Nuchigafu: Afternoon Bukubuku tea set

Another bukubuku-cha post! Sorry, I cannot help myself, I love tea culture.

So one afternoon I set out on a mission, and asked if my husband would join me. We headed for the Tsuboya yachimun (pottery) district of Naha. Specifically to the popular Ryukyu-style restaurant, Nuchigafu ぬちがふう(命果報).

This place gained much popularity after the Jimami Tofu movie came out; the owner collaborated with the movie showing and prepared a special lunch set that included all the foods that were found in the movie. Many of my friends raved about it (I forgo due to the copious amounts of pork in most Okinawan cuisine). However, recently, they started offering an afternoon tea set with bukubuku cha, so… of course I most check it out.

The restaurant is located off a quiet back street, but it is easy to find. The architecture is beautiful, and one of the resident cats greeted us. The atmosphere inside is quite nice and relaxing. We ordered one “simple tea set” which included 8 treats (savory and sweet), 3 traditional cookies, and bukubuku tea, and one bukubuku tea set (which comes with 3 traditional cookies). The bukubuku cha was prepared at the table so you could watch the magic happen. Everything on the plate was delicious of course. Overall I highly recommend this place for an afternoon stopover while you are visited the pottery district!



Culture Day: 文化の日

文化 bunka: culture

文化の日 bunka-no-hi: Culture Day

In Japan, on November 3rd is “Culture Day,” a national public holiday.

In our village, there was a culture celebration held the following weekend. Various village products were promoted, and people did various types of performances at the local auditorium. Not just our village, many many surrounding towns and villages also held culture festivities similar to this one the same weekend, so if you live in Okinawa be sure to seek them out this time of year.

We did not go see all of them (the program was several hours long), but we did go see the final act, a kumiodori 組踊 (traditional Ryukyu musical play/dance) put on by the local village people. The piece they enacted was the age old story of Lord Gosamaru 護佐丸; Lord Amawari’s betrayal, Lord Gosamaru’s suicide, and his son’s revenge. The performance is in uchinaaguchi うちなーぐち (Okinawan language), so it is a little difficult to understand all the dialog/singing. But it was fun and interesting nonetheless. Another chance to immerse ourselves in local culture and get to know our neighbors.

We also ate little taiyaki たい焼き in the shape of Gosamaru before the performance, sold at one of the small stands as part of the culture celebration.


Wauke Juugoya Matsuri: 和宇慶十五夜祭

In a small neighborhood of Wauke 和宇慶, located in Nakagusuku town here in Okinawa, there is a Juugoya (15th night) celebration 十五夜祭 held the Saturday after Juugoya/Tsukimi (15th day of the 8th lunar month).

We rode our bicycles down to the Wauke community center where the festivities were just getting started at about 7pm. Like many small community events, we were welcomed kindly by the local Okinawans and given drinks (cans of beers and green tea), as well as a plate of local foods. We settled onto our mat and watched shishimai (lion dance), fan dance, karate demonstrations, Ryukyu dance, and more throughout the evening. All the performances were very fun and interesting.

At the end, there is what is known as “community dance” called カチャーシー Kachaashii… where basically everyone gathers by the stage of the celebration and dances. As you may guess, beers had been drunk and being the only foreigners (besides 1 guy who was of Okinawan descent from Hawaii on a local government exchange), we were of course shuffled to the stage to participate, as well as our new-found Hawaiian uchinanchu friend. And, well, I guess our elderly community friends here seem to really enjoy these 外国人 who come to and participate in local events, so we indulged them. Some were surprised that I knew “open the door, shut the door,” an integral part of local dance here (this probably sounds a bit strange, so I will need to explain perhaps in a post later about local dancing).

Anyway, a good time was had by all… if you happen to be in Okinawa, I recommend you seek out these small Juugoya festivities in your neighborhood and spend some time getting to know your neighbors. I find making memories such as these much more rewarding than the bigger, well-known events. I forged bonds with my neighbors, and got to understand little deeper about Ryukyu and Okinawan culture/traditions.

