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Shimi brings families, ancestors together

Date Posted: 2012-04-20

The celebration of ancestral spirits returning to earthly homes is now under way across Okinawa, with thousands of families pausing from everyday lift to honor their ancestors while at the same time praying for their own health and happiness.

The annual Shimi Festival runs for weeks, having begun this year on April 8th. It’s a time when Okinawans make the trek to the family tomb for what amounts to a happy party, complete with foods, including tempura and rice cakes. Shimi is one of the gatherings of relatives of the dead, a “Munchu” that families consider a lucky day on the lunar calendar.

The ritual allows flexible timing for families to schedule memorial ceremonies in honor of their relatives, gathering first to clean around the tomb, and then having the feast known as Kwatchi. It’s a happy time, complete with families offering toasts of beer or awamori. Family tombs are maintained by many in Okinawa, while others have relatives interred in more traditional cemeteries.

As is always expected, warm weather brings out even larger numbers of families, and those visits by large families often results in seemingly unexplainable traffic congestion. Family prayers can be whatever each member wants to share with departed ancestors; everything from sharing family activities, kids and grandkids, to students wanting to pass on how they’re doing in school.

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