In a previous post, I talked a little about Setsubun, the bean-scattering ceremony. This year, I went to the setsubun-sai (festival) at Naminoue Shrine, which is held on February 3rd. It was a grey and cloudy day, with a bit of a chill. My husband and I parked the car a few blocks away from the shrine and stopped at a conbini for coffee.
We walked up to the shrine a bit before 10am (the starting time), and with the overcast weather, it was busy but not as busy as New Years hatsumode. It started promptly at 10am, with some prayers and rites of various sorts. Next came the shishimai (lion dance), which is always a lot of fun. Finally it was time for the bean-throwing!
Now what surprised me about this festival was that they didn’t just throw beans… they threw oranges, candies, and little bags of snacks/toy as well! It was crazy, but entertaining. Again, like the Naritasan fukusenji festival, some people had bags and baskets, or used their hats, to help catch the flying prizes. After everything was thrown, the local news interviewed kids to see what all they caught. They also handed out hot zenzai (sweet red bean soup) at the shrine window~~ so as soon as the throwing is done, get in line before they run out of zenzai!
Overall, it was a lot of fun and not as crowded as I feared. So if you are in Okinawa during Setsubun, be sure to check out Naminoue Shrine’s festival!
You can also wait until Feb 11th (public holiday in Japan) for Naritasan Fukusenji’s bean-throwing festival. Since Naritasan fukusenji is my local temple, I typically attend the events there; this setsubun festival is a lot of fun too, though not as big as Naminoue shrine’s, and they only throw beans at this one. Plus at Naritasan, the sakura are usually blooming well, so the temple looks very pretty this time of year.
Recently, I was able to attend the Futenmanzan Jinguuji 普天間神宮寺 matsuri (festival) at the Futenma temple (next to Futenma shrine).
The fire-walking ritual 火渡り神事 (hiwatari shinji) is the main draw. Unfortunately some heavy rain showers led to the event ending early, so perhaps next year I can see it in the entirety and get some interesting pictures of the monks walking through the fire.
So, to explain the process: you buy a wood board and write your wish/prayer on it. The monks will start to chant and light a large sacred fire. When it is time, you throw your wooden prayer board into the fire!
First the monks will have some more ceremonial rituals, and walk through the fire; it is supposed to be a powerful cleansing and purifying experience. This portion was cut extremely short due to the heavy rain, and so the fire couldn’t exactly keep on.
Now it is time to walk through the fire…! Well, it isn’t too scary I think, since it at this point they stamp out the flames and it is mostly just hot ashes. Many people lined up and removed their shoes/socks in order to process through the “fire.” At the end of fire area was and altar and when you reach the altar, they gave you an orange.
Really it was quite interesting and not at all what I expected to see in Okinawa, as this is more of a mainland Japan ritual.
夏祭り natsu matsuri means summer festival (I wrote a little about this before).
Of course, no summer matsuri is complete without the food tents, called 屋台 yatai. Most popular are probably the fried and grilled foods; some of the more “traditional” ones that I have seen in Okinawa are listed below. Just be careful not to stain your yukata…
**I will try and add some more pictures of all the foods as I have time.
Yakisoba 焼きそば : fried noodles. Usually at summer matsuri, I see Japanese sauce yakisoba rather than Okinawan salt yakisoba, but it depends on the festival.
Takoyaki たこ焼き: fried octopus balls. Round dough balls with bits of octopus mixed in and fried, then topped with sauce and usually katsuobushi.
Okonomiyaki お好み焼き: cabbage “pancakes,” topped with sauce, as well as usually mayo, nori, and katsuobushi.
Pote ポテ: potato fries.
Yakitori 焼き鳥: grilled chicken skewers.
Ika yaki イカ焼き: literally, squid grilled on a skewer. Squid-on-a-stick.
Jaga bataa じゃがバター: baked potato with butter.
(Yaki) toumorokoshi (焼き)とうもろこし: corn; in this case it will be grilled and slathered with butter.
