So the other day, we load up in the SM-X and head towards Peace Prayer Park. Hannah had been there on a field trip last year and was impressed. After a quick lunch at the Brazilian steak house, we set off. Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn. Easy enough to do in Okinawa. Streets are not always marked well, and street signs…well let’s just say they can be less than accurate. As we made our way around the south end of the island, I spotted Sefa-Utaki. We had previously tried to find this place with no luck. I figured it was as good a time as any.
Pulling in to the parking lot, I had high hopes. It was full. That is usually a good sign in Okinawa. Sefa-Utaki is the holiest site in Okinawa and a World Heritage Site (like every thing here). It was the place where the priestesses of the Ryukyu court performed rituals, told fortunes, and did other religious business for the kings. I figured it would be a fairly cool place. Heck, Okinawa magazine had even done a feature on it a few months ago, so it had to be worthwhile.
Now before I say it wasn’t worth it, I guess I just expected something different. The whole place is really small. The Welcome Center was about the size of my bedroom. Okay, maybe it was a little bigger than that but not by much. They had 3 artifacts. A bowl, some coins, and a few golden claw looking things used in fortune telling. After the underwhelming reception area, there is a treacherous path up into the jungle. This is not a place to go when it is raining or damp. The walkway is steep and slippery on a completely dry, sunny day. I had trouble with a good pair of sneakers on, although there were several Japanese women with high heeled platform type (hooker) shoes on making the trip look easy. Guess I’ve got no skillz.
The site itself is split up into 3 areas, a small platform where the priestesses were ordained/blessed, an area for ceremonies related to fortune telling and new year’s offerings, and the most sacred area pictured below.
The opening is pretty interesting. That is not a perfectly flat surface, but it is close. I always wonder how things like this “occur” in nature. I’m sure those guys on Ancient Aliens would say higher beings came to the Okinawans and helped them make that opening or some such nonsense. Whatever the explanation, it is cool. Through the rock passage is a small area with a good view of the Pacific. Not much else to the whole site.
Overall, I would say that it is not a place to kill a whole day. There is very little to see, it was crowded with tourists, and it was difficult to take pictures because of the lighting in the jungle. It took less than 30 minutes to see the entire thing. I am glad we did it though, even if it was only to see the rather impressive selection of vending machines in the parking lot! If you are lost on the south side of the island with nothing to do, you could do worse.
I admit, I like all things Buddhist. The temples, the tradition spanning back thousands of years, the stoic levitating Zen master handing out riddles while meditating on top of a mountain. Okay, maybe that last part was a little much, but when we got orders to Japan I thought there would be a monastery on every corner and monks meditating in little groves in every park. That’s not quite the case. As a matter of fact, I know of only 4 sites in all of Okinawa. A temple in Naha, one close to Nakagusuku Castle, a meditation room next to Shuri Castle, and Kin Kannon-do temple in Kin town.
I certainly don’t know all of the history of this temple, heck I didn’t even see any monks. I guess they were out meditating on a mountain while we were there. The grounds of the temple were small, but nice. A statue here, a little garden there. The main attraction is the cave on the grounds where the monks store/brew Awamori, a type of Japanese liquor or wine.
No good pictures inside the cave as my photographic skills weren’t up to the task. It’s way too dark in there. I will say it’s damp, dark, and winds back for about 500m. There are many large bookcase style shelves that hold about a hundred bottles of liquor each. There is probably 100,000 bottles down in the cave. The entrance/exit is steep, slippery, and spider infested. I was proud of Angela and Hannah who didn’t offer a single protest. Spiders are usually kryptonite to this family. On the way in, we also noticed the ingenious tram system someone had devised to get the bottles up and down the treacherous cave opening. Work smarter not harder right?
The only other feature, outside of the mandatory gift shop, is the temple itself. It’s pretty small and open on 3 sides. It has a few shrines, a little place to kneel and say a prayer, and a little box where you can take a paper with your fortune on it. On the way out, you tie your fortune paper to the rope lining the entryway. Easier said than done. All 3 of us ended up tearing our papers, which I hope doesn’t mean our fortunes won’t come true as they were all good.
In summary, if you happen to be in Kin town and have nothing better to do, it’s worth 30 minutes to go see the temple. It is definitely not what I expected for a Buddhist temple, but neat nonetheless. Maybe next time the levitating Zen master will be in.