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Shi Shi Festival more than a roar

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-09-24

Legend has it the Shi Shi lion lived on a mountain in what is now Uruma City, and that they were instrumental in keeping devils away and protecting the community.
The 24th Nationwide Shi Shi Dance Festival coming up October 4th keeps the Okinawa legends and traditions alive, drawing Shi Shi troupes from across the prefecture and mainland Japan. Uruma City, where it all began, will host the free evening festival that will have close to a dozen different groups performing for spectators. The Shishimaya, the mountain lion, prowled the north central Okinawa area centuries ago.

Festivities will take place at the Ishikawa Sports Park in Uruma Cityís Ishizaki area, starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, October 4th. Shi Shi dances are colorful and fast-paced, dancers moving to the heavy beat of taiko drums. The swirling and dancing invites lucky gods to come into the dance area, granting good harvests, happiness and prosperity. The belief is simple: The Shi-Shi-Mai, the lion dance, is believed to have power to ward off evil spirits and summon the god of harvest and wealth, bringing prosperity to the region.

Uruma City, home to Shishi-yama, Lion Mountain, is steeped in historical legend that the lions once lived in what is now the city. While Okinawa rightfully lays claim to being home of the centuries-old dance, the true origin of the colorful dance is in India. Variations of the danceóeach with its own style--are found today in mainland China, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and even Sydney, Australia.

Sponsored by the Uruma City Board of Education, the Nationwide Shi Shi Dance Festival will this year feature a variety of dance troupes, including three hometown groups; Uezu Shi Shi Dance Group, Yonashiro Miyagi Area Ushi Deeku and Agena Shi Shi dance Group. Also expected to participate will be Sashi Area super Shi Shi Dancers from Nanjo City, Kanegusuku Shi Shi group from Kumejima Town, the Haebaru Town headquarters Shi Shi Dancers and Koza Shi Shi dancers from Okinawa City.

Shi Shi dances are similar to the well known Chinese dragon dances, with the lion replacing the dragon. Up to ten performers huddle beneath the heavy lion costume as it writhes and winds its way across performance stages, kinetic energy that explodes and captures the excitement of spectators. Itís a great seasonal variation on the traditional Okinawa Eisa performances, and itís not to be missed.

Lion dance equipment is stored in seven different Uruma City locations, one site in each of the cityís seven districts, making it the ideal host for a festival. Thereís more than one type lion dance, and the Shi-Shi-Mai Festival will feature both Okinawan and mainland Japanese versions.

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