Pictures coming soon.

Hyakuna Beach and Nanjo Cultural Properties

Nanjo 南城 meaning “southern castle” is unsurprisingly located in the southern area of the island. In Nanjo, there are many cultural and historical properties, most famously, perhaps, the Seifa Utaki 斎場御嶽 (also spelled Sefa Utaki).

**utaki 御嶽 is a Ryukyuan term for “sacred place,” oftentimes a water spring, mountain, woods, cave, etc.

The area I went to today qualifies as another “power spot” and it is quite close to Seifa Utaki. It is another spot related to the goddess Amamikiyo.

ヤハラヅカサ Yaharazukasa is the name of the monument submerged at full tide, and is totally revealed at low tide. It is located within the Hyakuna beach 百名ビーチarea.

The meaning is broken down into ヤハラ yahara, which can be soft, healed, gentle (柔らかい yawarakai, 癒されるiyasareru, 優しい yasashii in Japanese). The second part ヅカサ zukasa means mound, 塚 zuka in Japanese. So the meaning is something like a mound to receive gentle healing.

Amamikiyo touched down at yaharazukasa through Hamagaa utaki 浜川御嶽 (utaki means sacred spot) after Kudaka-jima; 浜川 Hamagaa would be normally be pronounced Hamagawa in Japanese (beach + river). Hamagaa utaki is a small “shrine” area with a spring (gaa 川, river/spring in Okinawan language) running through the Ryukyuan limestone cliffs. It was happily burbling as I explored the area. This utaki area was also supposedly a location where the goddess would rest and heal. She came from the sea kingdom Nirai-kanai, the home of the gods and created the Ryukyu Islands.

The Hyakuna beach is free; same with parking if you go all the way down to the end of the drive. If not, you can also pay for parking in a lot about halfway to monument area, more by the beach sports access area.

I did not check the tides since I was just wandering about so, alas, I ended up here at nearly high tide. Sometime I shall go down just for low tide to see the monument in its fullest.

Later we went to the parking and cafe area for Seifa Utaki to enjoy some cool treats at the 2nd floor cafe. I had a mango float and my husband had shikwasa (Okinawan lime citrus) kakigouri (shave ice). The view was quite beautiful and we chose to sit outside and enjoy.

address for Hyakuna Beach:
*When you park at the end of the road, you can see a sign pointing into the wooded area. That is where Hamagaa utaki is. From the utaki, there is a rock step path down to the beach directly in front of the yaharazakasa monument. There are some well-worn signage with both English and Japanese information.

Seifa Kitchen cafe せーふぁキッチン:

Recommended: Ryukyu Confectionery Shops

I realize most foreigners are more interested in strange KitKat flavors than traditional confections, but for those who would like a true flavor of the Ryukyu Kingdom (you know, besides westernized beniimo tarts), here are some must-try places.

Ryukyu sweets are quite different from Japanese sweets, and are probably more similar to Chinese sweets since they were mostly developed to entertain the Chinese envoys when they visited the Ryukyu Royal Court. Most of these traditional confectionaries are centered around Shuri and Naha.

  1. Jahana Kippan: The Jahana family has been creating 2 types of traditional sweets for a long time; tougatsuke and kippan. These are exquisite and I cannot recommend them enough.
  2. Arakaki Kami, Arakaki Honpo and Arakaki Honke: these 3 shops are all descendants of the same ancestor, hence their similarities. But they are all 3 slightly different, so it is worth a look to check them out. They carry chiinsukou and chiirunkou, and I know Honke carries hanaborou, senjukou, and tauchiichau (described in a previous post here).
  3. Matsuhara Shop, located inside Makishi Market: You can try a lot of interesting things here at this shop, from sata andagi to muuchii, and even things like machikaji and kunpen. The sata andagi comes in many flavors, like brown sugar, beniimo, and more.
  4. Zaha Confection Shop: I have made several small purchases here. It is a bit of an odd mix of western style alongside some traditional Ryukyu items.

