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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Shirumichu, Hamahiga Island"

The Shirumichu Cave

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Shirumichu Shrine

     N 26 18.745E 127 57.578

Shirumichu シルミチュー

Up on a hillside in Hamahiga lies a very sacred cave referred to as Shirumichu. It is said to be the once dwelling place of the first Ryukyu Gods, Amamichu and Shirumichu. Around new years, it was noted that noros, Okinawan female priestesses, would come here to pay their respects. Traditionally, they would bring a small stone from the beach and place it in a pot inside the cave. This custom may still well be alive today. Also inside the cave is what is referred to as a 'female stone'. Women and couples often come here to pray for fertility. Around 1918 (Taishō Era, Taishō 6), the location was recognized by the Japanese Government as a sacred site. A stone tablet sign marks the occasion.

Entrance inside the cave. There is no sign that forbids you to go in the cave. Though there is gate, it may or may not be locked. Use extreme etiquette if you decide to walk inside. Noros are not the only ones that come here to pray. You will often see elderly people (especially, elderly women) come here to pay homage as well. It is best to only stay inside for about 15-20 seconds if there are people waiting.

Etiquette. Sightseers need to be very conscious not to impede those who come here to pray. All those who do take priority. Please do not take pictures of prayer sessions unless given permission to do so. In fact, if there happens to be some kind of prayer ceremony in progress, it is best to leave and come back at a later time. Some of these prayer ceremonies are extremely private. Generally, when in the area, keep conversation in a very respectful and low volume. This is an area of meditation for some.

Taking photographs. There are no signs forbidding photographs inside the cave. However, a local Okinawan said to use good judgment. This particular cave should not be viewed as a place of adventure. It is best to gauge your surroundings first.

The Grave of Amamichu. The Grave of Amamichu (and Shirumichu?) is within a short driving distance from this location. See map above. The proximity gives life that there is a much larger connection within Hamahiga and the origins of the first Okinawan people.

Epilogue. Hamahiga is an island full of mysteries, and perhaps there are some go deeper than what is currently open to the public. In a future article, we'll delve inside the mind of one Hamahiga resident and a place that looks all too familiar to one of the most sacred sites here in all of Okinawa – Seifa Utaki.

Source of Information. Explanation signed in Japanese on location.

Author's Note.
1. The meaning and significance of the noro's small beach stone is not exactly certain. 
2. The fertility stone could not positively be identified, but it is believed to be the one that is shaped like an elephant's head from its side. It is a very shiny stalagmite/stalactite type of stone that stands out among the rest. 
3. Kudaka-jima is widely believed to be the location where the first Okinawan civilization began. A tour guide was asked about the relationship between Kudaka and Hamahiga. She stated that some believe the gods later went to Hamahiga. 
4. Amamichu and Shirumichu are sometimes referred to as Amamikiyo and Shinerikiyo, respectively.

Directions. Hamahiga is accessible by vehicle. As soon as you cross the Kaichu-dori Bridge (on Highway 10 off the Katsuren Peninsula) you will see signs directing you to Hamahiga. Once you arrive on Hamahiga, you will make a left turn heading towards the eastern side of Hamahiga. After you pass the Amamichu Grave Site look for a toilet facility on the right. Take the first immediate right after this facility. This is the start of the Blue Vehicle Route. From there you will see signs directing you to 'Shirumichu' sacred site. Near the end of the route, you will see a large parking area near a boat port. You will see the trail entrance to the Shirumichu Shrine location.

Other places of interest nearby. Amamichu's Grave, Gateway to the Other Side, Agari no Utaki, Hamahiga Beach, Off-the-Beaten Path - Hamahiga.

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