This particular festival begins at a small shrine near the Ferry Port just after sunset. A shishi (lion) and two Hachaburo (ハチャブロー) dance to local music. After the shrine, a small parade ensues around the neighborhood where they dances scares away bad luck, disease, etc. It's thought that the shishimai (lion dance) will ensure health and prosperity for the neighborhood throughout the year.
The Hachaburo are two locals dressed in red robes and painted masks similar to a clown, but are actually meant to represent a pregnant woman. This festival also is important for local children as it's thought a child who is 'bitten' by the lion will be lucky and become smart. During the last lion dance the shishi gently bite's the hachaburos' fake stomachs to impart its protection.
The lion and lion dance originally come from Chinese culture. In Okinawa there are many traditions adopted from the historic close ties between the islands and mainland. The lion is composed of a large head, usually wooded, with a jaw that can be operated with two hands. During the dance the lion will snap its jaws shut which makes a large sound to emphasize musical points and scare away bad things. The rest of the lion is a long fur that is draped over the two people inside the lion. The two operators must work together to bring the lion to life.
The Shishimai is the lion dance. While short versions are performed during the parade, the main event of the festival occurred toward the end. The staged dances began not with shishimai, but firstly with two women dancing alone. The dances throughout the night tell a kind of caricature narrative of courtship to birth.
The first dance was two women performing a traditional Okinawan dance with large hats called hanagasa. They performed the dance alone.
Later, the same women danced, but while they danced, two men in masked costumes came out to observe. Their 'manly' displays included fist pumping and close inspection of the cloth head wear the women had (behind their backs). Together the dance was a humorous look at male vs female and the apparent distance between both during relationships.
Finally, two men dressed as Hachaburo came out to begin the shishimai dance. The lion slowly made its way out to the stage and moved around in time to the music. The lifelike movements make the dance a difficult one. Working together the two performers have the lion sit, jump, and sway, occasionally sending a crack of wood crashing together when it snaps it teeth. Several small children ran behind me when it caught them off guard.
At the end, the shishi jumped from the stage (talk about coordination) and then went around biting children's heads. Many ran away but the brave few who received a symbolic bite are expected to grow in intelligence.
For more on this event visit MoreThingsJapanese.com
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