Japan, Okinawa, Photography
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The Okinawan Priestess

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

Shrine used by Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi on  Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

I’m no expert on Okinawan religion, and the facts seem to vary a lot depending on who you ask, but here’s a brief explanation of a ceremony I photographed last week on Kouri Island.

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

Painting on the wall of the shrine office of Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi with a dragon.

Okinawa’s native religion is ancestor worship, and the most important spiritual leaders are women. They are called either noro, yuta, or the more general term kaminchu. Ayako Toguchi is a spiritual leader on Kouri Island, I met her once before at the Unjami Festival. A friend pointed out on this visit that the mural in the shrine office of a woman flying through the air with a dragon is actually a portrait of Toguchi-san.

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi leads the way down to the sea cave Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

April 3rd, is the third day of the third month in the Okinawan calendar, and a special ceremony was held at Sururu Gama (Sururu Cave) on Kouri Island. The cave is only accessible at low tide, after a scramble down to a hidden beach.

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi watches as the entry to the sea cave called is cleared.

Even at low tide the entrance must be cleared of rocks and sand before you can enter the cave.

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

After entering the cave, offerings of rice, incense, paper money and awamori (Okinawan rice liquor) were prepared. Then Toguchi-san put on her white robes and offered prayers.

A fascinating insight into a rarely seen part of traditional life on Okinawa.

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

Yuta (priestess) Ayako Toguchi conducts prayers at sea cave called Sururu Gama on the coast of Kouri Island, Okinawa, Japan

2 Comments

  1. Karola says

    Hi. It’s very interesting, just need to say – yuta is not a priestess, she’s like a shaman or medium. Priestess in Okinawa are called tsukasa. Regards, Karola

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