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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

My obaa is a noro, and our family’s yagou1 is noro dunchi. Because the noro are only featured in books and magazines during events, many think noro is praying in a divine white robe all year long, or confuse them with yuta. Personally, I think the best expression to describe a noro is: “a religious official of Ryukyu Kingdom,” from the Noro Saishi no Honshitsu by Binsho Sakima. Noro was operated in an orderly organization, in central Shuri as well as the outlying districts. They received a tima, an allowance from the royal government in the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was the case for our family too. Although they possessed noro-chi in comparatively good conditions, they were ordinary farmers. Thanks to this, they could prepare food offerings to fill the jyubako2 and items used in the ugwan3. (Some are covered by the local district today as well.)  

To clean around, or guide to other sacred places is the everyday life of obaa; though when events approach, she becomes busy consulting the head of the district or preparing the jyubako. Most prayers at these events are for people’s safety and good harvest, but there are also prayers specific to the locals. For example, in our Tomori District, there are prayers for Mt. Yaese nearby or the Ōjishi that appease the mountain god. There are prayers performed by the noro alone, those with the head of the district, and those performed with members of the district. When I was a child, I looked forward to umachī the most, an event to pray for good harvests. Obaa looked so great and I felt proud while she offered prayers to the god representing the members of the community, and at the end, we were given miki (a sweet drink made from fermented rice), of which the thickness and gentle sweetness I enjoyed so much. People used to bring their own thermos or pot to take miki home for family members who couldn’t come, whereas lately children got used to the taste of sweets and lost interest, causing the production of miki to decline. I heard that some maker came up with a banana-flavored miki. Obaa said “Might be good,” and smiled. When I told her that potato chips were being offered to the hearth god at a friend’s house, she also smiled. Her motto is: the spirit is what counts the most. She says, “If it’s too much trouble, you can offer curry or spaghetti,” that the god’s tastes also change with the times… Yet, she herself puts her heart into preparing traditional feasts. I assume that in her mind, she wishes to preserve the way it was. In reality, as more women enter the workforce, the number of noro has decreased. And more, the mysticism of noro is overemphasized which is creating an exceptional impression of them. Obaa worries that there will be no one to pass on. A noro is not special, but someone who manages ceremonies. Prayers must originally have been something familiar. You can worship in jeans, or make an offering that is not a burden. In times like ours, we need to maintain opportunities to thank the harvests, nature, and the people around us on each occasion: this is what it all means. So, obaa, wine, and cheese will do too, right?

Editor’s Note:

  1. House name
  2. Bento-box often used for celebrations
  3. Rituals conducted in Okinawa to pray to gods and Buddha