And of course, no trip to Okinawa would be complete without trying bukubuku-cha, tea of the Ryukyu royal court. Most places serve the tea with small traditional Ryukyu accompaniments, such as chinsukou, kunpen, kuzu mochi, etc.

Some of the more common confections such as chinsukou can be purchased in regular omiyage shops, airport stores, and grocery stores– but for something special (and possibly quite unique) I recommend you check out some of the places listed above.


  1. Jahana Kippan:
  2. Arakaki Honke:
  3. Arakaki Honpo (multiple locations, this is one is on Kokusai-dori):
  4. Arakaki Kami:
  5. Matsuhara:
  6. Zaha:

Miruku (god): ミルク神

弥勒: Miroku (Japanese). In Okinawan language it is pronounced “Miruku.” It feels kind of strange, because ミルク miruku is one way to say “milk” in Japanese as well. But in this case, miruku ミルク is a deity 神様 (kami-sama), not the white beverage!

*神 kami means “god,” and -様 -sama is a very polite way to address people in Japanese.

Used as ミルク神, it should probably be pronounced miruku-shin, though I sometimes see variations such as miruku-gami and miruku-kami.

Miruku is actually one of the most commonly worshipped gods in the Ryukyu islands, especially the Yaeyama islands. Often someone will dress as Miruku in the island festivals, a long yellow robe with a large white mask carrying a fan. He is believed to have come from across the sea, nirai kanai ニライカナイ (this means sort of like “heaven” to Okinawan people), and comes bringing good fortune.

Hateruma 波照間島, the southern most island, is famous for “Mushaama,” a festival during the obon. The festival is designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property, and held on July 14th of the lunar calendar. It combines obon festivities with harvest ceremonies like the Miruku fertility deity parade and shishimai (lion dance). Islanders offer prayers to their ancestors and pray for their happiness, bountiful crops and of course, a big catch at sea.

In Akata 赤田 of Shuri, a traditional ceremony called miruku unke みるくウンケー is held. A smiling maitreya (a bodhisattva) and his followers walk around the community and pray for the good health and prosperity of residents. The miruku unke ceremony was revived in 1994 after not being held for about sixty years! Since then it has become an annual event. Starting from the Akata Club Community Center, the miruku walks at the head of the parade, called suneei スネーイ. About 100 people follow, including a marching band and children carrying flags of the Ryukyu era (these particular flags are called ンカジ, nkaji, which means “centipede” in Okinawa language, due to their jagged edges), while the miruku waves his paper fan to drive off evil spirits from around the people waiting to watch the parade. Often babies cry (I guess he is a little scary) and elderly people wave from the second floor of their houses. The parade is called suneei スネーイ. It typically happens on the Sunday before Obon. In 2018 this will be August 19th; in previous years it has begun around 4:30pm. In some other villages, the miruku parades occur on different days.

If you live in Okinawa, you should definitely go watch one of these parades with Miruku-kamisama!


Saw this guy at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum.

Youtube videos of Miruku in the town near me, Nishihara.


Chiirunkou: ちいるんこう (鶏卵糕)

ちいるんこう(鶏卵糕) chiirunkou is another type of traditional Ryukyuan sweet. It is like a steamed sponge cake, similar to castella カステラ. It is moist, fluffy, and delicious with that perfect hint of candied orange flavor and nuttiness from island peanuts called jimami ジーマーミ (the reddish dots are island peanuts dyed red with an orange peel sugar syrup). Like most Ryukyu sweets, this sponge cake was only consumed by nobility and royals; since eggs are a main ingredient and were scarce during the Ryukyu Kingdom era this cake was especially valued as a luxurious high-class sweet.

My husband and I both preferred the “regular” flavor to the brown sugar flavor. The brown sugar flavor was a bit heavier with a strong molasses taste, which for me did not quite fit with the sponginess of the cake. We served it with some Chinese green tea, perfect for the rainy season in Okinawa. It would also go well with bukubuku-cha, or even just plain sanpin-cha!

