“Gusuku” is the name given to castles in Okinawa, and it’s a word all tourists will hear at least once.
Gusuku were designed and built in many ways, and their nuances also vary depending on the era and region. The gusuku models on display here reflect an era where many warlords fought to unite the Ryukyu Kingdom. Let’s look at a few details.
First, gusuku emphasized sturdy ramparts more than the castle keep itself. Like their Honshu siblings, their central keeps were not built to withstand a direct hit from a typhoon. However, warlords of the era still wanted a good view of the battlefield in order to secure victory. Therefore, in order to command the high view while maintaining their central keeps protected from the elements, they built castles atop of cliffs that enemies couldn’t climb, and further fortified them with stacked stone walls.
Incidentally, Zakimi Castle isn’t built on top of a cliff--why is that?
The secret lies in the design of its ramparts. It’s shaped like a starfish, isn’t it? Enemies seeking to penetrate the castle could find dents and naturally climb the walls, so the defending faction would climb to the top and head them off there. Essentially, the starfish-shaped ramparts were a perfect defense, covering all sides. Zakimi Castle was innovative for a gusuku, as it broke away from the need to build around cliffside defenses, and was instead sited and designed around pure and simple tactics.
Zakimi Castle was the model of a perfect gusuku. However, it would never have the chance to flex its defensive qualities. By the time it was finished, the nearly 200-year-old conflict was already resolved.