Cultural Events

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EXPERIENCE OKINAWAN SPRIT

Known as the island of entertainment, Okinawa is said to offer as many kinds of performing arts as its number of islands. Traditional festivals are associated with specific seasons in Okinawa, where traditions and customs are deeply ingrained in people’s lives. Haarii, held in early summer, is a festival of fishermen to express thanks for the blessings of the sea and to wish for a safe return with an abundant catch. Before the Obon festival, young people dressed in colorful costumes perform eisa dances to the powerful beat of drums. A village is sometimes divided between east and west teams that compete against each other in great tugs-of-war in autumn throughout the island. Traditional cultural festivals are perfect opportunities to experience the spirit of Okinawa. Of all the cultural festivals held in Okinawa, here is a selection of the most popular festivals where tourists can get a taste of the real Okinawa.

 


NAHA HAARII

Date :May 3-5
Place :Naha Wharf (Naha City)

Known as the biggest haarii in Okinawa, the Naha Haarii is the main feature of Japan’s Golden Week. Haarii races are held on the first and the third day of the festival. Visitors have the opportunity to take a ride on a dragon boat on the second day, when no races are staged (application at the site), while the ugan haarii and the hon haarii are scheduled for the third day. Music concerts, folk performances and fireworks will entertain visitors for three whole days. This event hosts over 200,000 spectators every year including a large number of tourists from mainland Japan and overseas.

Naha Haarii01

Naha Haarii03

 


ITOMAN HAAREE

Date :May 4 of the lunar calendar (early to mid-June) *Date changes from year to year.
Place :Itoman Fishing Port (Itoman City)

This haarii takes place every year on May 4 of the lunar calendar in Itoman City, where fishing is a major industry. Boasting a 500-year history, the Itoman Haaree (Haarii in local dialect) is characterized by the enthusiastic cheers from crowds of spectators that reflect the strong local color of Uminchu.

Itoman HaareeItoman Haaree


OJIMA SEA GOD FESTIVAL (HARI)

Date :May 4 of the lunar calendar (early to mid-June) *Date changes from year to year.
Place :Ou, Tamaki, Nanjo (Ojima Shore)

Located off the southern region of the main island, Ojima has a perimeter of about 6 km. The busiest time of year on this island, famous for its Okinawan-style tempura, is when the Ojima Sea God Festival takes place on May 4 of the lunar calendar. The main feature of the festival is the Ojima Hari, the racing of traditional dragon boats. Of the seven races, the third race known as nagarebune (“drifting boat”), in which the oarsmen jump into the sea from a bridge and hop into their boats, and the sixth race known as kunkerashi, in which the boats are deliberately capsized and need to be turned back over before the oarsmen can start rowing, are especially impressive to watch. You can sense the coming of summer, watching the islanders offer prayers for a good catch and safe sailing.

Ojima Sea God Festival

 


All-OKINAWA EISA FESTIVAL / ORION BEER FESTIVAL

Date :The first weekend after the old Bon Festival, called kyu bon, which takes place July 13-15 of the lunar calendar. (mid-August to early September)
Place :Okinawa City Koza Sports Park (Okinawa City)

Of all the eisa events held in Okinawa, this is the biggest annual festival where young eisa groups from around the island gather and perform their dances. Local youth groups start rehearsing for this festival in early summer, and on the day of the festival all Okinawans act as one and share the island spirit regardless of age. Admission to the festival is free except for the main stand (main venue of the eisa festival). The Orion Beer Festival is held nearby on the same grounds, where people can enjoy a long summer night with great beer.

People of all ages come to enjoy the Orion Beer Festival, the big summer beer festival in Okinawa. Concerts featuring local artists and a magnificent fireworks show cap the festival’s finale.

All-Okinawa Eisa Festival / Orion Beer Festival01

All-Okinawa Eisa Festival / Orion Beer Festival02All-Okinawa Eisa Festival / Orion Beer Festival03

All-Okinawa Eisa Festival / Orion Beer Festival04All-Okinawa Eisa Festival / Orion Beer Festival05


10,000 EISA DANCE PARADE

Date :First Sunday in August
Place :Kokusai Street (Naha City)

During this festival, Kokusai Street, the main avenue of Naha City, is packed with many eisa teams from all around the island. The parade consists of various types of performances, including both traditional and original eisa dances. If you pay a fee, you can try eisa dancing on the day of the festival. If you have paid a fee and practiced for two months, you can be a part of the exciting eisa parade, too.

10,000 Eisa Dance Parade01

10,000 Eisa Dance Parade02"

10,000 Eisa Dance Parade0310,000 Eisa Dance Parade04


PILLARS OF THE LIGHT FOR PEACE (LIGHTS OF PEACE)

Date :June 22nd to Thursday, the 23rd
Place :444 Mabuni, Itoman (Peace Memorial Park)

June 23 is Memorial Day, a day to pay respects to the war dead who fell victim to the Battle of Okinawa and pray for everlasting peace. At the Peace Memorial Park, located on the Mabuni Hill in Itoman where the end of the battle took place, five beams of light, called the Pillars of the Light for Peace, are cast high up into the sky on the evening of Memorial Day and the evening before. The lights cast into the night sky come from military-grade searchlights. Today, those searchlights emit powerful beams of light, to which people pray for peace, and they can be seen from as far as downtown Naha. The lights pass the memories of history on to future generations as a way to keep tragic wars from ever happening again.

