Utaki (御嶽) is an Okinawan term for a sacred place, often a grove, cave, or mountain. They are central to the Ryukyuan religion and the former noro priestess system. Although the term utaki is used throughout the Ryukyu Islands, the terms suku and on are heard in the Miyako and Yaeyama regions respectively. Utaki are usually located on the outskirts of villages and are places for the veneration of gods and ancestors. Most gusuku have places of worship, and it is theorized that the origins of both gusuku and utaki are closely related.


Important Utaki

  • Biinudaki (弁ヶ嶽), Naha
  • Misaki-on (美崎御嶽), Ishigaki
  • Miyatori-on (宮鳥御嶽), Nago
  • Pyarumizu-utaki (漲水御嶽), Miyako
  • Sefa-utaki (斎場御嶽), Nanjō
  • Sunuhyan-utaki (園比屋武御嶽), Naha
  • Tohaya-uganju (渡波屋拝所), Nago
  • Tsunoji-utaki (ツノジ御嶽), Miyako
  • Upugusuku-utaki (大城御嶽), Miyako

Amamikyu (阿摩美久 or 阿摩彌姑, Okinawan: Amanchuu), or Amekushin-otome-ōankami (天久神乙女王御神), is the creation goddess of the Ryukyu Islands in the Ryukyuan religion.


Gusuku (グスク, 城, Okinawan: gushiku) often refers to castles or fortresses in the Ryukyu Islands that feature stone walls. However, the origin and essence of gusuku remain controversial. In the archaeology of Okinawa Prefecture, the Gusuku period refers to an archaeological epoch of the Okinawa Islands that follows the shell-mound period and precedes the Sanzan period, when most gusuku are thought to have been built. Many gusuku and related cultural remains on Okinawa Island have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites under the title Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

The Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (琉球王国のグスク及び関連遺産群, Ryūkyū ōkoku no gusuku oyobi kanren'isangun) is an UNESCO World Heritage Site which consists of nine sites all located in the Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. The heritage sites include two utaki (or sacred sites, one a gate and the other a grove), the Tamaudun mausoleum, one garden, and five gusuku castles sites, four of which are ruins and one of which is a reconstruction. The sites were inscribed based on the criteria that they were a fine representation of the Ryūkyū Kingdom's culture, whose unique blend of Japanese and Chinese influence made it a crucial economic and cultural junction between several neighboring states.

Izena Castle

Izena Castle (伊是名城, Izena-jo) is a Ryūkyūan gusuku on Izena Island. It was built around the 14th century by Samekawa, son of the Yogura Chief of Iheya Island. It is built over a limestone outcrop about 100 metres (330 ft) above sea level on the south eastern side of the island. The castle has three sides which are near vertical cliffs; the south, west and east faces of the castle are rock cliffs, while the northern side provides entry to the castle through a series of steps cut into the hill. There are several chambers in the castle which are separated by walls, built with piled-up pieces of Ryūkyūan limestone, 3 metres (9.8 ft) in height. The chambers have many sacred relics such as utaki (holy enclosures of the Ryūkyūan religion) and also celadons, Sueki wares, and other important objects, which are also seen in other gusuku sites. King Shō Shin built Izena Tamaudun near the castle.

List of Historic Sites of Japan (Okinawa)

This list is of the Historic Sites of Japan located within the Prefecture of Okinawa. Much of the heritage of the Ryūkyū Kingdom and Islands was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa. The mausoleum complex of Tamaudun, Shuri Castle, Katsuren Castle, Nakagusuku Castle, Nakijin Castle, Zakimi Castle, Sefa-utaki, and Sonohyan-utaki all form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.

List of Natural Monuments of Japan (Okinawa)

This list is of the Natural Monuments of Japan within the Prefecture of Okinawa.

List of Places of Scenic Beauty of Japan (Okinawa)

This list is of the Places of Scenic Beauty of Japan located within the Prefecture of Okinawa.

List of Tangible Folk Cultural Properties of Japan (Okinawa)

This list is of the Tangible Folk Cultural Properties of Japan in the Prefecture of Okinawa.

Mount Gusuku

Mount Gusuku (城山, Gusuku-yama, Kunigami: Tatchuu) is a mountain located on Ie Island in Ie, Okinawa. The mountain rises 172.2 m (565.0 ft) on Iejima to the northwest of Okinawa Island and is the highest point on the island. Mount Gusuku is considered a symbol of Iejima due to its distinctive conical shape.