This particular chiirunkou came from Arakaki Kashiten 新垣菓子店 in Shuri, where I have purchased some Ryukyu sweets previously. It was sold as a half-and-half set with both cakes inside. Of course, as always, I was given ample free chinsukou cookies with my purchase. This makes a nice omiyage, as well.



Shiimii: しーみー

清明祭, シーミー or しーみー: shiimii (also Romanized as “shimi”) in Okinawan language. In Japanese it is pronounced Seimei-sai. 

Shiimii season is will come to Okinawa around April (in the third lunar month). Even though I think you are supposed to hold the ritual around the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, most Okinawan people are on “island time” and just do it any time during the month that it is convenient for everybody to meet up or whenever the weather is good. I don’t know that there are many clear rules as to when, but generally these gathering start April 4th. I remember one of my students last year said that she was so busy during the month and was barely able to organize a small gathering at the family grave on the very last weekend of April. 

It is an event to worship the ancestors, originating from China. The tombs are cleaned up and family members come together to kneel in front of the tomb, providing offerings to the ancestors and bringing along food dishes to have a small gathering/party in front of the tomb. This is one of the major observances in Ryukyuan customs, though it is mostly observed in the the central and southern areas.

Featured in the stores you will see lots of materials for packing family bento boxes, packages of mochi, fruits, items for the graves (including uchikabi, paper money, that is burned so ancestors have money in the afterlife), cleaning items, and other things necessary for a family picnic. The ads will be up soon to pre-order Okinawan-style hors d’oeuvre platters. They will look similar to the platters during New Years and Obon, with many of the same foods. These boxes are called usanmi ウサンミ.

During the month of April, you will see cars parked all along the road in Okinawa, and lots of people picnicking by the ancestor graves. I can usually tell when the season is in full swing, due to the slow traffic and the number of not-quite-legally-parked cars spilling into the main road. It is a time to remind yourself as an “outsider” to be patient, and to appreciate the preservation of culture. Usually weekends (Sundays) are the busiest days to hold these gatherings.

Koza Crossing Mural: コザ十字路絵巻

In Okinawa City 沖縄市, Gintengai shopping arcade 銀天街 at Koza Crossing コザ十字路 is home to a set of large wall murals spanning about 180 meters, depicting the past, present, and future of Koza Crossing; the history of a thousand years in Okinawa City is depicted. It is painted on the walls of the arcade street in a Japanese scroll painting style.

There is a large dragon, a mythical beast symbolizing the ability to fly through time and space, used in the central theme. The dragon is a symbol of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, watching over since the Goeku gusuku era, and guiding the city into the future. It was believed in Ryukuan mythology that dragons were powerful beings that lived in their own underwater kingdoms. Ryugu-jo 竜宮城 (or 龍宮城), the dragon king’s palace, is said to be at the bottom of the ocean near the Ryukyu islands (Okinawa) and belongs to Ryujin 龍神 (the name of the dragon king/god in Japanese). The palace is made of red and white corals, guarded by dragons, and full of treasure. As it represents a symbol of sea power, the king adopted the dragon as his symbol, and therefore Shuri-jo is covered in dragon decorations. Around Okinawa you will also see dragon symbols and decorations, particularly by ports or harbors.

It is divided into 4 main sections, beginning with the Ryukyu Kingdom era (specifically Goeku Gusuku era, 15th century), then to the war-time era of Koza (1945-50s), continuing into Vietnam war era (1960-70s), and into the present/future.

(1) 15th century: These illustrations are related mostly to the history of Goeku gusuku, showing thriving eisa and other traditional culture.

Sho Taikyu 尚泰久: sixth of the line of the first Sho Dynasty and named Prince of Goeku (part of Okinawa city). His reign of the Ryukyu kingdom was from 1454–1460.

Sho Seni  尚宣威: reign during 1477 (for only 6 months). Also a Prince of Goeku, after he abdicated his throne (inherited from the death of his older brother) to his nephew.

