Hinukan (god of fire) is usually enshrined near the kitchen stove. As there is no assigned object for the worship, people usually fix a small shelf above the gas stove to place an incense burner. Hinukan is the most popular god in Okinawa, so many families would offer incense and water on the first and fifteenth day of every lunar month.
For example, the new year’s prayer is conducted there: “It is 1999, the Year of the Rabbit. We pray that our family members (they would say every member’s name) will live healthily. In particular, our second son (saying his name) will soon sit an entrance exam, please keep an eye on him, so that he can show the results of his hard work.”
Even if it’s not the first or fifteenth day of the month, people pray to hinukan whenever they need to. It is the god that people trust the most.
The Okinawan scholar Nakamatsu Yashu1 writes: “It was rather recently that family Buddhist altars were introduced to the Okinawan Islands. Before that time, it was only hinukan that protected the household.” This long-standing custom has been inherited for generations and is still practiced today.
Hinukan is said to have a wide-reaching network, not unlike today’s internet service providers. If someone is far away from home and they cannot go there to pray, they would simply pray to the hinukan in a kitchen, asking for tohshi-ugwan (prayer transfer). The hinukan would then deliver the message to the desired destination.
If people want to pray to the other gods enshrined in different parts of the house, they will first inform hinukan of their intent. Hinukan then tells other gods that the residents are conducting prayers, so that the gods may respond to the prayers empathetically.
The god has quite a close relationship with people. I have a shrine for hinukan in my home too, and it is a wonder that whenever I pray, I feel I am being watched and protected. If the prayer is not fulfilled, it is because I have become too greedy, without putting any effort. Personally, hinukan works as a mirror that reflects my mind.
- Nakamatsu Yashu (1908~2006), born in Onna village, Okinawa. Geographer, folklorist. His main works include Kami to Mura (A God and a Village), Kosou no Mura (A Village of Ancient Stratum.)