5 Okinawa festivals from the Beautiful to the Bizarre
6 January 2017
Okinawa festivals
If there is one thing that characterizes Okinawan life more than any other, it is the many different festivals that take place annually throughout the islands. Featuring rousing music, sports competitions and ancient cultural rites ranging from opulent to mysterious and even strange, here are 5 important and fun Okinawa festivals that everyone traveling to the islands should mark on their calendars.



 
Eisa Dance Festival
 

Eisa Dance Festival

Originating as a dance performed during O-Bon in which the synchronized drumbeats bid farewell to the visiting spirits of the ancestors, the Eisa dance has evolved into an entirely different kind of performance characterized by colorful costumes, coordinated movements and large numbers of dancers. While Eisa performances are held all around Okinawa for many occasions, by far the largest and most spectacular Eisa event is the annual All-Okinawa Eisa Festival staged in Okinawa City every August or September. Combining folk music, traditional food and fireworks, the Eisa Festival is immensely popular among tourists and locals alike, drawing crowds of more than 200,000 spectators to Okinawa Koza City Sports Park and Goya Crossing. The growing popularity of Eisa dancing since the end of WWII has led to its enthusiastic assimilation into the cultures of the outer islands such as Ishigaki and Miyakojima, all of which hold their own Eisa festivals and put their own local spin on the dance.

Eisa Dance Festival officail site
http://www.zentoeisa.com/


 
Shuri Castle Festival
 

Shuri Castle Festival

Every year, the opulent splendor of the Ryukyu Kingdom is brought to life during the Shuri Castle Festival. Taking place over three days near the end of October, this Okinawa festival features classical Ryukyu music and dance, parades and a re-enacted coronation of the first Ryukyu king. One highlight is the Sapposhi Parade between Shureimon and Hoshinmon gates, in which a procession regaled in magnificent Ryukyu-era garb traverses the historic route taken by imperial envoys in the days when the tiny kingdom paid tribute to the Chinese throne. Another grand parade along Kokusai Street commemorates the solemn rituals of the royal court and a third, on the final day of the festival, retraces the route taken by the king and queen as they visited the magnificent temples which once stood around Shuri. The festival is held only once a year, but if you miss it, you can still take in the daily ‘Ukejo’ ceremony in which the main gates of the castle are opened with great pomp and pageantry every morning at 8:25.

Shuri Castle official site
http://oki-park.jp/shurijo/en/

 
Hari Festival
 

Hari Festival


‘Hari’ are the traditional Okinawan dragon boat races that take place on various dates all over the islands. Of these, by far the most historical, if not the largest, is the race in Itoman, held annually around the beginning of June.  Suffused with religious ceremonial trappings dating back to the original races held by the king of Nanzan in 1403, the Itoman race is thought of by the local Uminchu (fishermen) as a rite performed to invite bountiful catches throughout the season. Less traditional but equally exciting is the Naha Hari, which features the same colorful boats (called ‘sabani‘ in the local language) as the Itoman race, without quite as much ceremony. What all the races have in common is delicious local food, a festive atmosphere and a dazzling fireworks show to cap off a fun-filled day.

NAHANAVI(Japanese)
http://www.naha-navi.or.jp/magazine/2227/

 
Yaeyama Beach
 

Yaeyama Beach Opening Festival

The annual beach opening festival held on Kurojima near Ishigaki has the distinction of being the first such festival to take place every year in Japan. Travelers can sample the ever-popular Ishigaki beef, meet Miss Yaeyama and dance kachashi-syle to the delightfully raucous accompaniment of a sanshin band as residents and tourists alike celebrate on Miyazato beach. After a formal proclamation with religious and historical overtones is delivered with traditional Ryukyu flair, everyone races into the clear sub-tropical waters for a refreshing swim. While Kurojima is a half-hour boat ride from Ishigaki, the opportunity to participate in this fun-filled traditional event is well worth the journey.

Ishigaki city official site
http://www.yaeyama.or.jp.e.kg.hp.transer.com/docs/2016011300013/

 
Pantu Festival of Miyakojima
 

Pantu Festival of Miyakojima

Tourists looking to experience a celebration unlike anything else in the Okinawan archipelago should venture to Miyakojima during the Pantu festival. But be prepared! Rather than sampling local food, listening to folk music and watching traditional performances, travelers will more likely find themselves being chased by mud-slinging demons dressed in leaves and wearing fearsome masks. Formally named ‘Pantupunaha, this Okinawa festival originated in ancient times when locals believed that on a special day every year, three demons (called ‘Pantu’ in the unique Miyakojima language) formed from sacred soil would emerge from a famous spring near the village of Shimajiri. The three demons, Uya (parent), Naka (middle) and Zur (child) would race through the town rubbing mud on all who could not get away fast enough. Perhaps ironically, getting rubbed by the sanctified mud drawn from that ancient spring is thought to be an omen of good fortune, which is why parents and grandparents often place their (understandably reluctant) children in the path of the fast-running volunteers chosen by local priestesses to play the role of the Pantu.

The festival is celebrated in various ways all over the island (a different tradition in each town), but although it is very important to the culture of the island, getting there at the right time is a bit more challenging than it would seem. This is because, although its celebration is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, the actual date of the festival is not announced until just before it takes place. Travelers hoping to get in on the action would be well advised to get there early and be prepared to wait.

Okinawa Clip
http://okinawaclip.com/en/detail/316

 
 

Okinawa Festivals are only the Beginning of your Journey

Of course, especially if you are staying at Shigira Resort, waiting in a place Miyakojima is not a difficult task. Whether you want to take in a festival, dive with sea turtles or just stroll on the golden sands of pristine natural beaches, there is so much to do and see that the real challenge is to find time for it all.



Related articles
Okinawan Food and Dance the Talk of the Town in Miyakojima
http://www.nanseirakuen.com/en/blog/okinawan-food-and-dance-in-miyakojima.html
 
7 Pristine Okinawa Beaches You May Not Have Heard About
http://www.nanseirakuen.com/en/blog/7-pristine-okinawa-beaches.html

 

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