Uni-Ufugushiku鬼大城: (uni is oni 鬼 in Japanese, meaning “demon”). He was a Ryukyuan scholar, aristocrat, master fencer, and attendant to royal princess Momoto Fumiagari, who he later married (a long, complicated story involving Lord Amawari of Katsuren gusuku and Lord Gosamaru of Nakagusuku).

(2) Post WW2 era: 1945-50

Shows the influence of the American military rebuilding after the Battle of Okinawa and WWII, and the destruction of the Goeku gusuku with a picture of General MacArthur. There is also the term “champuru culture,” チャンプルー文化, to describe this section, meaning that due to the American military influence, a mixed and unique culture was born.

(3) Vietnam war era: 1960’s-70s. Frenzy of the Vietnam war.

The district was known as a black district, so it had a unique atmosphere; it was called Teruya kokujin machi 照屋黒人街, literally: Teruya black (person) city/street as it was primarily set up for African-American GIs. After the return to Japan, the development of the shopping arcade and the bustle of economy was booming.

(4) Present and future: This final sections shows the head of the dragon ushering the city into the future.

As part of the mural, there is also a bench that looks like machikaji マチカジ(松風, a local traditional snack that is tied like a ribbon, you can also spot it in the mural itself), as well as some tempura motif benches. The mascot of the street 天ぷらのぷーらくん Tempura no Puura-kun is painted into the mural as well; try to look for him in each section as he transcends time and space.

**There is PARKING at the Goeku park across the street; to get there, go BEHIND the Kanehide, then to the side towards the “river” (drainage ditch) and there will be a small lot, enough for about 4 cars.


Location of the mural is at Rt 329 and 330 crossing, approximately here:

The Goeku gusuku (also known as Chibana castle) ruins 越来グスク跡 are nearby:

Kinjo-cho ishidatami michi, Part II

The previous post described the first half of my walk today through Shuri’s Hijigaabira. This next part will focus on the second half where I took the Kinjo-cho ishidatami michi, the more famous of the Shuri stone paths which miraculously survived the Battle of Okinawa. It is quite scenic and reminiscent of the Ryukuan era, with many traditional Okinawan features.

Along the descent, there are some pricey cafe spots in addition to the historical sites. They offer fantastic views should you choose to grab a snack or drink there, though I have never tried any of the food or drinks… I usually just get a vending machine drink from the top of the path before entering.

There are several signs for botanicals, some very large old akagi (acacia) trees estimated to be more than 200 years old, utaki (places of worship), and gaa (water springs/wells). Partway down there will also be a rest house; if you remove your shoes you can enter and sit for awhile. The whole path has preserved characteristics of traditional Ryukuan architecture.

After exiting the stone path, it was time to head back, however we continued to pass some more historic sites along the way. First is the 金城橋 Kanagusuku-bashi (bridge). There are also some shokudo restaurants around this area where you can try local Okinawan food.

Further along we passed 前道(メーミチ) Mehmichi where many gaa (water springs) were abundant in the Ryukyuan era. Apparently there used to be (and still are a few now) tofu shops along here, which made use of the high quality spring water.

Imgur album for Kinjo-cho ishidatami michi, including hijigaabira and the Shuri flower exhibit:

Hijigaabira, Shuri flower exhibit, & Kinjo-cho

Entrance (on Shuri-jo side) of Kinjo-cho stone pavement, next to a paid parking lot:

Entrance (bottom of slope) of Kinjo-cho stone pavement, next to some restaurants:首里金城町2丁目84−3

Old Akagi tree along Kinjo-cho stone pavement:

Gaa and rest house:

Hanta gaa ハンタガー (spring) in Mehmichi:

Shikinaen (garden):

I did not pass it on this trip, however there is also a shrine near Shikinaen gardens, called Shikinagu 識名宮:

Preview of route: 

map route in Google maps:

Hijigaa-bira maai & Kinjo-cho ishidatami michi

ヒジガービラまーい (ヒジ川ビラ) Hijigaabira maai: this comes from the name of the spring water well on the west side of the cobblestone road; it looks like a beard 髭 (hige in Japanese, hiji ヒジ in Okinawa language). A “gaa” is a river 川 (gaa ガー in Okinawan, kawa in Japanese). “Hira” (turns to a “b” sound, bira, when combined) means slope, and maai is meaning a loop road.

