In a previous post, I talked a little about Setsubun, the bean-scattering ceremony. This year, I went to the setsubun-sai (festival) at Naminoue Shrine, which is held on February 3rd. It was a grey and cloudy day, with a bit of a chill. My husband and I parked the car a few blocks away from the shrine and stopped at a conbini for coffee.
We walked up to the shrine a bit before 10am (the starting time), and with the overcast weather, it was busy but not as busy as New Years hatsumode. It started promptly at 10am, with some prayers and rites of various sorts. Next came the shishimai (lion dance), which is always a lot of fun. Finally it was time for the bean-throwing!
Now what surprised me about this festival was that they didn’t just throw beans… they threw oranges, candies, and little bags of snacks/toy as well! It was crazy, but entertaining. Again, like the Naritasan fukusenji festival, some people had bags and baskets, or used their hats, to help catch the flying prizes. After everything was thrown, the local news interviewed kids to see what all they caught. They also handed out hot zenzai (sweet red bean soup) at the shrine window~~ so as soon as the throwing is done, get in line before they run out of zenzai!
Overall, it was a lot of fun and not as crowded as I feared. So if you are in Okinawa during Setsubun, be sure to check out Naminoue Shrine’s festival!
You can also wait until Feb 11th (public holiday in Japan) for Naritasan Fukusenji’s bean-throwing festival. Since Naritasan fukusenji is my local temple, I typically attend the events there; this setsubun festival is a lot of fun too, though not as big as Naminoue shrine’s, and they only throw beans at this one. Plus at Naritasan, the sakura are usually blooming well, so the temple looks very pretty this time of year.
In Kin town 金武町 (Northern part of Okinawa), there is a temple and limestone cave where a shrine is located as well as bottles of awamori 泡盛 are stored for aging.
The first thing you need to know is that there are 2 entrances to the cave: the one at the temple is FREE, but is blocked off from the awamori storage. You will still be able to see pretty stalactite and stalagmite formations and descend into a portion of the cave BUT you will not see the area where the awamori and tofuyo 豆腐よう are aged. The temple itself is not very grand, but it is one of the typical old temples in Okinawa (of which there are very few).
If you want to see where the awamori is stored, you will need to pay the fee for the tour (adults are 400yen, the tour is only offered 3x per day). To do this, head to Tatsu no kura 龍の蔵, awamori and tofuyo store (you can also try yummy samples here) which is located just across the street from the temple. Tatsu 龍 means “dragon,” another reference to the importance of the dragon god in the Ryukyu kingdom. The shop is named this since the cave is known as the auspicious birthplace of the dragon god faith. We bought tickets for the tour, which started at 1:30 that day. I would post a schedule for the tours, but honestly it seems to change randomly and the tour times available when we arrived were completely different from what it said on their website, so I would call ahead unless you randomly are lucky like we were.
The cave is a chilly 18 degrees Celsius and the tour is offered in Japanese. But you can still join and enjoy the scenery if you do not understand Japanese. Bottle storage services are offered for 5, 12 and 20 years; many customers store bottles here to commemorate a wedding or birth of a child. A lot of the bottles are decorated with messages.
Normally aged for just 3 months, the tofuyo here is aged for a year or more! It is pricy here, but really delicious… I recommend sampling it all. We bought some to take home. I have previously visited their branch store in Naha and ate their tofuyo, but it was the first time for my husband. It was interesting being able to see the cave where everything is aged and stored.
Naminoue has sort of a romantic name– shrine above the waves. In Okinawan language, it is actually “Nanmin” なんみん (hence the Nanmin festival that is held here once a year).
It is a sacred area to offer prayers to Nirai Kanai ニライカナイ, which is sort of like “heaven” or “land of the gods.” The shrine was the primary shrine of the Ryukyu kingdom, the head of the 8 shrines of Ryukyu. Of course, like many things in Okinawa, it was destroyed in WWII, but fortunately reconstructed afterwards.
You will often see websites with beautiful shrine on the beach pictures, and while it is a nice shrine, it is not really like the pictures. You can walk down to the beach and the it is pretty to look up and see the shrine there, but it is no Shangri-la or anything. I think to get your best shot, you need to wade into the water… just be careful with your camera. If you google pictures of the shrine, you can definitely see some of these (slightly altered) photos and compare them with my “real life” version of the shrine. Well, also keep in mine these are also using a iphone camera, not a nice camera. Next time maybe I will remember to pictures of some of the other features as well.
As a note, this shrine is very popular during New Years for hatsumode.
神輿 mikoshi: palanquin used to transport Shinto deities, a portable shrine.
なんみん祭: Nanmin Matsuri (Naminoue Shrine festival, Nanmin is the shrine’s name in Okinawan language)
Possibly the closest to a Japanese mainland-style mikoshi you will see in Okinawa is during the Nanmin Festival at the Naminoue shrine!
Every year the mikoshi procession is on the Sunday of the festival. It starts at 10am from Naminoue Shrine and winds it way to the open space in front of the Palette Kumoji (Ryubo) at the end of Kokusai-dori. There is also eisa, traditional Ryukyu dance, shishimai (lion dance), karate demonstrations, a beach tsunahiki (tug-of-war), bukubuku-cha/tea ceremony, and more during this weekend festival (Saturday & Sunday).
