In Japan, it is still the New year holidays so I decided to take a small venture out. In Shuri area, there are 4 popular temples that enshrine guardian gods assigned to all 12 of the zodiac animals. While I should have gone to Daruma temple because it enshrines the deity of the year of the dog (戌 is my zodiac year), I instead decided to visit Shuri Kannondo. By the way, Shuri Kannondo enshrines several zodiac deities: Dragon, Snake, Mouse, Ox, Tiger and Horse.
Hatsumode 初詣 is still going strong, even here in Okinawa, so traffic was a mess. After all, there are a lot of temples and shrines in the Shuri area, more so than the rest of Okinawa.
The temple was busy, but overall not as crowded as some of the others in downtown Naha. I was able to get around easily and the lines were short. I was able to pick up some omamori as well.
What was most notable about this temple was the cute little dog character. The year of the dog deity is not enshrined here, so who is it? Well, it is Conan, a very adorable long-haired chihuahua. He is the mascot of the temple. He is called a 合掌犬 gassho-inu, a “praying dog.” He mimics his master, a priest, and joins in the daily prayers the temple, sitting up on his hind legs and putting his front paws together before the altar. Gassho 合掌 means “pressing one’s hands together,” usually in prayer or reverence (though it can also be in greeting, gratitude, apology, etc.). The priest taught the dog from a young age the worshipping posture; he quickly caught on and now the dog does it very naturally every day with the priest.
The temple was very busy, so I did not see the celebrity himself, so perhaps next time I will go in the morning when it is quieter. However, I did purchase an ema 絵馬 (prayer board) with Conan’s likeness on it to write wishes of good health and hang up at the temple.
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.
Recently, I was able to attend the Futenmanzan Jinguuji 普天間神宮寺 matsuri (festival) at the Futenma temple (next to Futenma shrine).
The fire-walking ritual 火渡り神事 (hiwatari shinji) is the main draw. Unfortunately some heavy rain showers led to the event ending early, so perhaps next year I can see it in the entirety and get some interesting pictures of the monks walking through the fire.
So, to explain the process: you buy a wood board and write your wish/prayer on it. The monks will start to chant and light a large sacred fire. When it is time, you throw your wooden prayer board into the fire!
First the monks will have some more ceremonial rituals, and walk through the fire; it is supposed to be a powerful cleansing and purifying experience. This portion was cut extremely short due to the heavy rain, and so the fire couldn’t exactly keep on.
Now it is time to walk through the fire…! Well, it isn’t too scary I think, since it at this point they stamp out the flames and it is mostly just hot ashes. Many people lined up and removed their shoes/socks in order to process through the “fire.” At the end of fire area was and altar and when you reach the altar, they gave you an orange.
Really it was quite interesting and not at all what I expected to see in Okinawa, as this is more of a mainland Japan ritual.
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.
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.
だるま (達磨) Daruma are round, and usually red, Japanese traditional dolls with a bearded man’s face painted on it. The eyes are left blank; it is used to keep track of aspirations or goals and motivate you to work hard to accomplish them. The recipient of the doll fills in one eye upon setting the goal, and then the other when it is completed, such that every time you see the one-eyed daruma you think about reaching the goal. Daruma are symbols of perseverance and good luck, which makes them a popular gift of encouragement. Darumas are usually made of papier-mâché and are hollow with weight at the bottom so that they always return to an upright position when tilted over. This characteristic has come to symbolize the ability to have success, overcome adversity, and recover from misfortune.
There is a temple dedicated to daruma near Shuri-jo. It is called Daruma-dera Sairaiin だるま寺西来院. Students come here to offer prayers when exams are near, and I think this one is also popular for families to come pray for safe and easy childbirth. It is a small temple, but full of character. This lovely temple is located behind the Shuri-jo area, and well worth a visit when you are in the area.
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: