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"Ii shogatsu debiru" It's a nice New Years, isn't it?

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-03-02

Last week New Years was celebrated for the second time by Okinawans around the prefecture. The tradition stems from the influence of Chinese culture and the use of the lunar calendar for most Okinawan religious holidays. Although most locals follow the custom of celebrating "oshogatsu" on January 1, with the rest of the nation, the custom of celebrating the New Year in conjunction with the lunar calendar was widely practiced until Okinawa's reversion to mainland Japan in 1972. Today, "kyushogatsu" exists as a part of Okinawan culture only in very rural areas of the prefecture - the small fishing village of Itoman is one such place.

Many of the customs for "kyushogatsu' begin with the preparation of the traditional food: pork, fish cakes, tofu, "tempura", and "kombu". The food is then laid at the family alter in respect for deceased ancestors. Later, it is eaten together with plenty of "awamori" by everyone. Fisherman decorate their boats with colorful flags, and the New Year's greeting of "ii shogatsu debiru" (It's a nice New Years isn't it?) can be heard as people walk the streets. Many villagers, especially fisherman, visit "Hakugin Do", an important prayer site.

The legend of "Hakugin Do" says that centuries ago a farmer failed to repay a samurai money he borrowed, and hid himself inside of a nearby cave. The samurai found the farmer and was ready to kill him, but the farmer convinced the samurai to spare his life through words of kindness and wisdom. The samurai was moved, and extended the date of repayment.

Upon returning to Satsuma, the samurai found his wife sleeping with another man. Outraged, he drew his sword to kill the stranger. Through his anger in the darkness of the night, he heard the words of the farmer once again. He laid down his sword and decided to give mercy to the man. But when taking a closer look, he discovered the stranger was not another man, but was actually his own mother.

Relieved and thankful, the samurai returned to Itoman to thank the farmer and cancel his debt. The farmer, however, had already prepared the money and insisted on returning the borrowed money. The two men decided to bring the money to the cave in which the farmer had originally hid. It is this cave that has become the site of "Hakugin Do."

Since that time, fisherman have prayed at the cave for hundreds of years for their safe return from sea.

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