The mainland Japanese language didn’t influence the name of this site. It comes from two ancient local terms, “Sefa,” meaning “highest point.” And “Utaki,” which denoted a sacred site in the Ryūkyū Islands faith. So the name of this place can be translated as “highest shrine.” Sefa-Utaki is also called “Kimi-ga-take” and “Omo-ga-take no Ibi.” It’s located in the southern part of Okinawa, about an hour from Naha, in the town of Nanjō. Close to the sea, surrounded by a lush forest. You’ll reach this sacred site by walking among mysterious rocks and ancient roots.

Here we find six ibi (sacred areas) that house the designed zones of Ufugui, Yuinchi, and Sangui. These names, which denote specific parts of the sanctuary, are also found in Shuri Castle. The two sites seem to have had a deep connection in the past, which is why they’re both registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are several structures in the sacred area. The first one that visitors can see is on the left side after entering the Ufugui. It’s a broad platform that was used for praying. Sangui is perhaps the symbol of the whole complex: two huge rocks, one above the other, form a small triangular tunnel.

The spiritual epicenter of the Ryukyu Kingdom

During the Ryukyu kingdom, men outside the royal family weren’t allowed to enter Sefa-utaki. Even the male kings who were allowed had to disguise themselves as women to enter the site. The site was reserved for priestesses of the native Ryukyu faith, and many important ceremonies were held there. Such as the initiation ceremony (oaraori) of the highest-ranking priestess, the kikoeokimi.

The royal family had a close connection to Sefa-utaki. The kings often attended a pilgrimage (agariumaai) that led several utaki to pray for the kingdom’s welfare and abundant grain harvests. For the oaraori, there was a large parade, and the priestesses from Shurijo Castle stopped and prayed at various utaki sites on their way to Sefa-utaki. The rooms in Shurijo Castle are even named after places of worship in Sefa-utaki, indicating the close connection with the kingdom.

Religion and nature

After walking up the stone-paved road of Ujo-guchi that leads into the sacred grounds of Sefa-utaki. The first place of worship. Called Ufuguui – “great hall.” After passing Ufuguui, you come to Yuinchi, where the deity of the hearth is worshipped. The name means “rich harvest,” and the royal cooking quarters in Shurijo also bear this name. As you advance further into the heart of Sefa-utaki, you come to Sangui. A triangular tunnel formed by two huge rocks leaning against each other. Two stalactites hang down from the overhangs nearby. And pots are placed to catch the sacred water that drips from them.

Amamikiyo and Sefa-utaki

Many myths of the Ryukyu kingdom refer to the east, where the sun rises. After passing through the triangular tunnel of Sangui in Sefa-utaki. You can pray on the island of Kudaka, which can be seen in the sea to the east. Kudaka Island in the east is worshipped as the place where Amamikiyo. The creator deity of the land and people of the Ryukyu Kingdom first descended from heaven.

When visiting Sefa-utaki, be mindful of your surroundings.

Sefa-utaki is a sacred place of spiritual significance to the people of Okinawa. The rocks and stones of Sefa-utaki are sacred objects and shouldn’t be climbed, damaged, or removed. Enjoy Sefa-utaki by following a simple code of respect for the sacredness of the place.

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