Recently we went to a matsuri in Nago and split a mega-combo メガコンボ, which came with a mix of potato fries, yakisoba, takoyaki, and yakitori. It was a popular food tent, and everything was cooked piping hot on the spot. It was nice because it came with a small(ish) serving of a bunch of different foods for variety, and a good compromise for my husband and I to split.
Some food tents are starting to offer some more western choices, like “meat pies” which I think are kinda like empanadas. Often you also see アメリカンドッグ “American dog,” which just means a corn dog.
You might also see some “local specialties,” which in Okinawa typically means soba. Each festival has its own wide array of foods to try, and we enjoy trying as many as possible. On the mainland I have seen way more variety of matsuri food, and some really interesting looking ones. So keep in mind since this list is mostly applicable to Okinawa, I have only included the ones most common in Okinawa.
And of course, there is more than just savory foods… plenty of sweets as well.
Wataame わたあめ: cotton candy.
Choco banana チョコバナナ: chocolate covered banana on a stick.
神輿 mikoshi: palanquin used to transport Shinto deities, a portable shrine.
なんみん祭: Nanmin Matsuri (Naminoue Shrine festival, Nanmin is the shrine’s name in Okinawan language)
Possibly the closest to a Japanese mainland-style mikoshi you will see in Okinawa is during the Nanmin Festival at the Naminoue shrine!
Every year the mikoshi procession is on the Sunday of the festival. It starts at 10am from Naminoue Shrine and winds it way to the open space in front of the Palette Kumoji (Ryubo) at the end of Kokusai-dori. There is also eisa, traditional Ryukyu dance, shishimai (lion dance), karate demonstrations, a beach tsunahiki (tug-of-war), bukubuku-cha/tea ceremony, and more during this weekend festival (Saturday & Sunday).
This is a must-see for anyone living in Okinawa who has not experienced this on the mainland of Japan. Obviously on mainland, this is a much more common site to see, and they are very exciting and exuberant events. This one is much smaller, and less crowded, which in some ways makes for a better experience!
**Bukubuku-cha event: started from 2pm on Saturday of the festival, Naminoue shrine. We watched as some skilled ladies made the foam for the tea. At 2pm, they had benches to sit down while they came around with individual trays containing a cup of tea topped with foam and 2 chinsukou (cookies). This event was free! Yum! On Saturday, there was also children’s sumo from 1pm, and some taiko performances from 6pm (we did not stay for taiko so I cannot comment on that experience).
**Mikoshi event: started at 10am on Sunday at the shrine, however we met up with them by the Ryubo Palette Kumoji around 11am. There was the parade into the square, then some ceremonies/rituals. Next came various performances, of which the shishimai was probably my favorite. As always they came thru the crowd to try to bite small children. While this was going on, the pole-dancing went on by Kokusai-dori. No, not like that… by pole-dancing I mean “Gaaee” ガーエー, which means something like “winner’s triumphant shout.” Basically it entails guys carrying a large, heavy bamboo pole decorated with flags and flowers and other decorations, called hatagashira 旗頭. Hatagashira are an example of the traditional Okinawan culture. They are symbols created to represent a the success of a village. After the various performances wrapped up, the parade returned to the shrine and beach for some more events. At this point my hubby was pretty done, so we headed home.
祭り matsuri, フェスタ festa, フェスティバル festival, フェア fair, カーニバル carnival: all words used for a fair, festival or exhibition of some sort.
In Okinawa, each town or city has its own local industry product fair, usually occurring once a year or once every 2 years. This is an opportunity for local producers, farmers, and businesses to showcase their wares. Some of these are large events and some are a bit smaller, depending on the size of the town. Usually there are all sorts of free samples, demonstrations, entertainment and specialty food booths.
The Okinawa city industry fair is a really good fair and one of the largest, held at the Comprehensive Park (2017 date: January 28-29). Lots of vendors selling local foods, flower exhibits, farm produce, and more. Since it is once of the largest fairs, it is nice to enjoy all the different things it has to offer.
