an intention of rebellion, and got approval to attack him. Amawari attacked Gosamaru, and probably knowing the actual situation Gosamaru died without resistance. Amawari got Gosamaru’s territory and married with Taishu’s sister.

Next Amarari aimed the hegemony of whole island and prepared to the battle with Sho clan, but his wife from Sho clan secretly reported the situation to her house. There was a fierce battle between Amarari and Sho Taikyu, but finally general of Sho Taikyu occupied Katsuren castle and Amawari was killed These continuous accidents are said as “Rebellion of Gosamaru and Amarari”, the last and largest internal war at Okinawa Island.

Afterward of castle

The site of Katsuren castle was not used from then, and now used as a park. This castle was nominated as a world heritage collectively with other Okinawa style castles. Even though not so large castle, a dynamic exterior of Katsuren castle utilizing height difference well shows the power and ambition of Amawari. 


25 minutes drive from Okinawa Jidoshado Expressway Okinawa-Kita interchange.

Related Castles

Nakagusuku Castle -Last and strongest medieval fortress in Okinawa- 
Shuri Castle -400 year capital of southern island kingdom-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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