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Irabuu (sea snake) event on Kudaka island – Oct 29 – Nov 6
post : 2016.11.11 09:00
Kudaka island belongs to Nanjo City has been a special island for people in Okinawa since the Ryukyu Kingdom period. Irabuu (sea snakes) caught near the island were offered to the king for its Chinese medicinal properties.
The capture and smoking of sea snakes were considered as sacred activities. Kudaka Noro, Hokama Noro and Kudaka Ninchu were the highest ranks obtainable by Shinto priests in Ryukyus and they alone had the permission to prepare sea snakes. The traditions involved in the capture of sea snakes without any fishing tools have been passed down to the present generation.
The sea snake catch is done during only a few months of year. Yoko Fukuchi and Setsuko Kohagura are the only two people who follow the old traditions catching sea snakes, sometimes diving for them until late at night. These two are the last of the “Kaminchu,” the highest title of Shinto priests. They received the title at the traditional religious service held in 1978. The service has been discontinued since then.
Sea snakes are usually calm and they don’t attack people, but they have very strong poison which is much deadlier than even habu vipers or cobras. Yoko and Setsuko catch them without gloves or tools. Their hard work is admirable.
After catching about a hundred snakes, they finally begin the smoking. During the captive period during which the snakes are gathered, they survive without food and even lay eggs. They have amazing vital force. Only snake gatherers are allowed to taste the precious eggs, but during this event, you will have a chance as well. The event is held at Ganjyu station in Nanjo City from October 29 to November 6.
In the smoking process, firewood is used and the inside of the smoking shack is closed to the public. Snakes are first boiled, then the smoking process starts. They flipped one by one, twice per day and the process continues for a week. When finally smoked, several more preparations are done before serving. You can see all of the steps illustrated on a panel there. Sea snake dishes are available to taste at the event.
I visited Kudaka island several times to film this special event. At the end of the filming, I had a chance to taste the sea snake, which was very tender and much more tasty than I expected. The flavor of the eggs deserves a special mention; they are rich like a cheese but with no strong flavor. You can sample the eggs plain or with salt, miso. You must experience the Ryukyu era king's royal diet during the event. This is a great opportunity to get to know the traditions, culture and spiritual beliefs of Kudaka Island.
“Umi wo tabisuru inochi no chikara (power travels through ocean)” Irabuu on Kudaka island
Address: Ganjyu station Nanjo, 541 Kudeken, Chinen, Nanjo City
Event: Saturday, Oct. 29-Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016; 10:00–17:00
*Irabuu soup will be sold on Nov. 3-5
Admission: 300 yen (free for age 12 and under)
*Irabuu soup set (soup, rice and pickles): 1,500 yen
*Irabuu soup and eggs set: 2,000 yen
*Irabuu eggs only: 800 yen
Okinawa CLIP photo writer KUWA