The Nishihara town (the town just south to my village) industry fair is much smaller, but it showcases sugarcane (サトウキビ satoukibi) and brown sugar (黒糖 kokutou)! The ojiisans set up early in their tents, press the sugarcane juice and then start boiling. At some point it turns into tasty brown sugar and they give out lots of samples. It is really interesting to be able to taste the subtle differences between each one.
If you live in Okinawa, check your community for these types of fun food events! I enjoy attending these and seeing what each town has to offer; I always end up bringing home all sorts of tasty treats.
At the end of the first day, we were lucky enough that there was a Lantern and danjiri (shrine/temple cart) festival scheduled during our visit, held in the park at the foot of the castle. So of course, we go to check out these interesting mainland matsuri called 大神輿総練 Oomikoshisouneri!
灯りの祭典(ランタン祭り): Lantern festival
だんじり danjiri: a cart made to represent a temple or shrine, it has
wheels, but can also be lifted up on the shoulders.
神輿 mikoshi: palanquin carried on the shoulders used by shrines and
temples during festivals.
I have way too many photos to post, but it was certainly a lively and exciting matsuri. First we ate some matsuri food and drank some beer, then watched the taiko performances.
They lit the lanterns (by hand, all candles!) that adorned the danjiri. Next they started with the all-female mikoshi, parading through the crowds. Then the enormous mikoshi/danjiri rolled out with enthusiatic men on each corner whistling, waving towels, and shouting, while several men were carrying the cart and occasionally lifting it high into the air. Once they had their turn, the smaller danjiri got to go all at once– the field was filled with carts jostling about, drumming, chanting, whistling…! It was a site to see, a great way to end the evening.
During our final full day in Matsuyama, it rained quite a bit, so there were less pictures. We still had a fairly eventful day, though.
First we explored a historic tea garden and a folkcrafts/textiles museum, both which happened to be open fairly early.
We then went to the day onsen near the hotel 伊予の湯治場 喜助の湯 (“Kisuke”), while not historical, pretty nice with lots of different types of baths. You had to purchase amenities separately which could add up if you do not bring your own.
Afterwards we headed towards the castle gardens, despite the rain. We paid the admission fee to look around the gardens, as well as the tea set. The garden does not always do tea ceremony, so we were fortunate that it was being held this time of year. We were brought out usuzumi youkan 羊羹 to eat and frothy, bright green matcha to drink.
Even though we indulged in a tea set, I was not finished yet… we ended up also walking downtown where I sought out various treats famous to this area, including ichiroku (1-6) tart and shoyu dango. Ichiroku tart is a lovely yuzu citrus castella wrapped around smooth bean paste; you can also buy chesunut and matcha flavors. I also bought Madonna dango (also Botchan themed), which has a really western dango taste: strawberry, vanilla, and cafe ole! It is really good, and I think it must be popular with women.
A gelato shop called SunnyMade also caught our eye, and well, yes… ! Of course we decided to split the “10 small scoops of your choice plate!” We were given a check sheet and decided which of the 18 available flavors to try (the 10 we chose were kabocha/pumpkin, iyokan marmalade, kinako/roasted soy bean, passionfruit, blueberry, strawberry, matcha, salt milk, pear, and another local citrus flavor). There was even a free toppings bar. It was delicious and I would recommend trying it, especially the local flavors!
We shopped for awhile under the covered arcade until dinner time. For dinner, we happened to find this “German” restaurant… well, it was German themed but not really so German at all. It was called Munchen ミュンヘン. We noticed a large number of people getting carry-out right away and wondered what it might be… turns out it was karaage, and this place is super popular spot to get karaage. We ordered some (Japanese) beer in king size mugs, karaage, German sausage plate, and fried gobou (burdock root). It was all actually really good, and not pricey at all. Overall my husband was very happy. Afterwards we crashed at the hotel with a few more beers from the conbini and watched the local news.
