Okinawa Tourism Information:UngamiinShioya(FestivalforSeaGod)

Ungami in Shioya (Festival for Sea God)

post : 2014.09.29 18:00

In Shioya, Ogimi Village in the northern part of Okinawa, a traditional event called Ungami (or Unjami) is held every year in the seventh month of the lunar calendar following the Bon season.

This is a festival for sea gods but thankfulness is dedicated not only to sea gods but also to mountain gods.

Firstly at the Tanna community along Shioya Bay, Kaminchu (sacred people specializing in Ryukyuan religious practices) offered prayers, then they moved 2km down to Yafu community in a palanquin.

At each community, those who conduct ritual services called the Noro (or Nuru) (priestess) and the Kaminchu made offerings to the gods.

After offerings to the gods, they did the Usandee (Sharing some of the offerings after the prayer).  They let not only local people watching the ritual but also tourists to enjoy the shares.

I was truly thankful to their generous hearts.

At a shrine (or worship place) in Yafu, they put a pole at the center of the square and spread leaves of basho (banana plant) on the ground.  The Kaminchu holding bows in their hands moved around a pole 7 rounds to pray for a good harvest, chanting “Yonkoi, yonkoi.” After a little break, they resumed it in white clothing and tried another 5 rounds.  These numbers and the chant “Yonkoi” must have some special meaning.  I will call the public hall to find out later.

After that, in the Kamiusui (or Hamiusui), the Kaminchu made a deep bow to the mountain gods.

The bountifulness of the ocean is deeply related to the mountain, so we have to give thanks to everything in the sea and the mountain.

From their behind, the Noro lustrated their backs with a bundle of silver grass.
Both the Kamiusui and the Yonkoi can be seen only at the Ungami festival in Shioya.

They moved from Yafu to Shioya.

The finish point for the haarii dragon boat race held in Shioya Bay is on the shore in Shioya and the start point is Furugansa, a place between Tanna and Yafu.

The first race is the Ugan Barley dragon boat race, in which three communities (Tanna, Yafu, and Shioya) haarii boats competed each other.  Not only male rowers fought hard but also women of each community kept cheering enthusiastically at the finish point, wading into the water up to their hips

I have never seen such an impressive scene in anywhere else before.
I felt the ladies’ passion in this important festival.
There was a sense of unity at the whole avenue.

Leaving Shioya Bay behind and going across Route 58, the Kaminchu went to Kaneku-hama Beach on the western coast.
The Kaminchu offered prayers toward Kouri Island.

At the same time of the same day, also at Kouri Island the Ungami (or Unjami) festival was being held, which makes Shioya and Kouri Island united as one.

“Ungami in Shioya,” an event designated as one of Japan’s significant intangible folk cultural assets, has been kept as it was a long time ago and shows us what an original festival is all about.

That’s how this remarkable festival keeps attracting many people to come and see it.

“Seeing is believing.”  I would highly recommend that you see the Ungami.
Through the Okinawan traditional festival, you must feel something.

Okinawa CLIP Photo Writer  Hiroshi Kuwamura (KUWA)

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