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Itoman rings in Year of the Ox

Date Posted: 2009-01-30

Bells rang, incense and prayers offered at altars, and fireworks lighted up the night sky as Lunar New Year was celebrated Monday by thousands across Okinawa, including at Itoman City, where fishermen are particularly close to the ancient holiday.

While Okinawan customs and life styles have descended from China, much of the island has adopted the Gregorian system of New Yearís celebrations January 1st, but Itoman City has stayed faithful to ancient traditions. The markets are crowded with thousands of shoppers making Lunar New Yearís Eve trips to gather foods and New Yearís display ropes, rice balls, flowers, pine trees and fruits, and bamboo.

Meat markets stand by to carve chunks of pork, as customers proclaim prices as good. The weather was cold, but most everyone stoic in noting there was little that could be done to alter the 12C temperatures.

Families flocked to the home of the oldest child, to make prayers at the household Buddhist altar. Foods and incense were offered to the Gods, meaning ancestors whose names are aleady inside the altarís top box. Relatives gather to celebrate with foods including pork, seaweed, tofu, fried goods, tempura, fish and fish eggs, shrimps, cakes, vegetables, fruits and soup, as well as sashimi and sushi.

From home to community, the festivities became more animated and noisy as Eisaaa dances were held, and at the fishing port, boats were colorfully decorated, then lined up at the harbor entrance as the captains rang in the New Year with boat whistles and offering prayers.

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