金城町石畳道 Kinjo-cho ishidatami michi: Kinjo-cho is the name of the town; “ishi” means rock in Japanese, the path is cobbled so it somewhat resembles Japanese tatami. “Michi” means road in Japanese. This path is quite famous, and survived the Battle of Okinawa quite intact.

Today’s walking adventure consisted of walking 2 famous Ryukyuan era stone paths in the Shuri area, which are also part of the Madama-michi 真珠道 (Ryukyuan era military route).

We parked at Shikinaen (gardens) 識名園, in the large public parking lot in the area where these routes begin. From the park, there were several signs pointing the way. You do pass through a large graveyard, but not to worry, this is an actual road. There is also an awesome bakery Imai Pain いまいパン along the road; it has many delicious goodies (yes, they spell it pain, as in the French word for bread, instead of “pan” like in romaji).

The lesser known historical stone path, Hijigaa bira maai, has several points of interest with plaque markers, some of them with a bit of English. It is steep in portions, and since there are some sections stone path it is best to wear shoes with a decent grip. Pictured below is a “map” of the route on one of the stone plaques.


The actual path starts at the Hijigaa (1) bridge adjacent to Kinjo dam. The bridge itself does not seem so interesting as a whole, but a good amount of craftmanship went into constructing this type of bridge.

From here, we crossed the street to the entrance of the Hijigaa stone slope (2); down the street before entering the stone path, there is yet another nice little desserts shop Dessert Labo Chocolat in case you need some extra energy before starting.

The stones making up the path are preserved history, of a long ago Ryukyu kingdom. Along here you can find the Hijigaa (3), though it is fairly covered with overgrowth. Continuing along, the original stone pavement itself will end, however you will continue to see signs for the path as well as stone tiles set into the regular road making it quite easy to follow. There are some turtleback tombs 亀甲墓 kamekoubaka (4), and then a large tomb area for Gima Shinjo (5), a guy who helped spread sweet potatoes in Okinawa as well as some other contributions.

There are 2 more grave sites for Tasato Chochoku and Kuniyoshi no Hiya (6), off a small pathway. Tasato helped to develop Kumiodori during the 18th century. Kuniyoshi no Hiya was a lord who lived in the 15th Century, and appears in one of Tasato’s plays.

Next will be the ruins site of the Uchaya-udun (7), a Ryukyu tea house where royalty entertained Chinese envoys; not much to see here as it was destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, and right now it is located within the premises of the Shuri Catholic Church. Continuing back to the path leads to a small park starting with the Uchaya-udun stone lion (shisa) 御茶屋御殿石獅子 (8). It was also destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, but has been restored.

Next you come to 雨乞御嶽 Amagoi utaki (9): place of worship for rain. Around here you will notice spectacular views; there is an observation deck area and on a clear day (like today) you can see the Keramas. Now you have made it to the Sakiyama Park (10, 11, 12); there is another hijagaa and a few more utaki (places of worship). Today we were fortunate to see the first blooms of sakura in the park. From here it ends at a marked entrance spot near the Awamori distillery Zuisen 瑞泉 (13), the same street where the sagaribana bloom in summer. A short while later you come upon Shureimon守礼門 (14) located at Shuri-jo 首里城.

The second part of our walk was through Shuri-jo and then back down towards Shikinaen via Kinjo-cho ishidatami michi (15); continued here in Part 2.

For some pictures along the route, check out the imgur album; although I didn’t think to get pictures of every stop on the way, I think I got most of them.

