Land of mythology (Okinawa Part 5)

gajumaru

(This is part of my #ANAOkinawa travel log; you can read all the previous posts here.)

I fell in love with Okinawan culture. I’m not a religious person, but Okinawa’s ancestor and nature worship struck a chord with me. As a Japanese, I was taught to always respect my elders and ancestors. And who can disrespect nature? Gajumaru(Banyan), Deigo, Mangroves. Gorgeous blue ocean. It seems like such a simple idea, but when you are in Okinawa and surrounded by magnificent nature, you cannot help but feel awestruck.

Shisa statue

There are lots of mythology in Okinawan daily life. You’ll see Shisa dogs everywhere. They are to ward off evil spirits. Sounds like there are opposing stories (just like in any other mythology), but I was told the one with open mouth is male and it’s warding off evil spirits, and closed mouth one is female, who is catching good luck and not letting go.  In fact I bought a pair of mini Shisas for myself.

Shisa on the roof

Most houses have a Shisa on the roof.

Hinpun

Also I was fascinated with Hinpun entrance wall. Traditional Okinawan houses will have limestone fences around the house. And they always have another small wall in the center entrance. This wall is called Hinpun, and I saw this architectural detail in modern looking houses (e.g. concrete fence) too. Hinpun’s roles are twofold. 1) For privacy. 2) Again, to ward off evil spirits.  It’s believed that evil spirits travel in straight lines and cannot turn corners, so there are many of these “T-junctions” to stop them from entering into your house.

When you enter a residence with Hinpun, you should always take the left side path. Right side path is reserved for Good luck, or “God”. Fascinating.

We’ve also seen several sacred sites. There are many “Utaki”-sacred sites- in Okinawa. We went to see one of the biggest Utaki in Okinawa, Sefa Utaki, which is a UNESCO World Heritage SIte.  Although I cannot show you the photos as I don’t have the permission, it was magnificent.. There are picturesque and mysterious rock formations in a sub tropical forrest. (You can see a photo in this Wikipedia entry)

Obviously, hundreds of years ago someone felt a strong inspiration and deemed the place as a sacred site. I cannot help but wonder what sort of sacred rituals were performed at the very place, some 500 years ago.

Read the next post: Hoshinoya Taketomi – Stay as if you are living there (Okinawa Part 6)

Or jump to the list of all the Okinawa posts: #ANAOkinawa Travel Log