This is a must-see for anyone living in Okinawa who has not experienced this on the mainland of Japan. Obviously on mainland, this is a much more common site to see, and they are very exciting and exuberant events. This one is much smaller, and less crowded, which in some ways makes for a better experience!
**Bukubuku-cha event: started from 2pm on Saturday of the festival, Naminoue shrine. We watched as some skilled ladies made the foam for the tea. At 2pm, they had benches to sit down while they came around with individual trays containing a cup of tea topped with foam and 2 chinsukou (cookies). This event was free! Yum! On Saturday, there was also children’s sumo from 1pm, and some taiko performances from 6pm (we did not stay for taiko so I cannot comment on that experience).
**Mikoshi event: started at 10am on Sunday at the shrine, however we met up with them by the Ryubo Palette Kumoji around 11am. There was the parade into the square, then some ceremonies/rituals. Next came various performances, of which the shishimai was probably my favorite. As always they came thru the crowd to try to bite small children. While this was going on, the pole-dancing went on by Kokusai-dori. No, not like that… by pole-dancing I mean “Gaaee” ガーエー, which means something like “winner’s triumphant shout.” Basically it entails guys carrying 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. After the various performances wrapped up, the parade returned to the shrine and beach for some more events. At this point my hubby was pretty done, so we headed home.
I recently had to return home to Hawai’i for a very short few days, but on the way I had to pass through Haneda Airport with an 8 hour layover. So rather than stay in the airport for that long, we opted to take the monorail to the very last stop (maybe about 20 minutes if you take the express), Hamamatsucho-eki 浜松町駅. I did not find many ideas online of what to do with all this time (most people seem content to just stay in the airport, shopping or eating), but I was determined to make the best use of these few hours and decided on Hamamatsucho as my destination (most of the other stops did not sound like there was much around).
When we first got off at the station, we headed to the Japanese garden park that was adjacent; Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden 旧芝離宮恩賜庭園 is formerly an Imperial garden. It is small but pretty, and admission was only 150yen. We were too early for sakura, though there were a few buds here and there. We were also at the very end of ume (plum blossoms) so not much to see there either, however, there were some other nice seasonal plants. It was refreshing, though a bit on the cold side.
After this we walked down the street and visited the Kumano jinja 熊野神社 (shrine) and Zōjō-ji (temple) 増上寺, located just in front of Tokyo Tower and next to Shiba Park. We were hungry, so we did not have a chance to wander through Shiba Park or Tokyo Tower (I have been there before anyway), just this small area around the temple and shrine, as well as the Unborn Children Garden. These are not uncommon to see at many temples in Japan, with rows of stone statues which represent unborn children (such as miscarried, aborted, or stillborn). Parents choose a statue, decorating it with clothing and toys. Often you will see a small gift for Jizo 地蔵 (guardian of unborn children). If you see stones are piled up near the statue this is meant to make journey into the afterlife easier.
To finish up, we headed to a place located just behind the station called Devil Craft Brewery… craft beer and Chicago-style pizza! Yes, I know… most people go to Japan and are not looking for this type of thing, but we live here and these types of places are few and far between. So how can we turn this down?
Apparently there are 2 other locations in Tokyo as well. They have some craft brews of their own, and some others from around Japan. Many foreigners will also be happy to know there is an English menu for both food and drinks. We did not make reservations, but since we got there at opening time (5pm) we got a table– keep this in mind if you decide to visit, get reservations! This place is super popular.
We each ended up to try 2 beers (pints) each, splitting an appetizer and a pizza. To be honest, it was my first time to have Chicago-style pizza! My husband loves it and it is his favorite type; since we have never seen another place serving Chicago pizza in Japan we knew we had to come here and try it. And it was so good!
Overall, it was pretty awesome, though a little costly. But when you consider that the craft beer scene in Japan is still a little new, I think their prices were fair to be honest. I would highly recommend trying this place out if you find yourself in the area.
Once we finished eating, it was time to get back on the monorail to the airport for our late night flight.
On a rainy day, I headed out to Sueyoshi shrine located within the Sueyoshi park 末吉公園 in Naha near the Shuri area.
There are a few parking areas; I parked in the larger parking area, off of rt 82 here. There is also another parking lot by the Mori-no-ie MinMin 森の家みんみん community center, but it is also located next to a nice open area where the elder people play bocce ball or gateball so it might be crowded. These parking spots are at the OPPOSITE end of the park from the shrine, so if you only want to visit the shrine, drive to just north of the park, where there is a small area you can park in. However, I decided to enjoy a nice walk through the park today.
Despite the drizzle, it was a nice day to walk around. There are many inner paths weaving through the forested area and crossing the stream. Most of the paths are easy to follow, but some are a bit slippery. There are a few historical markers to check out along the way too, in both Japanese and English. This park is especially known for the fireflies (hotaru 蛍, ホタル) during May-July! Well, right now it is autumn, so obviously, none for me today. There were also plenty of places to have a nice picnic or rest; tables and benches seemed to pop up all over the park. And there were trash bins and toilets convenient in a few areas. I also noticed (despite the rain) a guy and his kid with bug-catching nets, so the wildlife is plentiful considering it is in the city.