宮城島 Miyagi-jima is a small island connected by bridge to the Okinawa main island via Henza-jima.
This year is the second annual summer eisa matsuri, called たかはなり島あしび Takahanari Shima Ashibi.
高離り島 (たかはなり島) refers to Miyagi-jima. あしび means “to play” in Okinawa language (coming from the Japanese, 遊ぶ asobu). So basically, the name of the festival is like “come play on Miyagi island!”
At 3 pm, eisa groups start to perform along the roads in 3 areas of the island. There is a main parking area at the old (abandoned) elementary school for the festival. FYI, this is NOT actually in google maps… so actually pay attention to the address given… unlike myself, who figured, I will just follow the signs, how hard can it be, it is a tiny island, right?? Well, luckily when you get close, the signs had a pouch with printed out maps, directions, locations, schedules and the whole bit, otherwise I would have stayed lost (despite this being a tiny island). Luckily, we were not the only lost souls, other Japanese/Okinawans were also getting these maps and looking confused. Anyway, it was easy once we figured the approximate location in the car navi system.
Anyway… so back to the street performances. These were simply along residential, narrow streets of the island, from 3-5pm. People emerged from houses and cars to watch and listen to the eisa performers. During this time, my husband (over 6 feet tall, a giant by Japanese standards) and myself (although of average US height, still towers over most Japanese women) decidedly stood out as the only foreigners in the small crowd. It was a bit hot, but at least there was some small breeze off the ocean making it a bit more tolerable. We arrived a bit late (nearly 4pm, due to the maps issue), which was probably a good thing considering the Okinawan heat. In spite of seeing many eisa performances since arriving nearly 3 years ago, I am still fairly fascinated by it and all of the variations you see around the island.
Around 5pm, the main stage area of the festival grounds was getting started, and tents with food, drinks, and local products encircled the field. This festival was unlike many of the other more “popular” summer matsuri, as here it was almost entirely LOCAL business and products! Wow, so nice– too often with the larger matsuri, big companies come in and sell food/drink (with bigger crowds, the mom&pop places have a hard time competing), and they are rather subpar. Today, it was different and amazing.
The famous ougon-imo (黄金芋, orange sweet potato similar to annou-imo and “American” orange sweet potatoes) from the neighboring island made an appearance, as well as many other small businesses. Ika (squid) caught from the surrounding waters and mozuku (seaweed special to Okinawa) was also prominent among food sellers. We had squid karaage (fried squid rings), beniimo dango (fried purple sweet potato mochi), baked ougon-imo, sata andagi (Okinawa doughnut) flavored with dragonfruit, ohagi (sweet sticky rice balls, these were flavored with ougon-imo), and chicken wrapped in fried shredded ougon-imo (um… picture like a chicken nugget but if instead of breading you replaced that with sweet potato hashbrowns). Everything we tried was delicious, my husband gave it his highest rating. He was initially a bit reluctant to be dragged to this small festival, as it was about a 45-minute car ride north of our house. I guess I drag him to a lot of summer matsuri…
As we were eating, the main stage shows played. There was eisa, local dancing, sanshin, chondora (eisa clowns), fan dance, and more. It was really quite nice, especially once the sun sunk down beneath the horizon and it cooled down a bit.
I guess it was a bit obvious the lack of foreign guests (besides us, 2 american guys with their Okinawan wives). We were approached by a writer for one of the travel websites, as she had noticed us watching the street eisa earlier. She spoke to me in Japanese, mixed with a little English, and I explained my situation in Okinawa, and how I had found out about this matsuri (online, from an event website in Japanese). She lamented the lack of English resources for finding these types of events, and I agreed, as I find these local events extremely interesting and a great chance to learn more about tradition and culture of the islands. She took our picture and gave me a card; she was a sweet person. Later she emailed a link to the article she wrote and our picture with caption was published on the travel website.
Evenings like this type of summer festival are special, and gives a chance to glimpse how life really is in Okinawa. At these events you can see the real Okinawa, not the tourist view.
