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Shi Shi Festival a lion of an event

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-09-26

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 23rd Nationwide Shi Shi Dance Festival Sunday keeps the legends and traditions alive, drawing Shi Shi troupes from across the prefecture and mainland Japan. Uruma City, where it all began, hosts the free evening festival that will have seven different groups performing for spectators. The Shishimaya, the mountain lion, prowled the north central Okinawa area decades and centuries ago.

Festivities take place at the Ishikawa Sports Park in Uruma Cityís Ishizaki area, starting at 6 p.m. Sunday. 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.

Sponsored by the Uruma City Board of Education, the Nationwide Shi Shi Dance Festival will this year feature seven dance troupes, including three hometown groups; Uezu Shi Shi Dance Group, Yonashiro Miyagi Area Ushi Deeku and Agena Shi Shi dance Group. Also participating 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. Organizers say theyíre also expecting late registration by several mainland Japanese Shi Shi dance groups.

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, making it the ideal host for a festival. Thereís more than one type lion dance, and this weekend both Okinawan and mainland Japanese versions will be presented.

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