Seifa Utaki 斎場御嶽
The birthplace of Okinawa's spiritual past
Only an hour's drive from Naha , the Chinen Peninsula feels like a different world. Find yourself at the dawn of Okinawan history at Seifa Utaki, where small shrines mingle in harmony with the rocks and trees. There is plenty to see on and around the peninsula, including Okinawa's oldest castles, densely forested hillsides and the island of Kudaka. Plan your day trip in the area around the ferry times.
- Sangui-the archway of the goddess Amamikyu
- The ruins of Okinawa's two oldest castles, Tamagusuku and Chinen
- Kudaka Island-where kings went to pray
How to Get There
Take the 38 bus on the Shikiya Line headed for Shikiya from Kamiizumi, a one-minute walk from Naha Bus Terminal. Get off at Seifa Utaki Iriguchi. There are 53 stops and it takes about one hour.
By car, take Route 329 out of Naha heading east and connect to route 331. Seifa Utaki is just off Route 331 on the Chinen Peninsula. If you avoid the heavy traffic, it takes about 45 minutes.
A goddess descends
Seifa Utaki has been a sacred place to Okinawans throughout the ages. As you walk beneath the triangular rock formation known as Sangui, you are literally walking in the mythical footsteps of the gods.
According to the first written history of Okinawa , this is where the goddess Amamikyu came down to Earth to give birth, going on to populate the islands with her descendants. After the islands became part of Japan, the legends mingled with Shinto, the indigenous Japanese religion, but Seifa Utaki continued to be revered as a holy place.
Look out for two clay pots beneath two great stalactites near the Sangui formation. They collect water that was used in the holy rituals. There are many more prayer spots to discover along the trail, and small shrines nestled among the rocks and trees.
Rising from the ashes
The second oldest castle in Okinawa , Chinen Castle, is just a short walk from Seifa Utaki. Built more than 700 years ago, the castle is now in ruins, but a rebuilding program has been slowly bringing it back to life.
It's easy to see why the site was selected for the castle all those centuries ago. It commands a fine view of the Pacific Ocean, and of Kudaka Island about 3 kilometers out to sea.
Okinawa's oldest castle, Tamagusuku Castle, is just a 15-minute drive south on Route 331. These ruins are unrestored, which means you have to conjure up the picture of its past grandeur yourself, but there is plenty to fire your imagination.
Island fit for a goddess
According to legend, Amamikyu created the island of Kudaka after descending to the human realm. The kings of Okinawa had to visit the island to pray to the spirits of their ancestors. Now you can retrace their pilgrimage by high-speed ferry from Chinen. Visit the Chinen Marine Leisure Center and you can take tours of the coral waters as well as a ferry to Kudaka Island.
There is a festival called Izaiho in which all of the women on the island between the ages of 30 to 69 take part as shrine maidens. However, while most traditional festivals are annual, this one only takes place in the Year of the Horse, which is once every 12 years. The most recent festival was held in 2014, so the next one won't be until 2026.
Sample the specialty dish of the island, irabu, or sea snake soup, while you are there. It is said to be highly nutritious and invigorating.