Happy Lunar New Years!
Ringing in the new year in Okinawan style is quite a festive day, indeed! Because Okinawa is heavily influenced by Chinese culture, New Years falls on the same day the Chinese celebrate their New Years.
Before Okinawa became part of Japan, the Ryukyu Islands were very closely associated with China. When the Okinawans were introduced to the concept of the Lunar New Year, Ryukyuan traditions were modified to fit the moon phases.
Unfortunately, Okinawa had some trouble with Japan when they merged together and Japan starting banning some aspects of Okinawan culture, including the language and the Lunar New Year. However, the tradition stayed strong and despite the ban, Okinawans kept the holiday alive and now, presently, still celebrate it.
To properly bring in the New Year, Okinawans will dine on their first soba bowl of the year, eat mochi, and visit their ancestor’s graves to pay respects. Although Okinawan New Years falls on the same day as the Chinese New Years, many Okinawans take the chance to celebrate New Years on January 1st to share extra moments with family and friends.
Places such as the Ryukyu Mura, which emulates that of past Okinawa’s architecture and atmosphere, are one of the popular places to visit for the holiday. According to legend, the god, Miruku, will come ashore to grant the Okinawans happiness for the year. In the New Years parade, one will see Miruku in the front, leading the colorful flags, dancers, and musicians throughout the street.
All in all, Okinawa, despite its hardships with banned culture and traditions, have kept Lunar New Years alive and the holiday does not seem to appear to leave anytime soon. With the strong beat of the taiko drum and the twang of the sanshin, we can be rest assured that Okinawa will ring the New Year in style.