Photo Essay

Pomp and Circumstance: The Ryukyu Kingdom Festival

All Hail the King

Everyone waxes nostalgic now and then. The people of the Goya Republic aka Okinawa Japan are no different. Once the independent Kingdom of Ryukyu, they relish their historical past and glory. Each year they celebrate their uniqueness in a series of festivals throughout the year.

It starts in the summer months with a series of Eisa Festivals in preparation for the Obon celebration which happens each August. Typically in mainland Japan, the festivities end on the last day of Obon but on Tiny Ryukyu, Eisa dancing continues on well into late September. Is it just practice for next year or just showing off? It may even be related to Taoist traditions that came from China centuries before or could it also be that the people of Ryukyu just love a good time and will make up any reason just to celebrate. Many people have opinions about the reasons why but no one seems to really know for sure. For that matter, does it even matter as long as everyone is having a good time?

The festivities of summer stretch into the fall with the great tug-o-wars, moon viewing festivities of September which coincidentally, according to the Chinese calendar just so happens to be the "August Moon!" Seems I've heard that phrase somewhere before. Anyway, then in late September and October as the summer's sweltering heat begins to abate, there is the Great Tsunahiki in the early part of October. You think it's just about all over for the year and then November rolls around.

You'd be wrong of course as the people of the Ryukyu archipelago celebrate their past glory and former independence in the Ryukyu Kingdom Festival. These ten days of festivities begins around the end of October and lasts into the month of November. It all begins on a Saturday with a royal coronation ceremony and procession from the castle followed by a street festival nearby. On day two of the festivities, the main event is a royal procession up the main street of the capitol city. The next several days on the castle grounds, visitors are treated to a host of entertainment events consisting of traditional music and dance. Then on the last day of the big event there is a repeat performance of the opening coronation ceremonies and royal procession from the castle.

My partner in crime and I had been to the castle to shoot photos just a few weeks before. During this little event we nearly had the shock of our lives and were busted at the castle. Just to make sure we didn't cause an international incident this time, we checked in at the Castle Administration offices first and got our release forms signed in advance. The plus side to doing it this way was the staff gave us press passes and arm bands to wear. It also gave us right up front access to the players in this event. Now, when all the castle staff were busy shooing people out of the way of the procession, as soon as they saw our arm bands, they also made people get out of our way. You could even say that they gave us the royal treatment.

We spent the better part of three hours filming the royal procession, literally shooting our way out of the castle. The pageantry was spectacular and well worth the trouble to put it all down digitally on film. We were exhausted but as we left, some three-hundred photos later. Hopefully a dozen or so shots would be good enough to post. On the way back to our car, we took a short side trip to peek at another nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tamaudun Royal Tombs.

By now it was approaching 4pm, we hadn't even stopped to eat lunch and in another hour and a half it would be getting dark. We still had a stop to our favorite Camera Shop to make on the way home. With our stomachs grumbling, the headache of festival traffic and a long drive ahead of us, we made our way back to our car and our escape from the concrete jungle surrounding Shuri Castle was complete. All in all, well worth the trip!

Be sure to click on all the individual pictures for detailed descriptions as well as check out the related stories on my JPG page. Your also invited to look over my other blogs at: or or for more information about life in the Goya Republic.

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2 responses

  • Tim Narraway

    Tim Narraway said (12 Mar 2009):

    fascinating. A good mix of information and photos. I do hope it gets published.

  • Karen Foto Fiddler

    Karen Foto Fiddler (Deleted) gave props (8 Jun 2009):

    I say yes to publish! Fabulous photos! Every one!

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