Know how to act around Okinawa's big tombs

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

For those who are new to the island, traditional Okinawan tombs may look very intriguing. But the spiritual importance these large structures have to Okinawans should be respected.


Local tombs can be seen at many on- and off-base locations on the island. Some have a look of a house, which is called Hafu-baka, meaning “Gable Tomb.” There are also tombs called “Kameko-baka” that take the form of a turtle shell. The front side of such tombs present a figure like the Greek letter Ω.


There are also tombs constructed at caves, which are thought to be the oldest type of tombs on Okinawa. Here, the body of the deceased was typically put in a cave without being cremated. Later on, the entrance to the cave is sealed with stones. Nowadays, most Okinawans are cremated.


In April and sometimes between late July and September, many Okinawans visit these tombs to hold memorial services for their ancestors. The annual gathering in April is called “Seimeisai” or “Shiimii,” which is one of the major family events for Okinawans. Around that time, you will see Okinawans gathering at tombs, seated on the ground enjoying food and drinks. Basically they are having a picnic.


Some tombs are so big they may look like a historical remains while others may look like huge artwork. Please remember that these are sacred grounds, so don’t walk or climb on them. Be respectful.



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