Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Okinawa's Annual Shisa-mai Festival

Once upon a time, a Ryukyuan emissary returned from China after his voyage to the court at Shuri Castle, where he brought with him a gift for the king. It was a necklace decorated with a small figurine of a shisa-dog. The king found it charming and wore it underneath his clothing.

Now it happened that the Naha Port bay, by the village of Madanbashi was often terrorized by a sea dragon who ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the King was visiting the village when one of these attacks happened. The people scattered running to hide from the horrible sea dragon. The local noro had been told in a dream that he should instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift his figurine towards the dragon. She sent a young boy named Chiga to tell him the message which had come to her in a dream. The King upon hearing the message went to the seaside where he faced the sea monster with the figurine held high.
Shisa near Gana-mui Woods & the Naha Ohashi Bridge
Almost  immediately a giant roar could be heard all throughout  the village. A roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the sea dragon. Then a massive boulder then fell from heavens and crushing the sea dragon's tail. He couldn't move, and eventually died. This boulder and the dragon's body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees, and can still be seen by the port today. It is the "Gana-mui Woods" near Naha Ohashi bridge. The towns people built a large stone shisa to protect it from the dragon's spirit and other threats.

The people of Okinawa call lion-dogs, shisa or shishi. pronounced "She-she" Shishi is a Chinese word meaning lion-dog. A shisa is a lion-dog originally from China that wards off evil spirits and was initially placed at the entrances of castles, temples, imperial mausoleums and communities. In Okinawa they can be seen on many houses as well. Many times there are two Shisa present one with mouth closed to warn potential evil to stay away from the property and one with the mouth open almost in a smile to welcome good spirts.
Photo courtesy of Lloyd Wanscott photographer for Okinawa Living Magazine

The Shishimai, or Shisa dance, is a lively dance performed by a two costumed performers. In the dance, the fierce guardian is transformed into a fun loving spirit as it leaps and runs, wagging its furry tail and snapping its great wooden jaws at the audience to bring the people in attendance good luck. Children and adults alike laugh and try to pet the Shisa as it bounds by and catches a ball thrown by a Chondara clown.

The Shisa brings a warm feeling of timeless joy and by means of its ancient protection. It has become a rich part of Ryukyuan history and culture as well as reflecting the traditional beliefs of the typical family in Okinawa.

Every year in Okinawa they hold an annual shisa-mai festival. I believe this years festival will be held on September 25th at the Agena Bullring in Uruma City. Several different groups will be competing for the honor of best Shisa-mai group 2011.

If your going to Okinawa early for the 5th World Uchinanchu Festival this may be something you should check out. I'm positive you won't be disappointed. Maybe I'll see you there!

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