Lifestyles and Traditions Unique Culture and Traditions of the Oki Islands

While accepting influence from many different regions, the remote Oki Islands developed their own unique culture. For example, one of the rules in Oki Traditional Sumo—two matches, one won and one lost—was established to prevent the souring of human relations on a small island.
This section introduces important culture, traditions, and performing arts which have continued to be passed down here, even as they have been lost elsewhere in Japan.

Ancient Beliefs Passed Down to the Present

The landscapes of the Oki Islands hold places where visitors can feel the roots of religion.
Even today, festivals and shrines on the islands preserve the form of old beliefs (worship of mountains and sacred trees), which became the basis for Shinto, the endemic Japanese religion.

Ōyama Shrine

Located in the Fuse area of Dōgo Island, Ōyama Shrine has no building within its grounds. Beyond the torii gate stands a 400-year-old sacred Japanese cedar tree, and the mountain itself is considered a shrine.
At this shrine, a ritual is carried out in which a hardy kiwi vine (Actinidia arguta) is wrapped around the sacred tree seven and a half times. This ritual expresses gratitude for the blessings bestowed by the mountain and its nature, as well as prayers for safety during moutain work and the prosperity of descendents.

Iwakura Shrine

Not far from Ōyama Shrine you can find Chichi-sugi Japanese Cedar—one of the three giant Japanese cedar trees of Dōgo Island, which is considered sacred. Growing on the grounds of Iwakura Shrine, the tree itself is an object of worship. There is a torii gate, but no shrine buidlings.

Ongyaku Shrine

Just like Ōyama Shrine and Iwakura Shrine, Ongyaku Shrine, located close to Chōshi Dam (Dōgo Island), features no shrine buildings. Beyond the torii gate grows a huge tree encircled with a sacred rope.

Tradtitional Performing Arts

In the past, festivals like these were held in many different regions of Japan. In the Oki Islands, however, they are still held to this day in various places.

Goree-furyū Festival

Tamawakasu-mikoto Shrine is a sōja—a shrine that gathers all the deities who have their shrines in the Oki Islands. Every year on June 5th, the day of the Goree-furyū Festival, sacred horses carrying local deities from eight areas on Dōgo Island are sent to this shrine in a spectacular ritual where they gallop through the torii gate.
Tamawakasu-mikoto Shrine and the surrounding area were once the seat of provincial power, where representatives of all villages would gather for official functions. This is thought to be the origin of the Goree-furyū Festival.

Renge-e-mai Dances

Preserving the appearance of imperial court dances from the Nara Period (710–794), Renge-e-mai Dances are performed by masked dancers. They are thought to have roots in China, Southeast Asia, and India, and are passed down to this day in the Oki Islands.

Mura-matsuri Furyū Festival

This festival is thought to have been introduced to the Oki Islands in the Kamakura Period (1185–1333), and has close ties with onmyōdō ("the way of yin and yang"). During the festival, the gods of the sun and moon meet on the festival grounds and circle them three and a half times. It is said that together with this festival, advanced knowledge of the calendar of those times was introduced to the islands as well.

Kumi Kagura

When it comes to kagura, the nearby Izumo region is well-known, with kagura depicting the slaying of the legendary serpent Yamata no Orochi. But kagura has been passed down in the Oki Islands as well. One feature of kagura in the islands is families called shake, who historically specialized in performing kagura, and passed it down within the family. Another key feature is that kagura here is traditionally performed in a small space (2x2 tatami mats) and as a prayer ritual; due to this, the role of shrine maidens in kagura is very important.

Shāra-bune (Spirit Boats)

The spirit boat tradition passed down in the Oki Islands takes a unique form. In the Mita area of Nishinoshima Island, people make large boats with straw and timber, and decorate them with colourful strips of paper covered with Buddhist sutras. After the Obon Festival, children board these ships carrying offerings, and in this unusual way, they send off the spirits of their ancestors.

Oki Traditional Sumo

In the Oki Islands, important events such as changing the roof of an important shrine, or the completion of a large-scale public works project, call for a big celebration held throughout the night—Oki Tradtional Sumo. The name "traditional sumo" is relatively new. Its original name was "shrine sumo," because the wrestling matches were performed as an offering to the gods.

Features of Oki Traditional Sumo

  • Organized to celebrate the changing of a shrine roof or the completion of a large-scale public works project

  • Held throughout the night (starts in the evening, ends the following day in the afternoon)

  • More than 200 wrestlers participating

  • Over 300 sumo matches held, including individual fights and gonin-nuki (one wrestler beats five opponents in succession)

  • The highest rank of the wrestlers is ōzeki (the Oki Islands preserve the old form of sumo without the rank of yokozuna)

  • All wrestlers perform two matches; the winner of the first match must lose the second match

  • Winners in the ōzeki and sekiwake ranks are awarded columns from the sumo ring, while komusubi, the wrestlers of the lowest rank, are awarded a construction element that connects those columns

  • The sumo ring has three layers during tournaments held to commemorate a shrine roof (usually the ring has two layers)

Tournament lasting throughout the night
Offeratory sumo on a three-layer ring
Triumphal return carried on the prize column

Ushi-zuki Bull Sumo

It is believed that the origins of ushi-zuki in the Oki Islands are closely tied with Emperor Go-Toba, who was exiled to the islands after losing a stuggle for power (Jōkyū Disturbance) in 1221. He was supposedly cheered up by the sight of two young bulls fighting each other.
Ushi-zuki bull sumo is passed down to this day as entertainment enjoyed by the islanders. Per the words of Emperor Go-Toba, the bulls are held by ropes while they fight.

Oki Ushi-zuki Bull Sumo
Bulls enter the ring

Tournament Dates

  • New Year's Ushi-zuki Tournament (Second Sunday of January, Oki Mōmō Dome)
  • Shakunage Rhododendron Festival Ushi-zuki Tournament (May 4, Oki Mōmō Dome)
  • Summer Ushi-zuki Tournament (August 15, Oki Mōmō Dome)
  • Hassaku Ushi-zuki Tournament (September 1, Mt. Sayama Ushi-zuki Ring)
  • Ichiyagadake Ushi-zuki Tournament (October 13, Ichiyagadate Ushi-zuki Ring)
  • Kaminishi Shrine Ushi-zuki Tournament (November 13, Ushi-zuki Ring at Kaminishi Shrine)

Outside of tournament times, Ushi-zuki Bull Sumo demonstrations are held at Oki Mōmō Dome, in order to share this local tradition with visitors. Please see the Okinoshima Town Tourism Association website for details (information in Japanese).