Yukata 浴衣 are the light summer robes, and much different than heavy, layered kimono 着物. Many people, men and women, wear yukata or jinbei 甚平 to the summer festivals (matsuri 祭り). You can also wear yukata to beer gardens, parties, or pretty much any casual outdoor “event” during the warmer months. Many people also wear them when staying in onsen towns.
In the Ryukyu kingdom, yukata would actually have much different designs than you see today at the summer matsuri. Today, most yukata in Okinawa are influenced by Japanese designs rather than traditional designs.
I have both a yukata and a jinbei. Jinbei are shorts and a robe top, very comfortable and light. Mine has a design of Hello Kitty x OnePiece. Very adult, indeed. Jinbei are sort of like pajamas and pretty comfortable. Perhaps it is seen as a bit childish or tomboyish for a female to wear jinbei, but it is so easy and comfy. I think they actually look pretty cute.
Yukata are actually fairly easy to put on, with a little practice. My yukata has a green checkered and cat print on it, and the obi 帯 is green on one side and pink on the other. It is very cute. But the obi is not the pre-tied obi like you see in many stores these days– I must tie it myself. I am considered getting one of those fluffy “ribbon” obi that seem to be trendy lately; they look very easy to tie, just a simple bow. Although I must say, I did a pretty good job of tying the bunko-musubi (butterfly knot) for this recent matsuri I attended. I have fan that sort of matches it, that I bought at the 100円 store, and a pair of geta 下駄 (wooden slippers), though many people in Okinawa just wear island slippers. I have a kinchaku (drawstring bag) as well, but it does not match, as it is one that was used as gift-wrapping for a gift I received. I have some flower hair clips from Hawai’i and I bought a set of flower clips at the 100円 store as well. There are all sorts of little bits and bobs you can buy to accessorize a yukata, if you feel so inclined (hair clips, pins, rope ties, handbags, etc). There are special ties and clips and underthings you can get as well to help secure the pieces. These can really add up in price fast though…
The basic pieces you need for a yukata:
the yukata itself
tanktop or thin shirt, shorts to wear underneath (you can also purchase Japanese-style underclothes called hadajuban 肌襦袢)
obi 帯, specifically hanhaba obi 半幅帯 of any style/color
2 pieces of sash to secure yukata before tying obi, called koshi-himo 腰ひも **I actually use a korin-belt コーリンベルト which has clips so it is a bit fancier but more expensive.
fan! Folded is called sensu 扇子, round is called uchiwa 団扇 (うちわ)
wooden sandals, called geta 下駄 **in Okinawa is probably more common to see just rubber slippers (you could also pair tabi socks 足袋 with this, but usually yukata is without)
handbag, kinchaku (drawstring bag) 巾着 with kago (basket) 籠 (かご)
a fancy cord to tie over obi, called obi-jime 帯締め, with an obi-dome 帯留め (ornament threaded over the obi-jime)
decorative accessory for obi, called obi-kazari 帯飾り
hair ornaments, called kanzashi 簪 (かんざし)
a stiff belt to go underneath the obi and keep shape, called datejime 伊達締め
There are many places in Okinawa during summer and pre-summer months to find yukata. You can buy second-hand and save some money, or you can buy new. Second hand stores such as Manga Souko and Off-House (part of the Book-Off group) usually have a decent variety. Buying new, you can go to SanA, Aeon, Honeys, or UNIQLO for cheaper ones, or specialty yukata/kimono stores for more expensive ones. You can also find many on Amazon.jp! There are so many patterns and colors, it is so hard to choose. I really enjoy seeing all the colorful and beautiful yukata and jinbei when I go to the summer matsuri.
**Note on sizing: Most women’s yukata are just sold as “free size,” and are usually for women of 153-170 cm in height, depending on the maker. Others may be sold as small, medium, large, extra-large, or tall size (the difference is in the length height-wise of the yukata, and the length of the sleeves covering your arm). I am ~168-169 cm, so on the taller end of this. Free size yukata fit me decently enough, though the tall size is a little nicer looking! Most tall sizes will fit someone up to 175cm tall. Any taller and you may need to make a custom order!
