Sangwa, a type of Okinawa talisman: サングァー

サングァー (kanji: 魔除け) sangwa, or sangwaa

Sangwa is an Okinawan protection amulet or talisman, like a type of omamori お守り, that is made from susuki leaves in a cross-shape. It is a charm to protect offerings, food, and children from majimun マジムン (evil spirits). Sometimes they are put on houses or in lunch boxes (bento 弁当).

The pizza company Pizza Paruko パルコ has this symbol on their takeout pizza box. Be sure to look for it!

You can also purchase small keychains made of leather or other materials in the shape of sangwa at some of the small local shops.

You may also see something like this during certain times of year, such as 8th Lunar month in Okinawa: ハチグヮチ (八月) or other celebrations where talismans are used.


Ishigantou: 石敢當

石敢當 Ishigantou (or ishiganto) are another common feature in Okinawan neighborhoods. They are stone tablets, talismans to ward off evil spirits: 石 ishi means “rock,”敢 gan means “a challenge,” and 當 tou means “to strike/hit.” You will see them on every intersection; they keep bad spirits from entering homes near intersections and weaken their power (because evil spirits can only go in straight lines, they cannot turn).

It is a tradition that came from China a long time ago, and is prevalent all over the islands. Walking around just my neighborhood it is possible to see dozens. Some are handmade, some are plain, and some even have fancy designs; you can purchase many types at the DIY home center (like Cainz, Makeman, Sakamoto, etc). Just like shisa, this is another traditional way to protect the home.

There is even one on our laboratory door at university.