events

Shishi-mai (Lion Dance) Festival in Okinawa

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NO! It isn’t the typical Chinese lion dance. It isn’t like the one I saw in LA. As a matter of fact, Okinawa’s lion dance is even incomparable to the ones in mainland Japan. The variation of lion dances has slight differences. But as soon as the Shishimai Festival in Okinawa started, we all knew – we are witnessing something else, something much unique.

Six city districts of Okinawa showcased their lion dance styles and spectacular performances. It includes Uruma city, which has been the home to Shishi-yama (Lion Mountain), as well as a Bullfighting Arena.  With the Katsuren Castle Ruins, it sure is an ideal setting for these events.

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Although it cannot be denied the influences from the typical lion dances, Okinawa’s Shishimai Festival is largely of its own because it is very true to its roots. They played their own Okinawa folk songs which I quickly recognized having gone to a good number of festivals from the past. And if you have been following my Okinawa cultural explorations, you can quickly identify that the lions Okinawans use are resemblance of shisa. The fact that it embodies the legendary shisa, the movements and various executions are noticeable different than mainland Japan.

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That is, more of a mixture of a lion and a dog than just solely a lion.

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As a matter of fact, Shishimai dance serves to ward off evil spirits and brings good harvest, wealth, and prosperity to the region. Something that rings true to the presence of shisa.

Whenever the lion approaches the crowd, the audience bring their little ones near it.

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The “festival” is really more of a show. Well the show, to me, was very inviting…

Energetic.

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Invigorating. Candid at some points.

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The lion can be at times fierce-looking.

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More so, it’s hypnotic, and so mesmerizing.

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Take note that these are being performed by two people who have to choreograph their movement in sync with each other. They jump. They walk and sidestep simultaneously. They roll together. It makes you wonder when the lion stands. The acrobats are highly impressive.

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Shishimai Festival also includes Okinawan folk dances, some martial art demonstrations. hatagashira (see my post on Naha’s Tug of War), and all accompanying music with traditional instruments such as taiko drums, seashell horns and the dominant sound of sanshin.

Clearly, it is an unmissable one of its kind Okinawa event.

Last Call…

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Part deux in the not so near future.

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Draw the comparisons. Check out one of my recent featured blog, Cocomino’s blog, and his Lion Dance entry. If you haven’t been following this awesome blog, oooh boy! you are missing out.

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You will not believe with the amount of travels this blog has. Halifax, Netherland, Italy, Paris, Endland, etc, etc, etc, etc. Tvor Travels, you betcha! My favorite is fittingly …. A Word a Week – Favourite. Get over there and awaits highly impressive images all over the world.

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Categories: events, Japan

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35 replies »

    • It says there are 150 festivals in a year here in Okinawa. That many for a small island. They love their festivals. And unlike the ones in America, it’s not commercialized where there are too many booths. Here, there are the usual food booths and that’s about it. The festivals really focus on the culture and traditions. Most festivals happen during summer.

    • Never say never, Gilly. It might surprise you that I come knocking on your house, appear on your doorstep with a buddy and our costumes and start performing for you. 😀

  1. Fantastic pics of this amazing festival, Rommel. What a great show those talented dancers put on. I would love to see it. You’re really having a cultural feast whilst in Japan. 🙂 I also enjoyed my hop over to Tvor Travels and am now following.

        • Thank you, Madhu for showing concern. My sisters and their families are okay. I’m hoping that my company send me to Philippines as disaster relief responder. If they don’t, we are fixing to set up a donation box to send it from here in Okinawa to there. Whatever way I can help.

  2. What a cultural feast for the eyes! You have had some amazing experiences in your short time in Japan. BTW, have read about the typhoons in the Philippines. I pray your family and friends are safe.

  3. Rommel, first hope your family/loved ones did not get affected too badly by Typhoon Haiyan, such devastating news.
    on the other hand, i really like this version of the Lion Dance. glad you pointed out the differences between the cultures. having the mix with the dog almost puts a humor flavor to it. the Chinese dragon appears more serious to me.
    gorgeous photographs, as always`
    one day i hope to visit this beautiful place 🙂

    • Very nice observation. I really they are more hypnotic, mainly because of the accompanying Okinawa folk music. Chinese lion dance are more energetic actually. The lion dance in Okinawa sways more fluidly.

    • Sunshine, thank you for checking in. My sisters and their families are okay. I’m hoping that my company send me to Philippines as disaster relief responder. If they don’t, we are fixing to set up a donation box to send it from here in Okinawa to there. Whatever way I can do to help.

  4. A couple years ago I watched performers do this in a park. Another spectator watching had to restrain her little dog as it went beserk at the sight of these big lion/dog creatures prancing and cavorting about.

  5. SO INTERESTING, ROMMEL! Thanks for sharing this. In Hawaii Okinawan festivals are well attended. All ethnic people like to learn the drumming which is very popular, too!
    ~Liz

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