Okinawa’s Historical Fesitval

Michael Lynch gets to celebrate Shinugu Matsuri, a large festival on the small island of Okinawa. His article, “Shinugu Matsuri: A Little-Known Festival in Okinawa,” demonstrates the enjoyable atmosphere in the historical festival that takes place on the seventh month of the year every year.

In the bit of information I had compiled, so far, I determined that males only were allowed to participate in some rituals that take place during this festival. I had seen photos of the men coming off the mountains, covered in vegetation, but none of what takes place while they’re on the mountain.

Besides women being forbidden to climb the mountain, maybe cameras were forbidden, too. Though this festival is held every year, only every other year, men climb the mountains for a special ritual, this year being when it would take place (2009).

Before 10 am people started making the headwear men crown themselves with before heading up the mountain and a fellow named Daisuke Miwa taught us how the straw and red-flowered gadgets are made. I wound up wearing one the rest of the day. I thought the flowers smelled like berries, Rachel said the scent reminded her of something from a cat.

Between ten and eleven o’clock a woman 94 years of age conducted ritual prayers and made offerings, first inside the straw-roofed hut, then at several shrines in the surrounding area. Her exact status whether priestess or the village elder will remain a mystery until I return to the village again.

The groups of men, head to the beach, chanting along the way. They line the shore and kneel for a prayer facing the mountain and repeat the ritual facing the sea. That being done, everyone tosses the vegetation in a pile and takes a quick dip in the ocean.

The participants are all dressed in traditional banana-fiber woven clothing. Some of the members dance while beating small hand-held drums, others play three-stringed instruments called sanshin. Traditional local music is piped through a speaker system and spectators line the outsides of the field sitting on mats, sipping sake.