Pillars of the Light for Peace


ANGAMA

Date :July 13-15 of the lunar calendar
(mid-August to early September)
Place :Shurijo Castle Park / Kokusai Street (Naha City)

Known as the biggest haarii in Okinawa, the Naha Haarii is the main feature of Japan’s Golden Week. Haarii races are held on the first and the third day of the festival. Visitors have the opportunity to take a ride on a dragon boat on the second day, when no races are staged (application at the site), while the ugan haarii and the hon haarii are scheduled for the third day. Music concerts, folk performances and fireworks will entertain visitors for three whole days. This event hosts over 200,000 spectators every year including a large number of tourists from mainland Japan and overseas.

Angama01Angama02


Pāntu

Date :September of the lunar calendar (late September to early November)
Place :Hirara Shimajiri district (Miyakojima Island)

A traditional religious/animist festivity handed down through the ages to the residents of the Shimajiri district of Miyako Island to ward off bad spirits and pray for good health. The event spans three days in early September of the lunar calendar. Painting the whole body with mud and dressed in leaves and wearing curved wooden masks, young villagers disguised as pāntu, indigenous gods, walk in the community to bless people with mud, especially newborn babies and families with houses newly constructed during the past year. The pāntu sometimes chase after people trying to avoid getting muddy and also make children cry. The mud used for this festivity comes from a sacred local well and is considered to bring good luck when applied to people or houses.

Pāntu01Pāntu02


NAHA FESTIVAL

Date :Sunday before the second Monday of October [Japanese national holiday Health/Sports Day]
Place :Naha City

One of the major festivals of Naha City, lasting for three days over a long weekend in early October. All of Naha is in a festive mood for the event, with a parade featuring traditional folk performances on Kokusai Street on the first day (Saturday) and live stage performances at Onoyama Park near the airport and fireworks around 8 p.m. throughout the weekend. The Naha Great Tug-Of-War, a main event of the Naha Festival, is held on Sunday, the second day of the three-day festival period.

Naha Festival01Naha Festival02

Journey back in time to the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom

Shurijo Castle prospered as the Ryukyu Kingdom’s center of politics, diplomacy and culture for approximately 450 years. The castle was the residence of the king and royal family as well as center stage for the unique and magnificent Ryukyu culture nurtured in Shuri, which traded with China, Japan and East Asian countries, resulting in the import of goods and knowledge into the kingdom. It was also the heart of culture and the arts, where court (classical) dance was born to welcome Chinese ambassadors. At the Shurijo Castle of today, festivals that re-enact the kingdom’s celebratory events, processions and banquets to welcome Chinese investiture envoys are held throughout the year. Here is a list of exciting events that will transport you back to the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Historical Festivals

 

1_21_3A demonstration of uzagaku

truly a splendid sight

kumiodori1_7truly a splendid sight

The Koshiki GyoretsuThe Koshiki Gyoretsutruly a splendid sight

truly a splendid sightkumiodori1_15

Hatagashira

 

A. Shurijo Castle is illuminated throughout the year. You can enjoy Ryukyuan dances and kumiodori on an illuminated stage set up particularly for this day. (Shurijo Castle Park Mid-Autumn Celebration)

B. A demonstration of uzagaku (live classical music performance) to solemnly welcome visitors starts. (Shurijo Castle Park New Year’s Celebration)

C. A re-enactment of the national New Year’s ritual praying for peace during the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The king and queen selected in a public audition every year make their first appearance on January 3. (Shurijo Castle Park New Year’s Celebration)

D. You will feel like you’ve gone back to the time of Ryukyu Kingdom. Enjoy kumiodori, declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, as well as classical dances and performances. (Shurijo Castle Park Mid-Autumn Celebration)

E. It is truly a splendid sight: The Ryukyu Dynasty Parade reproduces a procession of the king, queen and Chinese delegation followed by performers of traditional arts on Kokusai Street. (Shurijo Castle Festival)

F. The Koshiki Gyoretsu, held on the mid-day of the festival, revives the royal ritual of the king’s visit to nearby temples during the welcoming of the new year in those days. (Shurijo Castle Festival)

G. During the festival Ryukyuan dances particular to Shuri and traditional music are performed all day. (Shurijo Castle Festival)

H. Hatagashira gaaee is an integral part of Okinawa’s traditional cultural festivals. Each group carries its own banner and what is demonstrated on the day of the festival is the visible result of the performers’ tremendous amount of practice. (Shurijo Castle Festival)

Shurijo Castle Park New Year’s Celebration

Date : January 1-3
Place : Shurijo Castle Park (Naha City)

This event is a re-enactment of the chohaioshiki (New Year’s ceremony), praying for the prosperity of the Ryukyu Kingdom and conducted on the morning of New Year’s Day. Visitors are offered complimentary liquor or tea for longevity and happiness during the year, and Ryukyuan dances and traditional performances take place.


Shurijo Castle Park Mid-Autumn Celebration

Date : mid-September to early October
Place : Shurijo Castle Park (Naha City)

Demonstrating classical dance and traditional performing arts, this event is a re-enactment of a sumptuous national banquet during the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom to welcome Chinese investiture envoys who stayed in Okinawa for four to eight months. Shurijo Castle, especially the Seiden, is lit at night, projecting an extraordinary ambience.


Shurijo Castle Festival (Ryukyu Dynasty Parade)

Date : three days in late October and November 3
Place : Shurijo Castle Park / Kokusai Street (Naha City)

This festival turns the capital city of Naha into the Ryukyu Kingdom’s old capital during the festival, stretching out over three days. The highlight of the festival is the Ryukyu Dynasty Parade, which takes place on Kokusai Street on the third day. It is truly a splendid sight to watch the king and queen and Chinese investiture envoys in gorgeous, colorful costumes, with nearly 1,000 people participating. On the last day, the Koshiki Gyoretsu (traditional procession) with nearly 3,000 participants departs from Shurijo Castle and walks around Shuri. The procession features various dance performances including shishimai (lion dance), firecrackers and hatagashira gaaee.