At the community center, I picked up a paper map, though it was not terribly useful but combined with my phone GPS I was able to get around okay, just matching the “park sites” to google maps (the walking paths nor park sites are not labelled in google maps). The paper map got sufficiently crumpled by the end of my “hike.”
I made my way to the shrine; warning it was a descent into the park and then a decent slope upwards, some stairs, etc, so it was not exactly a leisurely stroll. It was not terribly strenuous, but I did burn some calories. Up at the shrine, there was an old man manning the booth for omamori and fortunes (and bottled drinks), and another old man sweeping. Then inside the shrine there was another older man assisting with prayer. Honestly, this was much busier than I expected! It was peaceful and quiet though small, and had gorgeous views over Naha (I climbed higher than I realized getting up there). The original shrine was destroyed in WWII during the Battle of Okinawa, and was restored in the 1970s.
Afterwards, I walked around all the small areas for worshipping various local gods, and over to the Ginowan-Udun grave, the Ginowan-Udun mural, and eventually making my way through the wooded paths back to the parking area.
1. Don’t wear slippahs, wear real shoes with good grip. I fell on my okole after slipping on some slimey, mossy rocks.
2. Depending on the season, bring bug spray (maybe in winter you will not need it). It is usually a damp forest, a few mosquitoes are around, though it is not so bad compared to other places.
There are a fair number of temples (tera 寺) and shrines (jinja 神社) in Okinawa, however, most of them are maybe not as historic or grand as you might see on the mainland.
成田山福泉寺 Naritasan Fukusenji is the temple in my town. It sits upon the hill facing the ocean. I visit there during important yearly events, such as New Years and Setsubun.
Omamori お守り are amulets or protective charms you can purchase from the temple. They come in many forms, colors, types; some are for safe driving, some for success in school, some are for health, some for love… There are some traditions around these, which some people do not necessarily observe. After a year (usually, but I will not lie, I often keep mine longer than that), you should take back to a temple to have them perform a ritual and burn it, and then obviously purchase a new one. I usually only keep my New Years omamori for a year and then return them during the next New Year; others, especially ones from places I have visited, such as Kyoto, I tend to keep until they look a bit worn.
Wood prayer boards, called ema 絵馬, are often sold as well (more common at shrines, but temples nowadays often sell these as well). You write messages of prayer, such as wishes for happiness, health, success in school, love/marriage, safety, etc, and hang them up by the shrine (so the gods, or “kami” 神, can receive them). The ema have pictures representing the temple, or perhaps the zodiac year, on the back; usually there are a few designs you can choose from. There are no real rules as to what or how to write on an ema, so just have fun.
How to pray at a Shinto Shrine (temples are less rigid, although some of the procedure can be the same):
purify oneself at the water pavilion: using your right hand, take a ladle, and scoop water. Pour a little over you left hand, then switch an pour over your right hand, then in your left hand take some water from the ladle and rinse your mouth, and finally empty the remaining water (on the ground, not back into the water basin). You should only scoop water once. When you finish, use your hand towel to dry you hands. You will notice many people in Japan carry around small personal towels in their bags, and if you visit, I highly recommend also having one for instances such as these.
toss a coin gently into the offering box (preferably with hole in it, 5円 or 50 円)
ring the bell (if there is one)
And done! Pretty easy. All being said, sometimes procedure can switch up depending on where you are, so just follow what locals do when you feel uncertain.
Lastly, let’s cover drawing fortunes, known as omikuji おみくじ. There will be a box or a coin slot machine labeled おみくじ. Some places will have English fortunes, some only Japanese. It is usually 100円, although it can be more if it comes with a small charm of some sort (if it is a small frog charm, put it in your wallet, it is said to “attract” money). Fortunes will have a category, ranging in different types of luck, from very good to very bad:
Great blessing (dai-kichi, 大吉)
Middle blessing (chuu-kichi, 中吉)
Small blessing (shou-kichi, 小吉)
Blessing (kichi, 吉)
Half-blessing (han-kichi, 半吉)
Ending blessing (sue-kichi, 末吉)
Ending small blessing (sue-shou-kichi, 末小吉)
Curse (kyou, 凶)
Small curse (shou-kyou, 小凶)
Half-curse (han-kyou, 半凶)
Ending curse (sue-kyou, 末凶)
Great curse (dai-kyou, 大凶)
On the rest of the paper, it describes your luck or fortune in various aspects of your life. Most of the Japanese used is fairly complicated, so it is good if you can have someone fluent explain it to you. Once you read your fortune, if it is bad, you tie it to a tree branch at the shrine or temple, to stave off the curse; if it is good, you keep it close to you (in your wallet or purse perhaps). That being said, I have also heard if it is good you tie it to a tree branch in order for it to come true! So, I think sometimes, there are no “right” or “wrong” ways. Just have fun.
While there are many small shrines scattered around, here are the addresses for the “larger” temples and shrines worth visiting in Okinawa: