Search Map It! Okinawa

Friday, April 20, 2012

"The Agari no Utaki - Hamahiga Island"

The Agari no Utaki - Hamahiga

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The Agari no Utaki

     N 26 19.605E 127 57.290

The Agari no Utaki - Hamahiga Island

Hamahiga Island, like Kudaka-jima, is considered to be one of the holiest places on Okinawa. And like Kudaka-jima, Hamahiga's history and legends too are also shrouded in mysticism and mystery. You will find many sacred areas on this tiny island. The one you see above is referred to in Japanese as 'Agari no Utaki' (アガリのウタキ)* which loosely translated means 'The Worshiping Place of the East' in Okinawan dialect. Associated with this holy ground is an Okinawa ritual known as 'Shinugu Matsuri' (シヌグ 祭り) or Shinugu Festival.

The 28th of June and August of the Chinese Lunar Calendar are considered sacred days for this 'Utaki' (place of worship). It is not quite clear why these specific dates were chosen, or if it has anything to do with the Shinugu Festival. Long time ago (dates not provided), it is said that 7-8 people from the Nazan area (southern Ryukyu Kingdom) had fled to Hamahiga seeking protection against follow-on invaders. The villagers were asked to surround the entire island taking them away from their daily activities. How and why these past events led up to the importance of the present day location is not quite clear.

The definition of the Okinawan word, Shinugu, is somewhat ambiguous. An internet search in English (and in some Japanese websites) states that the word means a 'brotherhood of men'. However, this definition is often used in context to describe a 'male dominated' ritual in northern Okinawa in a placed called Ada of Kunigami. That exact definition is used so profusely lending itself to suspect as if it was reiterated and perpetuated by other publications giving life to its meaning. According to the Okinawan-English Wordbook published by the University of Hawaii Press 2006, the term Shinugu is in fact a ritual that is associated with agriculture (see source). The definition verbatim is as follows:
“A rite, usually in the seventh lunar month, of passing from the harvest to the start of a new cycle of planting or for purification and to invoke a rich harvest.”
No where does it mention anything pertaining to a fraternity of men. Furthermore, this definition almost coincides with the June/August dates aforementioned above. It is important to note that rituals (and Okinawa dialect) even on a small island such as Okinawa can vary from village to village. Traditions are handed down from generation to generation often through experience. A Shinugu ritual (and its meaning) in one part of Okinawa may not reflect other such practices elsewhere. The Shinugu ritual in Ada, should not be used as the 'Gold Standard'  that defines other Shinugu rituals elsewhere.

The tomb. Behind the Agari no Utaki are a set of steps that go up to what appears to be a small tomb that seems to have some religious importance. It is not clear who's remains are inside.

When you visit. When you visit, it is likely that you will see other visitors and possibly some of a religious nature, such as Noro (priestess). It is understood that curious visitors come and go, but if you happen to arrive during a religious ceremony it is wise to return at another time, unless given special permission to stay. Even to ask may be a little intrusive. As stated before in a previous post, this kind of 'visible restraint' earns a lot of respect. Every situation must be gauged. There are some that are quite open to sharing values and beliefs, while there some who are extremely private.

Directions. The location is not difficult to find. Once you cross the bridge from Henza Island onto Hamahiga you will turn right (Hama side of the island). A historical marker will be located about 250meters once you turn off from the bridge. You have to park near the road, and follow the path along a fence-line.

Sources. Source of information provided by the Uruma City Board of Education (explanation sign in Japanese). The term 'agari' meaning 'east' is Hogen and its meaning is found in the Okinawa-English Wordbook, University Hawaii Press dtd 2006. It is also referred by the Kanji 東 also meaning 'east'.

Other places of interest nearby. Off The Beaten Path - Hamahiga, Amamichu's Grave, Shirumichu, Hamahiga Beach, The Gateway.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"The Minzoku Shiryokan Museum of Nago City"

Inside the Minzoku Shiryokan

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Minzoku Shiryokan (Natural History & Folklore Museum)

     N 26 36.792E 128 00.778

The Minzoku Shiryokan of Nago City

There may not be another museum like this on the island. It is perhaps one of few museums on Okinawa that is privately own – and for its size, it is extremely well organized. This is the Minzoku Shiryokan of Nago City. The owner and curator, Mr. Makabi, has been collecting historical items for years and has a phenomenal collection of antiques and modern-day artifacts. Much of the collection are items from the last century – everything from vinyl records to vintage cameras. Please see photo album above or click here to see the entire collection. The term 'minzoku shiryokan' translates to natural history and folklore museum. The museum is housed in three main areas (two on the first floor, one on the second floor), with several antique items outside to include an old fire truck. Collocated with the museum is a small restaurant, and  inside it is a small room filled with a collection of 'zippo' style cigarette lighters.

Because most of the collection is from the last century, it is not hard to understand what you will be seeing. But to get the most out this experience, it is best if you bring a friend or someone who is fluent in Japanese should you have any questions. There are no explanation signs in English. The family-run staff is extremely friendly however, and this gives you an opportunity to practice your Japanese.

Hours. 9am-5pm (advertised 6pm on their website)
Open. Daily
Telephone Number. 098 058 3355
Website (Japanese only).
Entrance Fee. Adults 500 Yen (400 Yen for groups of 10 or more), Children 200 Yen (100 Yen for groups of 10 or more)

Directions. The museum is located in the northern part of Nago City. The Google Map in this area is blurred out. However, the museum is very close to Highway 58. Look for a JASS Gas Station (see map landmark above) at the 'Taira' traffic intersection as the landmark to turnoff. Once you make the turn, on the first major '4-way' paved intersection (300m from Highway 58) make a left. The museum will be about another 250m on your right. Look for this entrance way (click here).