The mountain sits on the eastern side of the island and is clearly visible from the main island of Okinawa and the East China Sea. The outline of Mount Gusuku can be clearly seen from the Motobu Peninsula on Okinawa Island and Sesoko Island. The mountain has historically served as a nautical landmark and appears in nautical charts from the medieval period.

Nakijin Castle

Nakijin Castle (今帰仁城, Nakijin Gusuku) is a Ryukyuan gusuku located in Nakijin, Okinawa. It is currently in ruins. In the late 14th century, the island of Okinawa consisted of three principalities: Nanzan to the south, Chūzan in the central area, and Hokuzan in the north. Nakijin was the capital of Hokuzan. The fortress includes several sacred Utaki groves, reflecting the castle's role as a center of religious activity. It is today known for the Hikan cherries which bloom in northern Okinawa between mid-January and early February, providing the first cherry blossoms each year in Japan.


Nanjō (南城市, Nanjō-shi, Okinawan: Nangushiku) is a city located in the southern part of Okinawa Island in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. Translated literally, the name Nanjō means "southern castle". Many castle ruins, called gusuku in the Okinawan language, can be found throughout the city. The modern city of Nanjō was established on January 1, 2006, from the merger of the town of Sashiki, and the villages of Chinen, Ōzato and Tamagusuku (all from Shimajiri District). Nanjō has an area of 49.69 km² and, on the date of its inception, a population of 41,305, and a density of 831.25 per km².Of the eleven cities in Okinawa Prefecture, Nanjō has the smallest population. It does not have a separate police station nor a high school. For those services, citizens have to refer to the neighbouring towns of Yonabaru and Yaese. The city hosts a fire station responsible for Chinen, Ōzato and Tamagusuku and parts of Yaese, while Sashiki is served by a separate station. The city's main economical activities are agriculture and tourism. Important crops include sugarcane, for sugar and vinegar production, and turmeric, a popular medicinal herb in Okinawa. Several turmeric processing plants are based in the city, producing semi-processed goods to be used by industries on the mainland or consumer products like tea and dietary supplements.

Noro (priestess)

Noro (祝女, sometimes 神女 or 巫女) (Okinawan: nuuru) are priestesses of the Ryukyuan religion at Utaki. They have existed since at least the beginning of the Gusuku Period (late 12th century) and continue to perform rituals even today. They are distinct from yuta (psychics), but are classified as kaminchu ("godly people").

Ryukyuan religion

The Ryukyuan religion (琉球信仰), Ryukyu Shintō (琉球神道), Nirai Kanai Shinkō (ニライカナイ信仰), or Utaki Shinkō (御嶽信仰) is the indigenous belief system of the Ryukyu Islands. While specific legends and traditions may vary slightly from place to place and island to island, the Ryukyuan religion is generally characterized by ancestor worship (more accurately termed "ancestor respect") and the respecting of relationships between the living, the dead, and the gods and spirits of the natural world. Some of its beliefs, such as those concerning genius loci spirits and many other beings classified between gods and humans, are indicative of its ancient animistic roots, as is its concern with mabui (まぶい), or life essence.

Over time, Ryukyuan religious practice has been influenced by Chinese religions (Xiantiandao, Taoism, Confucianism, and folk beliefs), Buddhism and Japanese Shinto. One of its most ancient features is the belief onarigami (おなり神), the spiritual superiority of women derived from Amamikyu, which allowed for the development of a noro (priestess) system and a significant following for yuta (female mediums or shamans).


Sefa-utaki (斎場御嶽, Seefa-utaki), meaning "purified place of Utaki," is an historical sacred space, overlooking Kudaka Island, that served as one of the key locations of worship in the native religion of the Ryukyuan people for millennia. Later as a part of assimilation of Okinawa by Japan, it was shifted to serve as a Shinto Shrine. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu in Nanjō, Okinawa.

Sefa Utaki is on the Chinen Peninsula, and has been recognized as a sacred place since the earliest period of Ryukyuan history. According to Chūzan Seikan, this was the spot where Amamikyu, goddess of creation, made landfall on Okinawa. The shrine area itself comprises a number of caves and overhanging ledges opening to the east and south among towering rock formations of a high promontory over the sea. All buildings have been destroyed, but the outer and inner precincts can still be traced.