This is the sound of eisa. Anyone who has lived in Okinawa will recognize it immediately.
As summer approaches, so does matsuri season. Eisa is a synonymous with the summer matsuri season here in Okinawa. Eisa エイサー is a type of “bon dance,” 盆踊り (bon odori). Bon, or Obon, (written in kanji as 御盆 or お盆) is an important time of year for Japanese people; it is a time to honor and commemorate their ancestors. They believe that each year during Obon, the ancestor spirits return to our world to visit relatives. Bon occurs the 13th through the 15th day of the 7th month of the year; for many places this is July (according to the solar calendar), however in Okinawa, it is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, so it occurs sometime in August or September. I will leave the details of customs and traditions related to Okinawan Obon holiday for another blog post, and for now focus on eisa. During Obon in Okinawa, many eisa troupes will perform all around the island to bid farewell as their ancestors leave to Earth to return again to the heavens. There is a local group that travels down our neighborhood and town, stopping at various points to perform; we are sure to watch them as they dance, chant, whistle, and play drums in front of the convenience store across the street.
Due to the large Japanese population in Hawai’i, Obon is also commonly celebrated all over Hawai’i throughout the summer months– so this holiday and bon dance in general is not really new to me, but I have learned about some of the more Okinawan traditions and especially eisa dance.
Although eisa originates as a bon dance, it is performed throughout the year and is considered an important aspect of Okinawan/Ryukuan culture. There are several eisa clubs around the island, and they are especially busy during the summer matsuri season. Already at my university they are practicing for summer during lunch and early afternoon, so I have some entertainment these days while I eat.
There are guys (and sometimes girls) playing larger (taiko) drums, as well as those with smaller hand drums. Usually the females are dressed in simple yukata with Ryukyuan designs. At least one of the guys will be dresses as “Chondara” (Okinawan clowns). The role of the chondara is to cheer the dancers on and entertaining the audience, as well as guiding the group in the right direction. Sometimes also to scare the small children a bit.
The sounds of eisa wafting through the evening air, while sitting outside and drinking a beer sometimes feels a bit nostalgic as strange as that seems. It has that feeling, that summer has indeed arrived, and will soon be gone so be sure to enjoy the (hot and humid) weather now and the carefree feeling of lazy summer days, because soon it will be replaced by chilly fall and winter winds.
Natsu-matsuri. Matsuri 祭り (or just 祭) means festival, and natsu 夏 means “summer.”
In Japan, summer seems to start around July 15th, and so does the matsuri season. In Okinawa, there are usually multiple matsuri every weekend through September and even into October. Almost every Saturday and Sunday night the sky will be illuminated by fireworks (hanabi 花火) and the sounds of Okinawan eisa dance (エイサー) echo in the night air. In Okinawa, you will see the strings of Orion lanterns illuminating the paths and and smells will waft from the tents hawking foods.
Every town and village will host their own matsuri; men and women, from children to older folks will wear yukata 浴衣 and jinbei 甚平. Even I own a very classy black jinbei with Hello Kitty x OnePiece on it. Err, well, it is sort of tomboyish, but I find it cute and comfortable… I am pretty sure I would feel weird in a girly yukata. As a note, many westerners do not seem to realize the difference between kimono 着物 and yukata 浴衣. Kimono is very formal and layered, it would be odd to see kimono outside of formal events like weddings, graduations, or New Years Day. Yukata are light and thin, perfect for summer! They are more casual and are easier to put on. And wayyyy cheaper! Formal kimono are usually thousands of dollars (and therefore many people simply rent them instead of buying).
There are performances, games, food, and of course drinks of the alcoholic variety! Oh and they always hand out fans (うちわ uchiwa) as a means of advertising.
If you are in Okinawa or Japan during the summer season, you must attend one.