Other related articles. See Mikes Ryukyu Gallery.

Other museums in OkinawaNago Museum, The Higashi Museum (Higashi Village), Tsushima Maru Museum (Naha City), Yanbaru Wildlife Conservation Center (Kunigami Village)

Other places of interest nearbyFukugawa FallsGolden Forest UtakiMakiya DamRiver Trekking to a Nameless Waterfall

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Senaga Jima"

An Utaki at Senaga Jima

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     N 26 10.525E 127 38.534

Senaga Island

For a small island, there is actually a lot of little things you can do on Senaga Jima. This island is found off the coast of Tomigusuku City and just south of the Naha Airport. The picture you see above is one of many Utaki's or places of worship you will find around the island. For the most part, the island is largely uninhabited. There are no houses, just commercial lots and small amusement parks, and a soon-to-be resort facility on the western side. Driving distance around the island is roughly 1.5 km and the island is about 600m long at its widest section.

One of the highlights you will find on the island, is a Fertility Stone or monument, however, this is not the original stone. The original stone was a large coral rock a few meters high. On the original stone there were two holes on the rock – one at the top and one at the bottom. If you wanted a boy you threw a pebble through the top hole, and if you wanted a girl, you threw a pebble through the bottom hole. The stone was referred to as 'Ishi-iri'. Ishi meaning stone and 'iri' was a Hogan dialect meaning to 'to throw in'. The stone was also referred to as 'Kodakara-iwa' which loosely translated, means 'to be gifted with a child'. Still today people come to the current stone to pray for fertility. It is not certain what had happen to the original stone.

Other things to do. If you like the simple, then there is plenty to do here on Senaga Island. Click on the photo album above or click here to see other things you can do on the island. It is a great place to go walking with a love one, go exploring on the shoreline, or have a lunch under one of the shaded areas. They do have a batting cage, a small amusement park area, and a cafe on the northern side. And if you are really into birding, you can catch plenty of shore birds that come in the area to feed around the coral. Senaga Jima is also ideal for Ospreys during the cold season. The treeline on top of Senaga Island gives them places to perch and rest or an eating area after catching a fish. It will not be uncommon to see multiple Ospreys flying in the same area.

Source. Information on the Fertility Stone was extracted from a stone inscription.

Monday, April 2, 2012


The Ufushu Gajimaru Tree at Gangala

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     N 26 08.479E 127 44.835


Right across from Okinawa World (also known as Gyokusendo) lies another world filled with the fascinating and the unusual. It is called Gangala. Unusual rock formations, giant caverns, and strange looking trees are the highlights in this very interesting-to-see place. Its most recognizable feature (seen above) is that of a giant Banyan Tree, or Gajimaru Tree, in which its roots descend deep into an open cavity.

Access inside this attraction is currently on a reservation basis only. It is approximately an 1hr and half guided tour through some of Okinawa's most unusual looking natural terrain. See photo album above or click here for more pictures. The tour is mainly in Japanese, but they do offer an English handout that helps explain some of the stations you will stop at (handouts must be turned in after the tour). Excavations continue at the 'Valley of Gangala' (its official title). It is believed that the first inhabitants lived in this area some 18,000 years ago. These inhabitants are referred to as the 'Minatogawa People' residing during the Paleolithic era.

Highlights of the tour. One of the highlights you will see is the 'Walking Bayan Tree'. The nickname was given because each new root that grew extended itself down below creating another 'leg' on the ground, thus extending its growth outward and giving the impression that the tree is moving or 'walking'.

Inagudo Cave (female cave). It is believe that a female goddess lives in this cave. People come here to pray for a prosperous relationship and inside lies a certain rock that resembles that of a female figure. The cave is not accessible for passage.

Ikigado Cave (male cave). This is a much larger cave that people can walk inside. It is believed that a male god resides here. It is believed that people between 200-300 years came here to pray for fertility.

Ufushu Gajimaru. The Ufushu Gajimaru (seen above) is often seen in promotional advertisements. It is estimated to be over 150 years old. Its roots hang down long giving it the visual perception that it is much larger than it really is. It is the hallmark feature of the tour.

Origin of the name. It is said the name Gangala came from a sound that a rock would make when it fell down some of the deep chasms here in this area. It would sound like “gangala gangala”.

Making Reservations. You have to call and make reservations at least a day ahead. Space is limited. There are 4 guided tours throughout the day; 10am, 1200pm, 1400, 1600. Phone number is 098 948 4192. See website (Japanese only) for current schedule. There may or may not be an English speaking staff when you call.

Price. Check their website for current prices At the time of this post. Adults were 2000 Yen per. Junior high and high school students 1500 Yen. Elementary students and below accompanied by a parent are admission free.

Arrival. Please arrive about 15 minutes early and check in. There is a cafe in entrance area (cave). A tour guide will come out an read off names when it comes time to depart.
Tour length. 1hr and half. Tour ends inside Okinawa World.

Strollers/Wheel chairs. Though there are many flat areas throughout the tour, they do not advertise the location as stoller and wheelchair accessible. There are areas of uneven ground and with stairways.

Website: (Japanese only)
Phone number: 098 948 4192.

Directions. Gangala is right across from Okinawa World. Look for signs that say Valley of Gangala. Parking is available. The most straight forward directions to Gangala is to take Highway 58 into Naha City and then take Highway 329 going east. Next, go south on Highway 507 and then turn onto Highway 131. See map for further directions.

Other publicly known caves of OkinawaFutenma Shrine and Cave (Ginowan City), Gold Hall (Kin Town), Kin Kannonji Temple (Kin Town), Yabuchi Cave Ruins (Uruma City).