All posts tagged: kouri island

The Okinawan Priestess

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. 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. 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. Even at low tide the entrance must be cleared of rocks and sand before you can enter the cave. After entering the cave, offerings …

Unjami Festival on Kouri Island, Okinawa

Yesterday, August 25th, was the Unjami Festival on Kouri Island, Okinawa. It is a time to give thanks to the gods. Wearing wreaths of ryukyu botanzuru (Clematis taiwaniana var. ryukiuensis) village elders lead the prayers and offerings. At 96 years old, Kaneshi Fusae is the most senior of the village elders. Participants and spectators at the festival received some mochi (sticky gelatinous rice cake). After offerings of paper money and Awamori rice liquor at the shrine, 79 year old Toguchi Ayako lead the way down toward the sea. More prayers  as we crossed the little road that rings the island. And then finally, on a bluff over looking the ocean,  Toguchi-san gave the final blessings. Kaneshi-san was all smiles, another festival completed.