Most small communities throughout Japan have several festivals throughout the year to celebrate milestones along the way. The largest festivals are usually derivatives of the traditional harvest festival, while smaller festivals usually are tied to specific events. On Kume Island, the start of spring is marked by the arrival of fireflies.
Since Kumejima has its own species of firefly, they have become an important symbol of the island. The official character is even a Kumejima Firefly. Aside from Kume Island, fireflies are deeply rooted in Okinawan culture. Fireflies thrive in wetlands, and throughout the islands, they would mark the start of spring. If you’ve ever ridden the Okinawa monorail, you might notice songs played to distract nervous riders whenever the monorail turns. At the turn before Tsubogawa station, there is a song that echoes the pattern of lights the fireflies make as they fly.
Jin Jin Road
On Kume Island there is a road along the kanegusuku area full of shops, stores, and restaurants. Every year the association of owners shuts down the street to vehicles and host the Kume Island Firefly festival. The street is lined with paper lanterns, and restaurants set out tables and stalls to sell food. Children draw with chalk along the road, festival games like darts, fishing, and other games are out and a stage is set up for entertainment.
This year, the event started around 4:00 on April 27. There were a surprisingly large number of students, far more than I usually see around the other events on the island. The local school band started off the entertainment with popular show tunes and other music. Throughout the evening there were also live eisa performances, a signing group from Minamidaito called Borijinaru Musume, chugging competitions (soda for kids, beer for the adults), arm wrestling, and a small band to cap things off.
They also revealed the new official mascot for Kume Island, a cute Kume Island Firefly with a tsumugi patterned front.
While this festival doesn’t have the long history and ritual appeal of older festivals, it is a fun way to relax and enjoy a carnival atmosphere while providing local businesses a much-needed boost from local and tourist spending.