Every year on September 22 and 23 Kitadaito Village celebrates its largest Festival. These dates mark the beginning of autumn. Kitadaito also known as north Borodino island is a place of 12sq kilometers 320 kilometers east of the Okinawan mainland. It is unique in that it was settled by residents of Hachijo Island (near Tokyo) but is part of Okinawa Prefecture. Over the past 100 years the island has become a unique chanpuru (mix) of both cultures.
After graduating from the University of Arizona, I spent three years living and teaching on Kitadaito, and returned this year after more than a year on Kumejima. It was great to re-experience old memories and make new ones as the festival has changed since my time there. Watch the accompanying video for a chance to experience a few bits from this truly unique day.
- 3:00 Gather at the shrine in Happi (blue jackets- can be other colors)
- Shinto ceremony praying to the local kami (gods) and ancestors
- Blessing of babies born since the last festival
- Mikoshi (portable shrine) parade
- Stop at local power station/sugar cane factory
- Stop at School/largest store
- Stop at town hall
- Return to the Shrine
- Light show, food, and fireworks
More on the Festival
The main part of the Kitadaito Festival is the parade of the portable shines. The Kitadaito people believe that kami reside in the Daito-gu shrine, and visit on important days such as New Years. For the festival, they invite the kami to reside in the portable shrines for a short time, and then carry them throughout the village so that the kami can bestow good fortune and a healthy prosperous year. The portable shrines are heavy and require many people to carry, thus making the act an offering of time, energy, and strength. The villagers push the shrines into the air in tempo to whistles and calls, making the shrines seem as if they are running on angry rapids. The extra effort and difficulty of the task makes the offering all the more potent at each rest stop.
In thanks for bringing the shrines, and as a way of making offerings of their own, each destination provides food and drink for the procession. After flinging about their charges, the shrines are set down for a time while participants recover and enjoy themselves. The shrines are then often taken up by representatives of the store, company, or school so that they too can make an energetic offering. On Kitadaito, three shrines are used. One carried by elementary students, one by junior high students, and the last by adults.
The procession is led by the village mayor and vice mayor and the shinto priest, and followed by a wagon with taiko drummers. As night falls, a group of lanterns is added as the shrines make their way back to the Daito-gu shrine at the top of the mountain. At the torii gates the shrine is met by the local sumo club which turns against the shrine, making it even more difficult. The shrine carriers must battle all the way to the top of the hill to return the shrines. The process can take hours as piles of people bar the way and others are flung off. Though it may seem violent at times, the idea is to make the final ascent the best offering they can.
When the shrines finally make it to the top, everyone joins together as one community to celebrate. The mikoshi are placed before the Daito-gu shrine for the night, and the villagers return to an open park area nearby to enjoy refreshments, food, and entertainment in the form of a light show and fireworks.
Though the first day is full of cultural significance and unique local tradition, the festival does not end there. Keep an eye out for a post on the second day coming soon! Don’t forget to checkout the scene in my novel Samurai Awakening that was inspired by Kitadaito’s Festival as well.