Hijigaabira, Shuri flower exhibit, & Kinjo-cho

Some addresses to help with mapping:

Shikinaen 識名園: 〒902-0072沖縄県那覇市字真地421-7

Imai Pain いまいパン: 902-0072 沖縄県那覇市真地12-4

Google map coordinates for the Hijigaa bridge:

Stone shisa by Sakiyama park:

Sakiyama Park 崎山公園: 沖縄県那覇市首里崎山町1丁目

Zuisen Awamori distillery 瑞泉酒造: 〒903-0814 沖縄県那覇市首里崎山町1-35

Entrance (on Shuri-jo side) of Kinjo-cho stone pavement, next to a paid parking lot:

Entrance (bottom of slope) of Kinjo-cho stone pavement, next to some restaurants:首里金城町2丁目84−3

Preview of route: 

map route in Google maps:

Okinawa Lion Dance: 獅子舞

獅子舞 shishimai is “Lion Dance.”

This obviously has roots in Chinese culture. The shishi dog-lions are similar to shisa dog guardians; they are meant to protect or ward from evil, and to bring prosperity. Okinawa lion-dogs have hairy bodies, unlike the mainland, and lacquered heads made from the wood of Diego trees. Each region is a bit different in style, as well as dancing.

Shishimai are popular during traditional celebratory events, such as the New Year and Harvest festival (豊年祭 hounen-matsuri, around juugoya). Ryukuan lion dance is bit different from the Chinese style; less acrobatic, and usually larger or bulkier. There is a “handler” that sort of leads them around as they perform.

This is a terrible picture… hopefully I can get some better ones this year. This is the style of shishi lion in my village; he has a green lacquer face and and brown dreads.



8th Lunar month in Okinawa: ハチグヮチ (八月)

ハチグヮチ hachi-gwachi in Okinawan language (八月 hachigatsu in Japanese) means 8th month. This refers to the 8th month in the lunar calendar, so more around September time frame than August. Several days throughout the lunar year there are umachi ウマチー days (Okinawan for festival day, or matsuri まつり in Japanese), in which special traditional observances are held. The 7th and 8th lunar months are particularly busy, first with Obon and then with Autumn Equinox week.

Besides Juugoya, or juuguyaa in Okinawan (Tsukimi 月見 moon-viewing), on the 15th of the 8th lunar month, there are some other traditional days in the Ryukuan calendar.

On 8/8 (double numbers are always considered lucky), is the celebration of Okinawa longevity called Toukachi (tokachi, tookachi) トーカチ. This is similar to 米寿 beiju celebration (88th birthday year) on mainland Japan. Those who turned 88 in the current lunar new year are celebrated; these days, it is now a small family affair with traditional foods (pork of course, some fried foods, kelp knots, and such), a bamboo decoration called toukaki 斗掻 (とうかき) in Japanese and tokachi トーカチ in Okinawan (hence, the name of the day), and perhaps a ceremonial bingata kimono in the Ryukyuan style. The mall displayed the longevity celebration parade car.


Another one of these special days is on 8/10, called Kashichi カチシー; this day is to pray for health offering to the buddhist altar (butsudan) and the family fire-god (Hinukan).

Kashichi カシチー is called 強飯 kowameshi in Japanese. Kashichi is glutinous rice mixed with red beans and is offered at the butsudan (altar) and the hinukan. See the recipe below.

A Shibasashi シバサシ (柴差し) is attached to the pillars of a house from the 9th to the 11th days of the 8th lunar month (most calendars mark it officially as the 10th); it is pampas grass (susuki ススキ) and mulberry branches bundled into an amulet, then placed at the four corners of the house and/or the gate (also the well, the barn, and any food storage buildings traditionally) in order to ward off evil, specifically majimun マジムン which are Okinawan ogres/demons/evil spirits. The amulet is made into a shape called サン san, like a sangwa サングァー.

Around this time are also 豊年祭 hounen-matsuri, or harvest festivals, in English. During these, you will see tug-of-war (Tsunahiki) and lion dances (shishimai), among other traditional songs and dance. Many of these will occur on the 15th day (same as juugoya), though in my surrounding neighborhoods they wait until the Friday or Saturday after juugoya.

