When my husband first mentioned going to a Shishimai Festival I was a little hesitant especially having a very wiggly and talkative 3 year old. After doing some research I discovered the festival is more of a performance with the traditional food vendors selling Okinawan delicacies and treats. I did a little more digging to make sure the performance would be something that engaged my daughter. What I found is that the Shishimai Festival takes place in Uruma City within the Agena Bullfight Arena. The performance is a very entertaining “lion dance” aka shishimai. According to tradition, the dance is known to have the power to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune and prosperity to the region. The tradition has been passed down through the generations and the Shishimai is done annually to ensure prosperity.
This event doesn’t have just one lion dance, instead there are performers from each of the different regions of Okinawa who come together each year to perform and celebrate the tradition of the lion dance. Although the root of the lion dance tradition comes from China, it has been absorbed into Japanese culture. The styles of each lion dancer vary by their region and you can definitely see the differences in the performances at the Shishimai Festival. The performers on Okinawa often dance to the “sanshin”, an Okinawan banjo, while dancers from mainland tend to perform to the sounds of flutes and drums.
The lions at the festival require two people to operate them, one person handles the head and front paws, and the other manages the rear paws and tail. The performances are lively, comical, acrobatic, and amazing. At times I was afraid performers would fall off the stage but they all knew exactly what they were doing. A couple of the lions even came out into the seats and wandered around so children could pet them during their performances. My daughter absolutely loved the lions and was constantly giggling and squealing with delight each time they jumped or rolled over.
The Uruma City Shishimai Festival is free to attend and is an annual event that normally takes place the last weekend in October. The arena is open to the elements and appeared to be actual ruins. As for parking we went with friends, but there did appear to be areas to park or you could go with one of the military Tours+ or ITT Tours that provide bus service to the event. If you are looking for a fun evening filled with culture, entertainment, and tasty food then you don’t want to miss the next Shishimai Festival. It will be an experience you will never forget.
Directions: From Kadena gate 1 go north on 58 to 74 turn right onto 74. This will become 85. Take 85 to 329, turn left onto 329. Take 329 to 88, turn right onto 88. Take 88 to 224, turn left onto 224. Take 224 to 8 and turn right onto 8. The Agena park will be on your left.
Coordinates: 26°22’52″N 127°51’2″E