Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Seifa-utaki 斎場御嶽 the "Purified Place of Utaki" is a Shinto Shrine in Okinawa

In 2002  the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the Sefa Utaki site in Okinawa to be a World Heritage Site. A World Heritage Site is a site such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city that is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme and administered by the UNESCO. Sefa Utaki being considered a holy site from the Golden Age of the Ryukyu Kingdom was made a world heritage site because of it's significance in Ryukyuan culture and history.

Utaki (御嶽) is an Okinawan term for a sacred place. Although the term utaki is used throughout the Okinawa region, the terms suku and on are heard in the Miyako and Yaeyama regions respectively. Utaki are usually located on the outskirts of villages and are places for the veneration of gods and ancestors. Most gusuku have places of worship, and it is theorized that the origins of both gusuku and utaki are closely related.

Religion in Okinawa is significantly different than what most people familiar with Japan are used to. Although, the Ryukyu islands have Buddhist temples located throughout the islands, the people of Okinawa practice a unique faith called “So-Sen-Su Hai” in the local dialect. It can be considered a religion conceived by a blending of Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism; Shamanism and a few original isms’ thrown in just for good measure.

It was at Sefa Utaki during golden times where the High priestess was given her commission and where the King of the Ryukyus came to pray at least twice a year for the blessings of heaven. Although it is not used in that manner today, it is still a site for pilgrimages by local citizens and Yuta’s (shamans) who come to pray and give counsel to those that seek it.

In addition to providing visitors a glimpse of what life on Okinawa was like during the Ryukyu Kingdom’s glory days, it also provides a peek into its more recent “battle” history. It was here at this site that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians gathered to hide from and escape the constant artillery bombardments and pray for deliverance from what locals still call the Typhoon of Steel.

It’s quite easy for visitors to walk the site and imagine people huddled under the many rock overhangs and deep into the rock clefts hiding for their safety. There is even one bomb crater along the main path that is still clearly visible although the lone sign marking it is written only in Japanese.

The site has been improved over the last few years to make it more appealing to tourists. This includes paved parking, restroom facilities, stone walkways, stairs, strategically placed handrails, information plaques as well as the new air conditioned visitor’s center, a must during the sweltering summer heat.

To find it, as you drive north from Itoman City along the highway through Chinen Town, look for a Post Office on the left side of the road and the sign marked “Sefa Utaki.” As you follow the road back you’ll notice several coffee houses, and small restaurants as well as a school that teaches Ryukyu dance and music near the end of the road.

At the end of the road you’ll find the spacious parking area. The fee for entrance is just 200 Yen for adults. Brochures are available in several languages upon request and there are also several small monuments erected with information placards in both English and Japanese along the main paths and at the three altars that make it an ideal spot to stretch your legs and take a self guided tour of one of Okinawa’s most historic sites on the southern coast.

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