East meets … Farther East
There are a lot of different azas (字) on Kumejima. An aza is smaller than a village, but bigger than a neighborhood. Each one has its own community center and most host different events throughout the year. Kanegusuku-aza‘s claim to fame is the Murashibi festival on September 12. It falls every year on the full moon in September, dating back to when Japan used the lunar calendar. This is one of the unique events only in Kumejima, and is particular to Kanegusuku-aza.
Like many festivals there were booths set up serving drinks and food, and throughout the entire evening there were performances by various groups.
The highlight of the event, and the thing that makes it so unique is the shishima (lion dance). The Shishima is also where East (Japan) meets West (in this case China). As with much of Okinawa culture it is heavily influenced by Okinawa’s long association with China.
Traditional Okinawan clothing, dance, and even language have more obvious Chinese influence than mainland Japan does.
The Shishima dance starts off going door to door. Its considered good luck if the lion bites a child (scaring away demons). Later, on the stage, two people dance (one representing a pregnant woman). The lion dances to the music and snaps his mouth, scaring away evil spirits. The lion is operated by at least two people who have to work in tandem to do the complicated gestures required by the dance.
In addition to the Shishimai there were other traditional Okinawan dances(at least three types), sanshin players, student eisa performances, a band, and an okarina player. For a small festival put on by 1/32 of a small island, it was quite the show.