Spirits of tsureshima: Creative storytelling with islanders

James Jack*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Folk songs in Okinawa include chants about belief in female spirits returning from the eastern sea. Artists working creatively with islanders convey these spirits in creative ways. This article focuses on islands on the Pacific side of Okinawa, where historical ports facilitate maritime exchange. Rituals were regularly performed on these islands at the entrance to the Nakagusuku Bay by priestesses to protect the community and the Ryukyu Kingdom. Prohibitions against local rituals were imposed on the Okinawan islands starting in the 17th Century and depopulation is currently threatening the transmission of priestesses' rituals to the next generation. However, islanders' resilience has kept spirits alive while artists who work intimately with residents tell stories through creative media. Together with islanders the author created the artwork Sea Birth (2017) composed of stories of interconnection between islands that are often seen separately. For example, the author engaged with residents of Tsuken and Kudaka islands, which were historically Tsureshima, a term that refers to the islands in company. Through artworks such as this, spirits of interconnectivity at risk of disappearing are kept alive and passed along to others. Creative storytelling is a method of empowering island communities to form alternative visions for the future in ways that resist the homogeneity of dominant cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Art
  • Okinawa
  • Sea
  • Spirits
  • Storytelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Anthropology
  • History


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