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Festivals a boon to summer fun

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2006-06-02

Anyone on Okinawa who is bored over the next six months is simply not trying to be entertained.

It is festivals season, and the island is alive with a wide range of festivals accenting Okinawaıs culture and heritage while encouraging everyone to have fun. Festivals will be seemingly everywhere‹both on the bases and off‹through the summer and into the Fall. There are, in fact, a few specialty festivals that wind their way into December.

The 2006 season kicked off last month with the Naha Haari Festival, a three-day race of the dragon boats in Naha. With that as a warm up, things really begin taking off in June, with the Kinserfest taking center stage a week from Saturday. Aside from being the first of Juneıs fun filled weekends, it marks the first of a summer series of Marine Corps open-house events hosted to foster friendship between the local communities and the military forces. Kinserfest runs June 10~11 at Camp Kinser in Urasoe City.

Okinawans are proud of their rich traditions, and share them freely with foreigners. Eisa, the popular folk dances begun centuries ago to entertain their ancestorsı spirits, will be performed in just about every city, town and village over the coming months.

Eisa, for those new to Okinawa, is bright, colorful and entertaining music performed by everyone from diapers to geriatric walkers. From the drumbeats to the costumes, Eisa can be called the lifeblood of Okinawaıs traditions.

It centers around Obon season, the Buddhist festival of the dead, a time when all islandersı attention is on returning home to honor their ancestors.

Obon, known as Bon Matsuri, is celebrated August 12~15 this year, a month behind mainland Japan. Obon brings families together, and closes stores and businesses for three days. People return to their ancestral home towns and villages, where theyıll visit with relatives and go to the graves of deceased relatives. Itıs an Okinawa custom.

No matter where you are on the island, a festivalıs sure to be in your neighborhood. Some village festivals are small and involve just about everyone in town, while the granddaddy of them all is the 10,000 Eisa Dancers Festival in August. Yep! Really! Ten thousand dancers, parading their way through various locales, with the monster parade on Kokusai Dori.

Apart from Kinserfest, Juneıs the month for Irabu in the Yaeyama/Miyako Island area to kick things off, while Itoman hauls out the dragon boats for a festival of its own. Look for Orion Brewery, the local brewed beer company, to host and co-sponsor festivals throughout the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Ishigaki traditionally is Orionıs first of the season, where some 200,000 gather annually to party. An Orion Miyako Festival is in July, and Nago City, the breweryıs hometown, does its festival in late July or early August.

Japan Update is your place for the up-to-date information and directions on specific festivals throughout the summer and fall. Readers‹and Japan Update website visitors‹will be kept abreast of plenty, including the Ocean Expo Park Festival, the Urasoe Tedako Festival in July, and the many Eisa festivals dotting the August calendar.

Camp Schwab will host itıs 2nd annual block party in July, Futenma has its Flightline Festival in August, Okinapa touches off September, followed later in the month by the Hansen festival. Okuma is also planning a big splash for September. Camp Foster does its festival in October. Santa and the holiday season gets under way with the Courtney Christmas Festival in
December.

Fall, Okinawa style, continues the annual quest for new entries in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Naha Matsuri, which includes the world famous tug of war, is a major event, but donıt sell Itomanıs tug of war short later in the month. Toss in an All Island Lion Dance Festival, a Futenmagu Shrine Festival and the Okinawa Industry Fair, and youıve got plenty to do.

Festivals are more than simply entertainment, foods and carnival booths alongside the Eisa dancers. The Naha Marathon comes in late fall, along with the Tour de Okinawa and the Kingdom Festa.

We mentioned the holiday season, with its festivals building to New Yearıs Eve and the Mabuni Fire and Bell Observance.

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