One of Japan’s favorite summer getaways for locals and tourists alike is Okinawa. Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan and has a unique culture from the rest of Japan as it was once part of an ancient kingdom known as Ryukyu.
In recent years, a bridge connecting Hamahiga Island to Henza Island (and greater Okinawa via the Kaichu-doro) has made it possible to explore this small island with a big role in Okinawan mythology. In fact, legend has it that Hamahiga was the birthplace of the Ryukyu Kingdom and Okinawan culture.
The Legendary Creation of Okinawa
According to local beliefs, the female god Amamichu and a male god Shirumichu settled in Hamahiga Island after they were ordered by other gods to create Ryukyu Island, known today as Okinawa. Legend says that the gods first created trees, flowers, stones, and soil and then decided to live on the island as human beings. They had five children: the oldest son became a king, and the next two became a warrior and a priest. The next became a chief priest and the youngest was made in charge of a small village. That was the model for which the Okinawan people followed the rules to live by.
Until today, people believe that in Shirumichu Cave, situated on the bushy and dense hill at the edge of the east coast of Hamahiga Island, Amamichu and Shirumichu created their home and lived their lives. Therefore, each year during New Year holiday, a priestess called a Noro brings a small stone and places it in a pot that is kept in the cave. There is a small altar inside where the Noro lights two candles in order to bring hope and good fortune to the Okinawan people.
The graves of the gods are located on Amonji, a small isle. Every New Year, a Noro accompanied by local residents visits the grave and prays for children’s health, a good harvest, and protection from natural disasters. Regional myths also say that sometimes during the night, a giant snake awakens and comes to people’s homes to steal their happiness. Thus, the priestess visits the grave in order to keep the snake asleep. The whole site of Shirumichu Cave is considered the most important shrine in Okinawa and is a place worth visiting.
The whole Hamahiga Island is attractive not only for its ancient mythology but also because of its natural beauty and scenic landscapes. It is a tranquil place with white sandy beaches and deep blue waters. As it is not densely populated, you will find it very peaceful, relaxing, and quite isolated.
Getting to Shirumichu
To get to Hamahiga from Naha, drive Hwy 329 northwest to Katsuren Peninsula. At Yonashiro Town turn left to Sea Road towards Ikei Island. At Henza, turn right on the bridge connecting to Hamahiga. On Hamahiga, take the road to the left and follow it around the island to Shirumichu Park where you will find the cave and shrine.