The 5 Best Shrines, Temples in Okinawa

Immerse yourself in some local culture with this, my 5 favourite shrines and temples of Okinawa. In no particular order:

1. Naminoue-gu.

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This stunning Shinto place of worship sits atop a rocky outcrop in Naha’s port district, watching over the beach below, and the ships that pass through. It has an interesting history, serving prayer to Nirai Kanai (World of Gods) for many years. Sadly, the original structure was blitzed in the war. The reconstruction has stood since 1953, and started with the Shamusho (shrine office) and Honden (main shrine), with the Haiden (hall of worship) following in 1961. Enter through it’s impressive Tori (there are two), and marvel at its simplistic beauty.

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2. Gokoku-ji.

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Right next door to Naminoue, is the Buddhist temple Gokoku-ji. Founded in 1367 by a monk called Raiju, and with the patronage of the government of Chuzan, it served as a companion to it’s Shinto neighbour. In 1846, the Christian missionary Bernard Jean Bettleheim took residence, banishing it’s rightful owners for 7 years. After serving as Commodore Matthew Perry’s intermediary, Bettelheim finally left, allowing it’s occupants to return. Smaller than Naminoue, but still worth your time, the temple is serene and calming. It contains a war memorial within its grounds, and access to a pretty little multilevel park.

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3. Naritasan Fukusenji.

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Another Buddhist temple, Naritasan Fukusenji is a short drive from the ruins of Nakagusuku Castle. It’s large and opulent, with a fantastic outlook over the ocean. The main shrine is bold and beautiful, adorned with rich colours and intricate artwork. the history of the shrine is hard to come by, but it is well known for car blessings (there’s a smaller shrine located in the parking area, you drive right up and have your car blessed). This is a popular temple for New Year's Day visits, with a three day festival, omamori (lucky charms), and lots of food and fun! If you can’t make the festivities, it’s a wonderful visit any time of the year. I recommend combining a visit with the castle to get the most out of your day.

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4. Futenma Shrine.

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It’s one of the major shrines of Okinawa. It has a series of caves attached to it, which can be visited upon request (just ask a member of the shrine staff). There are two legends attached to the shrine; one tells of Megami, a female 'kami' (deity). Two sisters lived in the area, called Syuri. Rumours abound that the eldest sister was of immeasurable beauty, but due to her deep spirituality, she wished to never be seen. Her younger sister’s husband became curious, wishing to sneak a peek of her. Upon realising she had been seen, she rushed out of the house, disappearing into the caves of Futenma Shrine, never to be seen again. The second surrounds a male 'kami', Kumano. The legend tells of a couple living in poverty in nearby Nakagusuku, the wife of which worked as a royal maid at Shuri Castle. Every day after work, she would make her way to Futenma shrine to pray. Kumano-sama disguised himself as an old mountain man one day, and bestowed upon the wife a wrapped item, asking her to keep it safe for him. Time passed, her devotion remained the same. In a dream, Kumano-sama reveals his true identity, informing her the item is hers to keep as a gift for her devotion. She unwraps it and reveals gold. The couple become wealthy and prosperous. A lot of the prayers made at Futenma surround success and fortune.

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5. Awase Bijyuru Shrine.

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Legend has it that three stones washed ashore, and upon being discovered by a local woman, followed her home. The shrine is named after this in a word native to Okinawa: Bijyuru, which refers to sacred stones. An alternate story tells of the three stones floating on the ocean, and being taken in for worship by the villagers due to their unusual properties. The shrine is prayed at for health, fortune, and fertility. This last one particularly, the little shop attached to the shrine even sell omamori relating to baby wishes! It’s small but pretty. Mostly concrete in construction, it nestles within the confines of a small park, great place for a picnic. Despite its location in Awase just off a busy intersection, it’s a haven of tranquility, cutting out modern hustle and bustle, great for reflection as well as prayer.

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And so completes the list, get out and soak up some culture!

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