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Festival season is only beginning

By: KC

Date Posted: 2001-10-01

For as long as 40 days, the Great Ryukyu Kingdom Festival will entertain public at various locations around the island. Okinawans are known for their love of merrymaking and festivals, and organizers of the Great Ryukyu Kingdom Festival promise that this year’s series of events will be the most spectacular ever with entertainment ranging from traditional Ryukyuan dance to modern day rock’n roll.

In the old times when the Ryukyu Kingdom had extensive trading exchanges with China and other East Asian countries, Ryukyuan dance was performed at welcoming ceremonies for the envoys from abroad. When Okinawan traders traveled to Edo (old name of Tokyo) to meet shogunate government officials, their parties performed folk dances in the imperial court. According to old stories, Japanese traditional performances of Noh and Kabuki made also a strong influence to Ryukyuan dance. The Great Ryukyu Kingdom Festival will offer a good opportunity to enjoy the traditional Ryukyu dance shows Okinawans have cherished for a long time.

During the first three days of the festival, Sep. 28 through 30, a moon viewing party will take place at Shuri Castle Park. In the old times, a moon viewing party was held to celebrate a good harvest and pray for prosperity. The party is called “Chushu no Utage” meaning “Mid Autumn Festival.”

The biggest tug-of-war in the world is the highlight of the annual Naha Festival on Oct. 7. The festival itself will run from Oct. 6 through 8 at Onoyama Park but the tug-of-war will take place on Highway 58 around Kumoji intersection.

The rope used in the tug-of-war is 186 meters long, 1.5 meters in diameter and weighs 40 tons. An estimated 200,000 people gather every year to watch the event. After the event, the giant rope is torn apart and people take pieces of it with them for lucky charms. The Guinness Book of Records recognizes the rope and the event as the largest tug-of-war in the world.

The festival also includes a parade, traditional folk performances and an industrial fair organized by Naha Chamber of Commerce.

Another well-known tug-of-war takes place in Itoman, south of Naha. It is not as big event as Naha City’s, and the rope is smaller, but it attracts lots of locals and is a very colorful event. The Itoman tug-of-war is held on Oct. 1.

Noguni Soukan Festival is the biggest festival in Kadena Town. It is held to celebrate the memory of Noguni Soukan introduced sweet potato to Okinawa thus eliminating frequent famine from the Ryukyu Kingdom. Noguni Soukan Festival is held on Oct. 6 and 7.

The All Okinawa Shishi Lion Dance festival will take place in Agena Bull Fighting Ring in Gushikawa City on Oct 14. The festival includes Shishi Lion performances from various parts of Asia. The event also features a competition both in traditional and unique lion dance styles. Gushikawa Festival will be held at the same time on Oct 20 and 21.

Okinawan folk songs are locally known as “shimauta” that literally means “songs of the island.” The world of Shimauta” is an Okinawan folk song concert that will take place on Oct. 20 in Onoyama Athletic Stadium in Naha City. During the first part of the event called “Ashibinaa” (playing around), melodies played with of Sanshin and sung by younger generation folk singers from Okinawa and Amami Island will entertain the audience. The first stage will climax with the traditional “kachachii” – Okinawan dance of rejoice.

After the traditional stage of Shimauta, it’s the turn of the modern Okinawan music mixed with rock’n roll. Nationally well-known Okinawan group Max will be the highlight of the second part of the program.

On Oct. 21, “the Folk Festivals and Dances” will be take place at the same place. This event presents regional folk dance performers and also modern dancers.

“The Uchina Bazaar” (from Oct. 20 to 21) at Onoyama Athletic Stage is an exhibit and sale of Okinawan traditional arts, handicraft and health products. There will also be sanshin and Eisa performances.

The Okinawa Products and Industry Fair will be held Oct. 26 through 28. This is one of the biggest gatherings of Okinawan companies who exhibit their products ranging from agriculture to IT industries. Most of the products on exhibit are also on sale at bargain prices. Food and drink producers will give away free samples. Anyone looking for business opportunities in Okinawa should visit this fair.

Okinawa City presents the Okinawa International Carnival around Goya Intersection, Gate 2 Street and other parts of the city. Okinawa City prides itself as being the municipality in the prefecture that counts the largest number of various nationalities among its residents, and the carnival will reflect that fact by having many events that involve both Japanese and foreign people. The Okinawa International Carnival will be held Nov. 2 and 3.

Yomitan Matsuri is an annual festival held on Nov. 3 and 4 in Yomitan Village Athletic Park.

Shuri Bunka Festival in Shuri, Naha City that takes place Nov. 1 through 3, will highlight traditional Ryukyuan culture. Shuri was the seat of the royal Ryukyuan Court, and is to this day the place in Okinawa where traditions abound.

The World Uchinanchu Festival is a gathering of Okinawans from every corner of the world. The festival will be held from Nov. 1 through Nov. 4. The Uchinanchu Taikai is a rare opportunity to allow people of Okinawan descent, Uchinanchu, from all over the world to return to the island to reconnect with their heritage and culture and to redevelop linkages to their motherland. The festival is held every five years. The event will be held at several places, including the Prefectural Budou Hall and Onoyama Athletic Stadium, Shuri Castle Park, Bankoku Shinryoukan, and the Prefectural Theater.

“Jikuu no mai” is one of the World Uchinanchu Festival’s events. It will take place on Nov. 3 at the biggest event site, “Uchinanchu Kouryusai (Okinawa friendship exchange)” at Shuri Castle Park with the message of world peace and cultural exchange.

Prior and during the festival, those arriving at Naha Airport will be greeted with “Geion no mai (welcome dance)” from Sep. 28 through Nov. 4.

Besides festivals that are free to the public, many special Ryukyuan traditional performing arts groups’ performances are also on schedule. These shows are not free of charge.

“Ashibina Kabudan” is a well-known Okinawan traditional dance group. The group made a successful European tour a year ago just before the Okinawa G-8 Summit performing traditional Ryukyuan dances in several European cities. They will perform Oct. 6 and 7 at, and have reportedly worked hard in progressing their performance skills. Tickets to the show are ¥2,000 in advance and ¥2,500 at door.

“Kariyushi Geinou” performance can be seen at the Prefectural Theater in Higashimachi, Naha City, on Oct. 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30. Tickets are ¥2,000 in advance and ¥2,500 at door.

“Udui Ryukyuan Dance” will be performed at Ryukyu Buyou theater in Tamagusuku village. Tickets are ¥1,200 for adults and ¥600 for children up to

NHK TV program “Okinawan Folk Song and Dance Special” will feature many masters and their disciples. The program is aired on the fourth Sunday of each month starting at 1 p.m.

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