Naminoue-guu is a shrine that stands in Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture, and it is regarded as the main guardian of Okinawa. Naminoue (translated as “on top of waves”) is, as name suggests, located on the top of a hill overlooking the waters of the East China Sea.
There is no record of its foundation but it is said to have originated from a Niraikana belief, a utopia believed in Okinawa. In the 14th century, as a result of divine revelation, the Ryuukyuu government built the Namino-guu Shrine to honor the Kunamo Three Deities. The shrine was entirely destroyed in the Second World War, but it was restored due to the efforts of an association of people from Hawaii and Okinawa.
As visitors walk toward the entrance path and pass under two torii gates, they come to a towering vermillion building with a pair of stone-carved, vermilion-colored guardian dogs, one on each side. The dogs look similar to Seesaa, a legendary creature that drives evil spirits away. Inside the shrine complex there are two small shrines: Ukishima Shrine that worships Amaterasu-oomikami and Yomochi Shrine that worships the deity associated with business and industry. In the vicinity of the Naminoue-guu Shrine are Gokoku-ji Temple and Confucius Mausoleum. As it is also close to the town center, the shrine is a popular destination for residents and it attracts many visitors celebrating the New Year in Okinawa’s own original style.
Shisa is an ornament often seen in Okinawa. They are made in the shape of a legendary animal and are usually placed on gates and roofs, or on village towers to ward off evil spirits that may harm the people, their families and the village. Shisa are also believed to bring good luck.
Along with the sphinx and the 'komainu', shisa evolved from the lion figure in ancient east Asian culture. 'Shisa' means 'lion' in the Okinawan dialect of the Ryukyuan language.
As an ornament, shisa were originally placed alone. After Buddhist influence, it became popular to place them in pairs. Initially, they were placed at the gates of temples, shrines, the graves of nobility, and at the entrance gates to villages. After the Meiji period, ordinary people were allowed to decorate their roofs with tiles, and shisa began to be placed on roofs as well.
Shisa are generally made from stone, ceramic (either glazed or fired) or plaster.
There is a village on Taketomijima (Taketomi Island) that preserves much of the traditional architecture, customs and cultures of this area of Okinawa. The village is famous for its traditional houses, which were built to withstand the frequent typhoons that buffet the island.
'Shisa' (a Ryukyu decoration that looks like a dog-lion) can be seen on rooftops or walls of houses as wards against evil. The shisa of Taketomijima are unique in shape and color, all having a different, individual expression, conceived and merged from the individual customs and cultures of each area.
In 1987, the village was nominated as an Important Traditional National Preservation Area. The view from the Nagomino-Tou tower in Akayama Park, in the middle of the town, is especially worth seeing.
Also preserved at Taketomijima is an event known as the Tanedori-matsuri (festival), which has been designated as an important intangible cultural heritage.
Even today, the village embodies tradition with its stunning contrast of white sandy roads and red-brick houses surrounded by coral-studded walls and flowering hibiscus.
Zanpa ware is a traditional handicraft of Yomitan Village on the west coast of the central district of Okinawa Island. The name Zanpa comes from that of a scenic cape in the village. Zanpa ware is an earth ware, which is considered the oldest kind of pottery. After the clay is molded, it is fired around 800℃ without glazing. Its simple and beautiful texture created by the mixture of brown, blue and white reminds us of the color of the sea. Today not only conventional Shisa or vases, items such as tea utensils and bows are also manufactured. Zanpa ware is now favored as articles of folk handicraft as well as beautiful daily commodities.