Kume Island Festival Roundup

This past weekend was the two-day annual Kume Island festival.  Due to a typhoon during its planned weekend, the festival took place on August 10 and 11.  There was a lot to see this year, and since it is the islands largest festival of the year, it provides a lot of unique insights into Japanese and Okinawan culture, along with a fun night for the whole family.  Check out the video blow for a quick look at some of the festival’s highlights!

Friday August 10

The day’s festivities started around 5:00 at Furiai Park, a large sea-side area with stage and facilities.  The area was ringed by game booths, food, and other stations.  Performances from local music groups were intertwined with award ceremonies for the students who made advertisement posters and other attractions.

One of the of the biggest parts of the Friday’s activities, and perhaps one of the oldest, is a set of traditional dances.  A group of Kume locals perform the traditional dance with folding fans and without.  After the first dances, the group forms two circles and invites everyone to join them in the Kumejima Odori.  For several songs, all can join this interesting way to give back and say thank you for a great year.

Another popular performance was from a group of local hula dancers.  These performances show the interesting influences of the world on even small islands.  There are also several cultural similarities between Hawaii and Okinawa that help foster close ties.  This group performed several types of hula and had a lot of members.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the event was the major fund raising.  At many festivals in Japan its common for attendees to make a donation.  At this festival, there is instead an Amida Kuji.  Tickets are available Friday and before for 1,000yen.  On the first day of the festival, you can take your ticket to the booth, where there is a large board with lines and ladders.  You show your ticket and they put half of it in the Saturday drawing for the really big prizes (a car, plane tickets, etc).  Then you pick a number and the attendant works his way randomly up the board until he gets to an envelope.  The semi-random envelope you get determines if you get a prize, and if so what kind.

The prizes ranged from a small package of cookies to bikes and even a goat.  If you watch the video, you’ll see a small white baby goat that ended up being a prize in the second day drawing.  The goats can be pets, though they usually eventually end up in soup.

There was a variety of foods with one of the most popular being beef kebabs.  There were also a lot of interesting games for kids, including the common ones you’d expect at an American Fair like balloon darts, as well as traditional Japanese games.  For young and old, a popular game was goldfish catching.  Using only a small paddle with a paper center, you could catch as many fish as you’d like.  The catch was the paper was very thin and fell apart quickly after getting wet.

The night ended with a live concert and a stunning up-close fireworks show.

Saturday August 11

The second day’s overall schedule was similar to the first day, except that all the performances were new.  The day started off earlier with an elementary, junior high, and high school Okinawan Sumo competition.  Sumo is a common event at Japanese festivals since it developed as a type of offering for good harvests.

There was also a Kamen Rider show.  Kamen means mask so it translates roughly to Masked Rider.  It is similar to Power Rangers, with hero in a suit and a bad guy and his goons.  This particular performance had a theme of friendship, where the Kamen rider was able to defeat his foes since he was reinforced by having all his new friends from the audience.

There were also eisa performances from the Tunnaha Daiko group.  Eisa is a type of drumming with movement set to music.  A group of students played followed by the adult group.  Some of them have been performing Tunnaha Daiko for as long as 25 years!

Along with local and visiting musical performances, two professional basketball players came to sign swag and hangout next to the Kumejima’s Kumesen Awamori table where they had a large display of locally produced Okinawan sake.

Finally, there was the much-anticipated sweepstakes drawing, the second half of the Amida Kuji.  A number was called for each prize, ranging from a Roomba vacuum to a new car.  Each ticket helped support the cost of the festival.  The Amida Kuji and drawing ensured everyone got a traditional return gift with a bit of extra fun and an incentive to give a bit more than a standard donation.

Finally, the night drew to a close with an even more spectacular fireworks show.