Shuri, Okinawa

Shuri Island (首里, Okinawan: Sui or Shui) is a district of the city of Naha, Okinawa. It was formerly a separate city in and of itself, and the royal capital of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. A number of famous historical sites are located in Shuri, including Shuri Castle, the Shureimon gate, Sunuhyan-utaki (a sacred space of the native Ryukyuan religion), and royal mausoleum Tamaudun, all of which are designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Originally established as a castle town surrounding the royal palace, Shuri ceased to be the capital when the kingdom was abolished and incorporated into Japan as Okinawa prefecture. In 1896, Shuri was made a ward (区, ku) of the new prefectural capital, Naha, though it was made a separate city again in 1921. In 1954, it was merged again into Naha.

Shuri Castle

Shuri Castle (首里城, Shuri-jō, Okinawan: Sui Gushiku) is a Ryukyuan gusuku in Shuri, Okinawa. Between 1429 and 1879, it was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, before becoming largely neglected. In 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, it was almost completely destroyed. After the war, the castle was re-purposed as a university campus. Beginning in 1992, the central citadel and walls were largely reconstructed on the original site based on historical records, photographs, and memory.


Sonohyan-utaki (園比屋武御嶽, Okinawan: Sunuhyan-utaki) is a sacred grove of trees and plants (utaki) of the traditional indigenous Ryukyuan religion. It is located on the grounds of Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa, a few paces away from the Shureimon castle gate. The utaki, or more specifically its stone gate (石門, ishimon), is one of a number of sites which together comprise the UNESCO World Heritage Site officially described as Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, and has been designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese national government.While the gates were once opened only for the king, today they are always closed, and so the gates have in a way become a sacred space themselves, representative of the actual sacred space behind them. Many travellers and locals come to pray at the gates.The stone gate was first built in 1519, during the reign of Ryukyuan king Shō Shin, though the space had been recognized as a sacred utaki prior to that. Whenever the king left the castle on a journey, he would first stop at Sonohyan-utaki to pray for safe travels. The site also played an important role in the initiation of the High Priestess (聞得大君, kikoe-ōgimi) of the native religion.

The gate is said to be a prime example of traditional Okinawan architecture, and shows many signs of Chinese influence, along with a Japanese-influenced gable in the karahafu style. It was severely damaged in the 1945 battle of Okinawa, but was restored in 1957, and officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, along with a number of other sites across Okinawa Island. The utaki, i.e. the sacred grove itself, was once much larger than it is today, an elementary school and other buildings having encroached upon the space.

Utaki (album)

うたき (Utaki) is an album by Japanese singer/pianist Misako Odani, released March 25, 1999 on the Universal label. It was co-produced by Misako and Hirokazu Sakurai from Hip Land Music. Misako herself wrote the piano arrangements for every song, as well as all the lyrics.

Yaeyama Islands

The Yaeyama Islands (八重山列島 Yaeyama-rettō, also 八重山諸島 Yaeyama-shotō, Yaeyama: Yaima, Yonaguni: Daama, Okinawan: Yeema) are an archipelago in the southwest of Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, and cover 591.46 square kilometres (228.36 sq mi). The islands are located southwest of the Miyako Islands, part of the Ryukyu Islands archipelago. The Yaeyama Islands are the remotest part of Japan from the main islands and contain Japan's most southern (Hateruma) and most western (Yonaguni) inhabited islands. The city of Ishigaki serves as the political, cultural, and economic center of the Yaeyama Islands.The Yaeyama Islands are home to numerous species of subtropical and tropical plants, and mangrove forests. The islands produce sugarcane and pineapples. Coral reefs around the islands are ideal habitats for dolphins, sea turtles, and larger fish such as manta rays and whale sharks. Before being wiped out by humans, whales and dugongs were common as well, and Yaeyama once had the largest population of dugongs in the Ryukyu Islands. On Aragusuku Island, there is a Utaki which specially enshrines hunted dugongs with their skulls, but non-residents are not permitted to enter unless they receive special permission from inhabitants, and it is said that any aliens without permission will be driven out by force.


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