3… 2… 1! With the fireworks shooting off into the sky, dazzling many with it’s magnificent glow, many celebrate on January 1st to ring in the New Year. However, Okinawans are different– they get to celebrate twice! January 1st does not mark the New Year for Okinawa… Taking on the traditional Chinese approach, Okinawa marks the beginning of a New Year by the lunar calendar, which can range the New Years’ day from January 21st to February 20th.
When Okinawa finally rings in the New Year, what do they do? Well, it’s not just the New Years’ day that the Okinawans prepare for… They also celebrate New Years’ Eve! Also known as Toushinuyuru, New Years’ Eve is as important of an event as New Years’ Day! During the eve, people will banish evil spirits with garlic, whether by wearing the aromatic, chopping it up and placing inside of rooms, or even eating it! They will also clean the house to invite good spirits and to welcome the New Year with a fresh home. New Years’ Eve also marks the time where families will start cooking New Years’ traditional food, including soba, mochi cakes, and pickled vegetables (namasu or tsukemono) as well as pickled pork liver for the New Years’ Feast. As the bells toll and New Years begins to creep closer, families begin to make their journeys to the Hatsumode, to the shrines for the first visits.
Now, the shrines are very special– from there, families will cleanse themselves with sacred water at the entrance of the shrines, then proceed to pray for happiness and fortune for the year to come. After that, they are free to wander a little, purchasing omamori, or talismans, that are believed to help bring in good spirits and happiness, depending on the talisman one buys. Omikuji are bought too, the little tiny oracles bearing wisdom and fortune within. While everyone is looking for the characters 大吉 and trying to avoid the dreaded 凶, each oracle serves as a guide to the New Year and is treated with respect, with many tying their oracles up in the branches for all to partake in.
And finally, the New Years’ day arrives (Shogatsu, or Sougwachi) . The sun begins to peek from the horizon and the moon slowly yawns away. Families gather around the dining room, taking fresh water and using this new water to brew tea for the ancestors, called wakamiji, which is supposed to rejuvenate and restore youth. And what’s a celebration without food? The food made previously is now being handed out, with fresh mochi being pounded, and many indulge in the sweet and salty flavors that have been passed on through generations. There is pickled pork liver that the kids try to avoid, sweet potato to snack on, a generous amount of soba (of course), and plenty of sake and beer for the adults. For those that want to venture the outside, tents and festivities boom throughout, with dancers merrily making their way and readily accompanied by the twang of the sanshin and the boom of the taiko, dancing and prancing throughout the pathway saturated with lanterns and the sizzling food wafting in the breeze.
For more information on what certain areas do, check out this article about Okinawa’s New Year. But in any sense, Okinawa rings in the New Year with lively music, dance, food, and love. For a Ryukyu kingdom so small, their festivities are gargantuan. And rightly so– Okinawa, in itself, is a lively, lovely place. 良い正月でーびーる!!(ii soogwachi deebiiru)!!