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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Akainko Shrine

The Akainko Shrine

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Akainko Shrine

     N 26 23.142E 127 44.432

The Legend of Akainko, the Father of the Sanshin

The story behind the Akainko Shrine is both a sad and happy one. The story dates back to the 15th and 16th century in an area now known as Sobe of Yomitan Village. It deals with hardship of a village life, a tale of love and death, and the triumph of one man’s legacy that would ultimately change Okinawa forever. The following tale is derived from the Yomitan Village Folklore and Legends publication.
The villagers were clinging to hope, but the drought showed no signs of ending any time soon. Fresh water had become scarce, and the townspeople where in much need of a miracle. It so happened that in the village there was a beautiful young woman by the name of Chira who had a pet dog. The two were always together and the dog was known for his brilliant red hair. One day, the dog disappeared, and when he returned, Chira had noticed something odd; the dog was soaked with water! “How could this be?”, she wondered, for there hasn’t been any rain for such a long time. The dog tugged on her clothes pleading with her. He obviously wanted to show her something; and so she followed him. He led her to a nearby cave and inside, she discovered the reason why the dog was wet. There was a spring inside! Chira ran back and told the villagers, and upon hearing the great news they extolled both Chira and her pet dog.

However, happiness was short-lived for the young woman. Chira had found herself in a vicious love triangle, and the situation was about to escalate; for she had made it known who she wanted, and this did not sit well with the defeated lover. He would eventually murder the man Chira loved, but it would not stop there. This was just the beginning of her troubles.(ii)

Devastated and heartbroken, Chira was now facing another reality: she was pregnant with her now deceased lover’s child. What was she going to do? She wasn’t married; and how was she going to explain this to her parents? Time went on, and it became obvious that she was bearing a child in her womb. Villagers began to question the ordeal and rumors circulated. It turned out, the man who killed Chira’s true love was the one spreading these rumors. To lay one more knife in Chira’s heart, he planted the idea that Chira had done the unthinkable. The father of her baby wasn’t a man. It was her dog.

If her dignity wasn’t destroyed then, it was now hanging by a thread. Humiliated and emotionally isolated, Chira had no choice but to leave the village. She fled to Ikei Island to live out the rest of her days.(i) There, she gave birth to a son and found some hope of a peaceful life, but that too was short lived. A few years later, her parents had found out where she was staying and decided to go see her. But after learning the news of their arrival, she became stricken with guilt for she had caused them so much pain. Ashamed and unable to face them again, Chira had taken her own life.

She left behind her parents, broken-hearted, and a son with an uncertain future.

Years later…

He was sitting around when it began to rain. Drops, one-by-one, fell to the earth making a nice thump-like sound. So pleased with the rhythm, the young man wanted to mimic what he had heard. He then took a branch from a Kuba Tree and took three strands from a horse’s tail and put them together to make a banjo-like instrument.(iii) The young man liked what he had heard and took his new invention and played it wherever he went.

One day, a servant of the king had heard the young man’s music. He was so pleased that he asked him if he would go to Shuri to play for his majesty. The young man agreed and together they set off to see the king. And so the young man played and played to his heart’s content. The king wasn’t just amazed. He was enthralled by its beauty and power; so much that he immediately directed the young man to travel throughout the island to spread his music. And so off he went spreading his love in musical form.

His adventures would eventually take him to China and on his journey back, he brought with him various types of grains and apparel he had found in his travels. The villagers of Yomitan took the grains, cultivated them, and spread them throughout village yielding many, many crops. It was from this day forward that Yomitan would become known as the 'King of Vegetables' throughout the kingdom.
Epilogue. Every year Yomitan Village celebrates the Akainko Festival typically held around 20 September of the Lunar Calendar to honor the young man’s legacy and the new staples he introduced centuries before.

Sanshin and Sanshi-no-hi (三線の日).The banjo-like instrument he created became known as the Sanshin, named for the three strings used to make the beautiful sound; and henceforth the young man became known as the ‘Father of the Sanshin’. Sanshin, in Japanese literally means ‘three strings’. Every year on March 4th, a special musical ceremony (mainly comprised of sanshin players) is performed in front of the Akainko Shrine to honor his musical contribution to Okinawa and to the world. This is no ordinary date. March 4th has become known as the ‘Day of the Sanshin’ or in Japanese, Sanshi-no-hi (三線の日). The reason March 4th was chosen is because numerically the date can be written as 3/4. The special date is based on a Japanese pun, where 'san', means 3, and 'shi', means 4 – the two syllables found in the word sanshin. It is not uncommon to see students of the sanshin praying at the shrine. It is believed it will help them master the art.

The Shrine and the Meaning of his Name. The location of the shrine is believed to be where the young man ascended into heaven.(2) His true name given at the time of his birth remains to be a mystery however. It appears that any knowledge of that went to his mother’s grave all those years ago on Ikei Island. So he decided to take on another name. In the Okinawan language he called himself Akanukuu (アカヌクー). In Japanese this translate to Akainko (赤犬子).(iv) If one where to analyze its kanji form, the meaning becomes clear. Put together it means 'Child of the Red Dog'.

Author’s Notes.
i. The above account was derived from Yomitan’s Folklore and Legends Publication, dated 2005. An older source mentions that Chira fled to Katsuren and lived inside a cave near the ocean. It made no mention of Ikei Island. The source was from a 1990 version of Yomitan’s History Chronicles #11, beginning on pg 220.
ii. Other sources describe a more chilling version of the love triangle that occurred between Chira and the two men involved. This is pending further research and investigation as this version was not mentioned in either of the above sources.
iii. The Kuba Tree is the Okinawan name for the Chinese Fan Palm, (Livistona chinensis). For images, visit
iv. The first kanji (赤) means red (Aka); the second kanji (犬) means dog (Inu); and last kanji (子) means child (Ko). When the kanji’s are put together the ‘u’ is subtracted from inu.

1. The Akainko Story, The Yomitan Folklore and Legends Publication, dated 2005, pg 39
2. Akainko's ascension, Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education. Website.

Directions/Parking. The Akainko Shrine is about 250 meters in front of the US Army Base Torii Station main gate. It is the turn-off immediate west of the Family Mart. Take Highway 58 into Yomitan and then take Highway 6 going west towards Torii Station. Torii Station will be on your left, the Family Mart to your right. Parking is very confined. Please do not block any gates belonging to any residential areas.