Uchanuku: Okinawa mochi for offerings

ウチャヌク uchanuku comes from the Japanese 御茶の子 (ochanoko). It is a plain rice cake made without sugar, typically used as an offering (供え物) for the hinukan (火の神) or altar (butsudan 仏壇).

It comes as 3 tiers of 3 pieces, as well as a “bonus” one for making a “new offering,”  which you can remove the top piece from stack and replace with the bonus one. It is a frugal way to extend the life of your offering.


The taste is not so great, so it is recommended if you want to eat this thing, you should heat it in the oven for about 2 minutes and then add honey or a sweet shoyu mixture to it. I have also heard people say to add a little red bean paste (anko 餡子) and a strawberry, then wrap it to make similar to an ichigo daifuku 苺大福.

There is something else different and unique, called tanna uchanuku タンナウチャヌク. It is made from a simple brown sugar cookie called tannafakuruu タンナファクルー. Tannafa is “Tamanaha” 玉那覇, the name of the family who made it, and kuruu is “black” 黒 as in brown sugar 黒糖 in uchinaaguchi.

All of these are easily available at grocery stores in Okinawa, especially around important times of year where offerings are needed.

*more pictures coming soon… sorry this photo is just of regular Tannafakuru!

Hinukan, fire god: ヒヌカン (火の神)

ヒヌカン (also seen as ヒーヌカン) Hinukan is the Okinawan word, would be hinokami 火の神 Japanese. 火 is the kanji for “fire” and 神 is the kanji for “god.”

Traditional Ryukyuan cultural believed that a fire god lives in the cooking stove (hearth) of every house or kitchen, to protect a house and its family from evil spirits.

In traditional kitchens, a small altar is set up and maintained by the oldest woman in the household, sometimes on a shelf, a window sill or in a corner. This is a tradition which is dying out, but some still continue today (I was first told of this by an older woman I teach English conversation to, as she has one in her kitchen). The ceramic censer (incense burner) is put in the kitchen along with a plant, salt, water, awamori or sake, and rice in different containers.

It is the oldest woman’s duty to report the events of family life to the hinukan and pray for family happiness and good health. Everyday, the hinukan is given a glass of water in the morning and cleaned regularly. Also, on the 1st and 15th of every month according to the lunar calendar, there is a small ritual to give the hinukan awamori, rice, and burn incense in prayer. During the Spring and Autumn equinoctial week, some additional offerings are usually included. The SanA grocery store already has an advertisement out for pre-orders of party platters for Shuubun 秋分の日 (秋彼岸 akihigan, or 秋のお彼岸 aki no ohigan, Autumn equinox week).

The idea of a hinukan hearth god amuses me, and reminds me of Calcifer in Howl’s Moving Castle. Somehow it seems very cute.

Below is a picture of the set-up explanation that I saw at the SanA grocery store.