In the short time we have been on Okinawa its become very obvious that the Okinawans LOVE festivals, I am sure there has been one on every weekend. Sunday we headed South to the capital city, Naha, specifically to Kokusai street – the most famous street in Naha to watch the annual Shuri Castle Ryukyu Royal Procession part of the 2013 Shuri Castle Festival.
We started at one end of the street and slowly wandered up looking for somewhere to eat before the parade started then of course the rain arrived! Finding shelter in a small restaurant we feasted on a selection of taco rice, soba and curry to name a few (yes we ate even more than that).
Somehow we missed the beginning of the parade, but when we did make it back out onto the street the rain had stopped falling and music filled the air with the parade in full swing.
What was the parade about, well in brief, back in the day (maybe 15thish century) the Ryukyu Kingdom was an independent kingdom which ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands. The Ryukyuan king had a great relationship with the Chinese and requested that Chinese come to the Island. When they did they put on a show! Obviously there is a lot more to the story than that, but I can’t quite remember what I was told!
This 2 hour parade is a re-enactment, the route is the same as the ones kings and queens travelled over the past six centuries. Approximately 1,000 people are in the parade all dressed in beautiful costumes, costumes which are authentic even the stitching on the robes is the same!
Like I said we somehow missed the beginning of the 2 hour parade, so we didn’t get to see the ‘King & Queen’ and a few other things, but what we did see was amazing!
Female dancers in Red & White Robes, Yotsudake dancers wearing their vibrant kimonos, flower hate and playing bamboo castanets. Baton art performers, Eisa drummers, there were people doing karate, Ryukyu folk singers and finally the Hatagashira, oh and of course sanshin guitars.
Eden was thoroughly entertained, and had the best view; on top of Matt’s head. Clio continued to be photographed by total strangers, if you ever happen to see her pic appearing in news feeds on facebook do tag one of us!
We have quickly become fans of Eisa; a Buddhist prayer dance to send off the ancestors to the afterlife, its totally captivating and this performance was no different. I already know I will miss it when we leave Okinawa.
The other performance which was really neat to watch was the Hatagashira; each group balances a enormous flagpole displaying their own banner & heavy decoration, they sort of bounce it and everybody takes a turn ensuring it doesn’t fall over. Its very impressive.
We didn’t have much of a chance to explore the many shops along Kokusai street, we have plenty of time for that over the next few years, but the smells coming from Fukugiya Baum Factory were too enticing not to pop in. We bought one Baum cake to take home, of course we left it behind at our next stop (ice cream) so Matt had to make a mad dash back, thankfully our Baum cake was still there and we thoroughly enjoyed eating it later that night.