Kowameshi (kashichi) 強飯 (カシチー) recipe: This is mochi rice (mixed with regular non-glutinous rice) with red beans. It translates to “strong rice” because made with mochi-gome もち米 (glutinous rice, which is a firmer mouth-feel). Traditionally, this type of rice was only used for special occasions.


red beans (azuki beans), 1 1/4 cup
Glutinous rice (mochi rice), 260 g
Non-glutinous rice (such as koshihikari, or some other short grain rice), 75 g
salt, 1 teaspoon
leftover boiled water of red beans, ~360mL

Wash beans, put in pot over stove with 1.5 cups of water (add more water if needed). Once it is boiled and soft, strain in a colander, keeping the boiled water for later.
Wash the rice for 30 minutes before the cooking. I use a rice cooker.
In a pot, add boiled bean water , mix with salt, rice, and cooked red beans. Pretty simple to prepare. 

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.


Small Town Tug-of-War in Okinawa

Every year in my neighborhood after Obon, near the village office a Tug-of-war 綱引き (tsunahiki) is held. The idea is similar to the larger Tug-of-Wars held in Naha, Itoman, and Yonabaru, except on an obviously much smaller scale. The name of the event in this town is called Marujina マールジナ.

The village starts makes the two ends of the rope, and sets up a small area with free shave ice and drinks (including beer). Around 6 pm, everyone starts to assemble, and eisa music plays on the loudspeakers (which no joke, are definitely left over sound equipment from the 60s, crackly speakers and all). We were lucky this year with no rain– the previous 2 years festivities were cut short due to rain.

We dressed in jinbei 甚平, although almost no one except the very small children dress up for this event, because I feel that I might as well enjoy it properly. So wearing my jinbei, I grabbed a tenugui (towel), uchiwa (fan), and a beer, and walked down the street to the event. Of course, being foreigners we stick out, and wearing jinbei even more so, but that’s okay, probably people see the effort to appreciate local culture/traditions and feel more comfortable talking us. Of course the minute we arrive, shave ice and drinks are thrust upon us (not that I minded). Kids were frolicking about, getting excited, while the adults were catching up on chatting. Throughout the festival we spoke to a few of our neighbors who are always a bit interested in the foreign couple living in this rural area (all of our neighbors are Japanese/Okinawan… the only few other foreigners in the village live a few neighborhoods down from us or up the hill by the university).

Around 6:30 the Gaaee ガーエー starts. Gaaee means something like “winner’s triumphant shout.” Basically it entails guys carry a large, heavy bamboo pole decorated with flags and flowers and other decorations, called hatagashira 旗頭. Hatagashira are an example of the traditional Okinawan culture. They are symbols created to represent a the success of a village. Supposedly, during the pole competition, the gods land on the top of the hatagashira and assist in the tugging of the rope during the tug-of-war. Some of the guys grabbed my husband and helped him try; my husband commented how incredibly top-heavy it is and that it definitely takes more skill than you might imagine.

In our village we have the adults gaaee, as well as a children’s gaaee. The children are given much smaller hatagashira, and are assisted by adults. The children’s symbols are a sunflower and a hibiscus. It is sort of cute, like they are in training for later when they are older.

Sometime around 7 or so, the rope was set up and the procession of uniting the two ends began. Once the ropes were close enough, fires were lit, the pin was inserted, and of course, the tugging began! After the first round, the gaaee started back up again for awhile until round 2 for the children. Many of the adults helped the children during their round (the rope is so heavy!). After this round, again, the gaaee finished off the ceremony. Some adults stuck around, as they were having karaoke in the community center, but since we had work in the morning (and plus no one wants to hear me sing) we headed off home.

It was a particularly exciting and energetic event this year, probably since it is the first time in awhile we had good weather for this event! Besides the pictures, there is a video link here of the Tug of War and here for a preview of Gaaee.