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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Miruku is a god worshipped widely in Okinawa and has a similar nature to Maitreya (future) Buddha. The most famous Miruku may be the one with a mask of a smiling Buddha. The mask originated in the Tonoshiro region of Ishigaki Island and later spread through the Yaeyama Islands. While its origin is believed to be the Maitreya Buddha (弥勒), it went through a unique transformation on the islands, where it began to be worshipped as the god of good harvest and happiness. It became something totally different: a special deity that can only be known as Miruku

The masks and features of Miruku vary between islands. Miruku is generally known for its smiling face, but in some places the smile is absent. Some march with people on the island, while others have gained special sanctity and do not allow people to get close.

The Miruku I saw appeared at the Mushama, a festival for good harvest to honor the spirits of ancestors on Hateruma Island. It is the biggest event of the summer and Miruku leads a parade of people. According to the islanders, Miruku is a mother with many children, and the kids following her are considered Mirukuntama (children of Miruku). A strange looking character called Būbuza, who wears a long wig made from fan palm leaves and has a beard covering his face, follows the parade while making comical gestures. He is considered to be the husband of Miruku. The festival honors Miruku, whose children and grandchildren grew up and had prosperous lives, even though the husband was a playboy and rarely returned home. Būbuza is no match for Miruku and just follows her around in a foolish and awkward manner. 
 Miruku holds a fan in her right hand and a cane in her left. With every step she looks back with her upper body slightly turned, as if to check that her kids are following. The graceful gesture made me believe that a prosperous future is truly coming after her.