Legend of Akainko (Aka Inuko - The Red Puppy)

This shrine is located in the Sobe area of Yomitan and is said to be the place where Akainko,
the founder of Okinawan Sanshin (samisen) music, ascended to heaven. From ancient times Akainko
has been worshiped as the patron deity of Uta-Sanshin music and staple cereal grains.

Source: http://rca.open.ed.jp/web_e/history/map/index2.html

My family lived in aza-Oki on the Yomitan Peninsula back in 1986-88 and one of our favorite local eateries was the Aka Inu-ko Restaurant up on Route 6 just above our house. We always thought it to be an odd name for a restaurant, The Red Puppy, but accepted it and never really inquired about how it got its name.

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Some time in the late 1990s I received an email message from a woman named Hope who was Okinawan by birth and whose aunt and cousins owned the restaurant. Our correspondence piqued my curiosity and I started researching it. What follows is a narrative of the Legend of Akainko.

Back in the 1400's, in a part of Yomitan now known as Sobe, the villagers were suffering greatly due to drought. Crops were failing because of lack of water and the villagers were in dire straits. Legend holds that one day a little red puppy, owned by the beautiful maiden, Chira, was noticed to be walking in the village licking water from its wet face. The next day the dog was seen again but this time it was soaking wet. Of course, Chira wanted to know from where that little dog was managing to get itself so wet, so she followed it hoping to discover its source of water.

Chira followed it into a cave where she discovered an as yet unknown fresh-water spring. Thus the village was saved, crops began to produce and the villagers heaped mighty praise upon Chira and her little red-haired dog.

Now, it would be a grand, happy ending if the story stopped there. But it does not - and the story doesn't have an especially happy ending.

You see, there were two men who courted Chira and each had a fervent desire to make her his own. Chira had chosen one of her suiters, much to the dismay of the treacherous man who had lost out. The man who lost his dream of marrying Chira murdered the man of her choice causing great heart-breaking torment for Chira. Unknown to the villagers Chira had become pregnant by the man whom she loved and now she couldn't face them nor her family in her condition. In time it began to be quite obvious that Chira was going to have a baby and, to make matters worse, the treacherous loser began circulating gossip about Chira. He was telling the villagers that Chira had not become pregnant by her lover but instead her child had been fathered by her little red puppy.

Feeling that she had no other choice Chira decided that she must leave the village. One source says that she went into hiding on the Katsuren Peninsula and another source reports that she went to Ikei Shima.

Click to enlarge image

It was there that Chira gave birth to her son and they lived in relative peace. After some time had passed her parents learned of her whereabouts and sent word that they were coming to see her. Feeling shamed and humiliated, and unable to face her parents, she decided to take her own life.

Upon her death, Chira's parents took the little boy and raised him in their village. Legend holds that one day the boy was listening to the falling rain and from that he derived great pleasure. He enjoyed the steady beating rhythm of the rain. He became intent upon finding a way to reporduce that wonderful sound. He plucked three long hairs from a horse and attached them to a branch from a

Kuba tree and created an instrument which was destined to be known as the sanshin. (meaning 'three strings'). Whenever he wanted to enjoy the sound of the rain he would pluck at his instrument emitting a very pleasing tone.

The villagers became enamored with the sound as did a king's servant who happened to be in the village. The servant brought word back to the king whereupon the king ordered that the boy be brought to Shuri Castle for a demonstration. The king was so pleased by the sound that he declared that everyone on the island should know of it and should learn to play such melodious sounds. After a while all regions of the island had been introduced to the sanshin and so the king declared that the young man should next spread his talent to outlying islands.

Eventually he ended up in China after the Emperor had heard about it. On a return from China the musician brought back seeds of many vegetables and in time all of Yomitan had begun cultivating great quantities of a wide variety of vagetables.

Now, every year, on March 4th of the lunar calendar, there is a festival in honor of the Father of the Sanshin, who is known by the name Akainko (child of the red dog). March fourth was chosen to be the date of recognition because of the word sanshin, with san meaning 'three' (third month) and 'shi' meaning 'four' (the fourth day).

Now, let's go for a ride with me and take a look at the shrine!

October 27, 2015
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Video of the cave, Kuragaa, in 2017

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