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One of many small utaki on the grounds of Gokoku Shrine, in Naha's Onoyama Park.
The central space at Gana mui, an utaki in Naha's Oroku neighborhood.
  • Okinawan/Yaeyama: 御嶽 (utaki / on)

Utaki are sacred spaces in the indigenous animistic Ryukyuan religion, the sites of religious rituals performed by priestesses known as noro or tsukasa, as well as more private, individual worship. Often consisting of groves of trees surrounded by stone walls, utaki were frequently maintained within the inner sections of Okinawan gusuku fortresses.

These spaces are known as on in the Yaeyama language.

The most sacred utaki on the island of Okinawa is an ancient site known as Sefa-utaki. Other famous sites include Sonohyan utaki and Suimui utaki on the grounds of Shuri castle.

Most utaki are dedicated to the worship of deities or spirits of protection for the village, or to the deities coming from nirai kanai, the spiritual source or land of the gods far across the sea. Utaki in the royal capital of Shuri are also dedicated to the protection of the king, or of the kingdom.[1]

Generally, a large stone or tree marks the center of an utaki; small incense burners and platforms for placing offerings are often arranged there. A particular type of sacred tree, called kuba or shuro, is also common within utaki. In many utaki, there is a particularly sacred area called ibi, where men are forbidden from entering; noro priestesses and other women known as kaminchu (lit. "people of the gods") perform rituals at a spot nearby called kami asagi or tun, to call down the spirits.[2]


  • Thompson, Robin. "The Music of Ryukyu." Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. pp305-306.
  • Gallery labels, Okinawa Prefectural Museum.[2]
  1. "Shuri ma~i" 首里ま~い. Pamphlet. Naha City Board of Education Cultural Properties Division 那覇市教育委員会文化財課, 1989.
  2. Plaques at Ryukyumura.[1]
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