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Sefa-utaki is Okinawa's holiest

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2011-04-21

No one is sure exactly when Sefa-utaki was founded, but itís history can be traced back to at least an early 15th century king of the Ryukyu Kingdom, now known as Okinawa prefecture.

Historical documents and folk lore often travel somewhat different paths, but most historians agree that the Chuzan Seikan chronicles explain Sefa-utaki was the brainchild of King Shosin, who lived 1477-1526 and reigned as the third king of the second Sho Dynasty. Sefa-utaki was created to link a national religious thought into the kingdomís cultural values system.

It was an indispensable sanctuary in the Ryukyu Kingdom, a place where the king would make pilgrimages and have Oaraori rituals performed by the highest priestess. Okinawa, the Ryukyu Kingdom, placed much responsibility in women of the era. Today itís viewed as a religious site based upon a philosophy based on nature, and is a historic site. Itís preservation has been a combined effort of Okinawa seeking to maintain its history, and some outside help.

The gusuku site and related properties of the Ryukyu Kingdom fell under the umbrella of the United Nations UNESCO Convention on protecting the World Cultural and National Heritage, when it was granted protected status in December 2000. What makes this site the perfect starting place for visits around Okinawa is the sheer power the Sefa Utaki wielded in ancient times.

Sefa, the first of the two words, means Ďa place holding divine powerí, and defines the physical area surrounded by giant rocks, and ceremonial alters sheltered by sacred trees. It was a place so powerful that special deifying rituals of the Ryukyuís highest ranking priestesses known as Kikoe Okimi provided the royal leadership both spiritual and moral support. Itís so ingrained in Okinawan culture that even today many worshippers travel to the site for the sacred Agariumaai pilgrimage.

Utaki, the second word, refers generally to sacred places scattered across what is now Okinawa Prefecture, the southwest islands that include Amami, Miyako and Yaeyama islands. The Sefa-utaki is a part of the Shuri Castle Park complex in Naha City.

At the entrance worship was once restricted only to the Royal household. It is restored much as it was centuries ago. It is an area known as Ufuguui, because itís the location of both sacred inauguration and defying rituals of the priestesses. A third site, Yuinchi, is well preserved, too, and was the cooking quarters serving the king. Yuinchi means Ďa place full of abundant harvest and catches of fishí, and was a place where annual fortune telling took place by a horseshoe shaped stone until World War II.

There are a number of altars on the site, and views of the Pacific Ocean and Kudaka Island are breathtaking and worthy of photos. Adult visitors pay •200 to enter, while children pay •100. For those traveling as a group of 20 or more, thereís a special •150 rate. Sefa-utaki is open daily 9 a.m. ~ 6 p.m.

To get to Sefa Utaki drive south on Okinawa Expressway and get off at exit to Yaese. At Yaese Town Office turn left on Hwy 331 and follow it to Chinen. There is a sign to the left pointing to Sefa Utaki. Thereís a large free parking area by the entrance to the site.


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