Lunar New Year in Okinawa: ソーグヮチ

旧正月(ソーグヮチ、ソーグァチ、 or ソーグワチ) sougwachi, or souguwachi: lunar New Years, in Okinawan language. In Japanese, it is pronounced kyuushougatsu.

The lunar New Year was traditionally celebrated in Ryukuan culture, but these days is less common, except for a few areas where there are many fishermen, uminchu 海人(うみんちゅ). During the times of the Ryukyu Kingdom and all the way to the second World War, the lunar New Year was a big deal in Okinawa, but the end of the war brought in the Americans and with them the Gregorian calendar, so the traditions of the lunar calendar and with it the Lunar New Year has been diminishing ever since.

The lunar new year centers on towns and villages, where fishing is an important industry, such as Itoman, Uruma, Motobu and Oujima.

The most prominent location is probably Itoman, where all of the fishing boats display colorful flags to pray for good fishing and safety at sea in the upcoming year. The images of tuna and other fish are drawn as lucky symbols to attract business. Fishermen wish for good catches for the year. And nobody fishes on New Year’s day.

I went the day after the lunar New Year, so while many flags are still up, there is not much else going on and it was very quiet at the port.

There are also some worship ceremonies on Hamahiga-jima in Uruma (Hamahiga-jima is called the island of the Gods here in Okinawa). I have not been able to make it up there on the lunar New Year yet, but hopefully one of these days. These are more solemn events of prayer at the many utaki (shrines) sites (of which I believe there are at least 12), so don’t expect “festivities” per se; though at some point it does change from prayer to more festive celebrations with traditional music and dance. A yearly worshiping performed on New Year’s Day of the lunar calendar is done to wish for the health and safety of the citizens and to convey the gratitude to the gods. The nearby Miyagi-jima also has a small fisherman’s maritime parade with colorful flags that was revived a few years ago.

Here is a video from previous years:

Hakugindo 白銀堂, a shrine in Itoman, fills with people wishing for a great year during New Year’s celebration period. But since no one has off of work or school, the elders say it has become a less popular tradition.

As a final note, when the first water is pumped up from a well in the early morning of January 1st of the lunar calendar, it is called “wakamizu” (meaning: young water), and when this water is drunk, there is a legend that it can pass good fortune and good health for one year.

Uchinaa Farm: うちなーファーム

うちなーファーム Uchinaa farm is located in Itoman (southern part of Okinawa main island). It has many animals to see and pet, as well as “wine” tasting, and some tourist activities. Entrance fee is cheaper for residents (100y off) so only 500y for adults.

The farm produces 4 types of fruit wines: shikwasa, mango, passionfruit, and acerola. I like passionfruit the best, nice and dry. Acerola and mango were very sweet to me.

There is a large walking course to follow. They have horses, ponies, a zebra, donkeys, water buffalo, cows, goats, pigs, kangaroos. They also have some cats and meerkats (so cute!), as well as a red panda, capybara, rabbits, gerbils…  it is almost like a mini-zoo. It was a cute way to spend a morning, even if it was a bit hot outside. There are also some activities such as tractor ride, pony rides, water buffalo cart, etc.

There is also a restaurant and cafe, but we skipped this and went to a local shokudo. Overall, it was a really nice place for a date: walking around the pasture, seeing animals, and tasting some fruit wines.

address: 〒901-0333沖縄県糸満市摩文仁1018