Henza-jima celebrates a small fisherman’s festival called “Sangwacha” held from March 3rd to 5th in the LUNAR calendar (this coincides with Girls Day in the lunar calendar, called Hamauri 浜下り in Okinawan). The 2nd day of the festival, the 4th, is especially interesting! While the tide ebbs, you can watch (or join!) the parade of people who wade into the sea over to the rocks about 300 meters from the beach. Prayers to the sea gods for safety at sea and good harvests are offered on the rock for a prosperous year, then everyone returns to the beach. Afterwards, there is traditional entertainment in front of the Henza hall.

Before the parade begins, many people of the town dress up in costumes, especially with scary/creepy masks. Some were just silly (and maybe a little strange). Some of the boys painted themselves with black ink, and another in orange ink. They had fun high-fiving people and spreading ink. There is a fish palanquin (not sure what to actually call it… portable shrine? mikoshi?) that gets carried from the hall down and first down the road to the tent where the fish-spearing ceremony (prayer?) is performed– crazy stuff. They have drums and sanshin, plenty of awamori of course, and the fishermen place a fish on a board where one of the ladies dances, then spears it. Quite unique.

Next everyone heads down, en masse, to the beach. The fish palanquin is carried out to the rock offshore (everyone wades out) and a prayer ceremony is held and offerings given; the rock is known as the Nanza Rock. When everyone returns from the rock, the party continues. It is quite an interesting experience, and I was fortunate as a gaijin to be able to enjoy it. I met and talked to several local people, who were surprised (yet excited) to see gaijin for this small matsuri since there were a total of 4 of us (the other 3 were together as a photography group, I was by myself). Anyhow, a great time was had by all and I felt very happy to experience such a fun small town event that really showcased the spirit of the Okinawan people. Personally, I enjoy these types of events so much more than the big festivals, and it helps me appreciate the traditional culture and rituals.

Unfortunately my pictures are from my cellphone and not so great. Maybe next year I will take a real camera.

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