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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Tachigan, Tonbara, Twungan, Tachise—called by various names on various islands, “Tachigami” is a rock standing upright at the opening of a harbor or far out in the sea. It can be widely seen on the Ryukyu Islands, particularly in the Amami Islands. 

The most popular Amami folk song is “Iyunme Yanme Bushi” also known as “Ikyunnya Kana Bushi” which sings:

Nakyun torigwa

Tachigami nu oki nanti nakyun torigwa

Akya kana yakumega ikimaburi

Sura ikimaburi

A white bird is singing in the sea far from Tachigami; it must be the maburi (soul) of my beloved.

The Tachigami of Naze towers in the middle of the bay entrance, and has often become the subject of newly-made folk songs such as “Ikyunnya Kana Bushi” or “Shima Sodachi”. There is also a Tachigami offshore of Akagina in Kasari Town, Imazato in Yamato Village, and offshore of Nishikomi in Setouchi Town, counting up to eleven regardless of size.  

A Tachigami of the sea is strongly connected to the notion of a spiritualistic medium: Raihoushin (visiting gods), who brings fortune from overseas. Hence, it owns a character somewhat related to the local belief.

It exists not only in the waters but on land as well. Some argue that the biggest among them must be the Tachū of Iejima, which—here again—is a guardian god of the island: on its mountainside is located a utaki to pray for safe navigation and health. Whether offshore or ashore, a Tachigami towers prominently high in the sky. It is thus often treated as the island’s symbol-like existence. 

The Tachigami of Sanninu-dai in Yonaguni Island has been known long since. Locally, this rock is called Twungan, or Ubutidi: in the far past, a young man went up the Ubutidi to gather the eggs of seabirds laid on top of it, however, unable to climb back down, he fell asleep in exhaustion and grief. As he woke up, he found himself on the land—a story told in the Irou Setsuden1

As a symbol, the Twungan of Yonaguni has an eerie resemblance to a penis. For this reason, women who could not be blessed with children prayed before it to make a vow. This custom is said to have existed until recent years.

Editor’s Note:

  1. Literally “The Old Tales Left”, literature that gathered legends and folklore widely from the Ryukyu Islands.