What is Ryukyuan Religion?

The Ryukyuan religion is a structure of beliefs native to the Ryukyu Islands. Although various traditions and legends may differ from island to island, the Ryukuan worship their ancestors respecting the relationship between spirits, gods, the living and the dead. The Ryukyuan religion has various unique beliefs such as those on the genius loci spirit among others that are indicative of their ancient animistic roots, but over time their practices were influenced by Japanese Shintoism, Buddhism and various Chinese religions such as Confucianism and Taoism .

Ancestor spirits

The last ancestors believed to be the source of life are Utin (“paradise”, the father), Ryuuguu (“the sea”, the place of birth), and Jiichi (“land”, the mother). These last ancestors originated and lived with the gods of this world during ancient times ( Usachi yu ). These ancestors are highly respected as the creators of everything and are always worshiped by the community. The ancestors who lived in the past but not during ancient times ( Usachi yu is said to have lived during Nakaga yu (Middle Ages). These ancestors lived 25 times and not with the gods. People respect all these ancestors as collective spirits indicated like the Futuchiand worship them in Buddhist temples. The other ancestors, whom people worship are the most immediate ancestors who lived less than generations 25. These ancestors are said to have lived during the present age ( ima-ga-yuu ). Although buchidan are kept inside , these ancestors tend to visit the family home and tomb during various special occasions.

Performing rituals

The Ryukyu religion is centered on the family, and the oldest member of the female family serves as the main celebrant who performs all the rituals concerning the domestic gods, ancestors and other family members living at home and even those living outside the home. The Ryukuan offer incense offerings every day and say the prayer records aloud. The oldest member of the female family cleans and cares for the god of the bath ( furugan ), altar of the ancestors ( buchidan), and the god of the hearth plus his home of the hearth (hinukan). Traditionally, it is believed that women are spiritually powerful compared to men, in fact, men are considered spiritually vulnerable, and this has led the most important religious figure on the island to be a priestess. During the 15th century, the role of the priestesses was formalized by King Sho Shin and introduced to the royal court by the introduction of a new hierarchy of priestesses led by the king’s sister.


Buchidan, also referred to as butsudan, is the main goal when it comes to worshiping ancestors. Buchidan is the space (a small storage room) inside the house that is the family altar where family members offer numerous commemorative plaques with ancestor names, alcohol and incense to the ancestors. The family places the buchidan in one of the rooms indicated as Ichibanzawhich serves as a guest room. Butsudan does not have the status of Buddha and Ryukyuans borrow the idea of ​​putting these commemorative tablets in Buchidan from Confucianism. This wardrobe is usually handed down from one generation to another, and the first-born who inherits the family home also inherits the Buchidan. Family members gather around Butsudan on all special occasions like New Year’s holidays, and offer their offer including cooked rice, water, incense and tea. During the different holidays, the older female family member decorates the wardrobe using the various offerings of mandarins, apples, mangoes and pineapples, among other tropical fruits.


The three stones placed in the kitchen represent the Hinukan who is the god of the hearth. Hinukan is the god of fire; more specifically the guardian of the fire and its ornamentation are tried by the matriarch in the family. The Hinukan community is the protector of the municipal sacred fire and its adoration is presided over by a priestess of the community. Although the god of the heart remains in the house, he does not call the family home as his home, since he always goes to his house to commemorate the new year of the solar.

Fuuru nu Kami

Fuuru Nu Kami, also called the Cabinet God, is the family guardian of the place of waste. A bathroom that does not have this god could be influenced by evil spirits, such as the akaname, which are attracted to the accumulated waste matter. Since this god is considered a god of first home, the oldest member of the family cleans his home. Family status reports are delivered to this god regularly. The swine toilet lacks such a benevolent god and therefore could become an area of ​​evil influence.

Where does the extended family gather to worship?

Traditionally, the extended family meets at the family tomb. These graves look like houses with courtyards and a portico where all the offerings are placed. The family puts the cremated remains of several generations inside the horseshoe tombs. It is believed that a deceased relative took his place among the ancestors in the 32nd year after their death. During meetings, food, incense and family prayers are offered to the ancestors before having a picnic. Traditionally it is the work of the oldest man in the family who takes care of the tombs and the construction of new tombs.

Other deities worshiped in Ryukyu

Although the gods of the house are the most beloved, families also respect other powerful gods. The community prays to the mountain and sea divinities who guarantee their success in fishing, agriculture and shipping. People also love the chthonic spirit that inhibits springs, rocks, trees and caves. The community respects the ghosts and various ancient and powerful ancestors who inhibit the sacred place as a god.

The myth of creation

According to legend, the heavenly emperor who lived gusuku ordered Amamikyu to create the Ryukyu islands. Later he arrived on Earth at the place of Sefa-Utaki and built Chinen Castle and Tamagusuku Castle. Later she became pregnant with Shinerkyu without sexual relations and populated the islands. After several generations, Tentei was born, a heavenly nephew who divided the company into five different classes through his two daughters and three children. The first son was named Tenson who became the first Ryukyu king. Aji, the second son, was the ancestor of nobility in society. The third son was the first peasant. The first daughter was the first Noro, the royal priestess, while the second daughter was the first priestess of the village of Noro.

Leave a Comment