Dec 2nd
Mar 26th

Ryukyu Lantern Festival

A kaleidoscopic celebration of everything Okinawa

Venue: Murasaki Mura Ryukyu Kingdom Theme Park When: Dec 2nd - Mar 26th 2023
While this event is confirmed, coronavirus measures may result in sudden cancellation, postponement or changes to the event format (eg online only). While we do our best to keep our listings updated, please check the official event website for the latest info.

The name of the Ryukyus evoke a time past, to the 14th century when this archipelago had its golden age of trade and cultural exchange. So much so that in 1393 the Chinese Emperor Hongwu sent a delegation of thirty six artisan families from Fuzhou to Kume Village, Naha, and in the process creating one of the world's oldest Chinatowns.

In those days, it was the movement of the moon that marked the times for planting and fishing. The new moon on New Year’s Day was a time of darkness, when it was hidden on the other side of the sun in the middle of winter. Fifteen days later, it would come out in its full glory, a time to celebrate the coming of light, with lanterns and festivities. Maybe this was why folklore didn’t allow Chinese women to be out at night, except on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, creating a Valentine’s Day atmosphere. The lantern festival is a time of partying and thanksgiving, one that continues here in this village that would not look out of place in 1393.

In many ways the Ryukyu kingdom looked to these Fuzhou families for wisdom and knowledge, so much so that when the walls of Chinatown were dismantled, both politically and physically during the Meiji restoration, it was hard to tell Chinatown ended and Okinawan culture began, with exception of the Shiseibyo Confucian Temple nearby. This eclectic mix of Ryukyu, Chinese and Japanese influences was mesmerising for artists and adventurers alike, with Hokusai painting a series called the Eight Views of Ryukyu, of which you can view the Evening Glow at Jungai at the British Museum.

These days, you need not go far to come under the sway of these founding fathers from Fuzhou. An example of this is the Ryukyu lantern festival in Murasaki Mura. The Chinese practice of writing poems and riddles is manifested in the public declarations of love and wisdom in the many lanterns that line the cobble stoned lanes here.

Scratch the façade of lanterns depicting the old Ryukyu kings living under the patronage of the Ming Dynasty though, and you will find the heart of a people who are also filled with pride for everything that this island has provided for them. Whether they were born here or have adopted it as their own, the people here hold this place deep in their affection.

Modern and more home grown Japanese influences also take their place here, from the projection lighting displays to the sizzle of juicy charcoal grilled chicken skewers that would not look out of place in a Tokyo street festival. Add to that a line up of entertainment featuring Box Theater Hanehituji, Poemarama Ori Tahiti, the bewitching sway of the Hula studio and the pulsating beats of the Eisa drum and now you are ready to celebrate.

Okinawa shows us the way forward, with its gentle and accepting people showing us how to live in peace with its neighbours, even if the neighbours themselves are at war with each other. This little group of islands is showing its giant neighbours a better way to live, and that is something worth celebrating.

Getting there

Interestingly, Murasaki Mura conjures the original village of Kumemura of 1393 more closely the modern day Kume in Naha downtown. It is 28 km between these two points, with national route 58 taking you there by car in 50 minutes.

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Sherilyn Siy a year ago
One of the reasons I feel especially drawn to Okinawa is because of the Chinese connection. Okinawa's Chinese heritage speaks to something deep within me. Love this!
Kim 2 years ago
Encouraging to see this is still going ahead, it looks beautiful!
Kim 2 years ago
Checked out the website - it really does look great! :)
Lynda Hogan 2 years ago
It looks so beautiful and I love the background story.
Lynda Hogan 2 years ago
Absolutely. I was listening to a radio show about the use of "light" and its symbolism in Christmas and New Year celebrations around the world even before Covid-19. But how this year in particular people are really embracing that message of light / hope. Thankfully here in Japan we have plenty of chances to embrace it :-)
Sherilyn Siy 2 years ago
Intriguing to learn about the connections between Okinawa and Fuzhou.
Bonson Lam Author 2 years ago
While there are some Chinese elements in Naha, but tracing it back to Fuzhou takes some research. Lovers of food can find tell tale signs in the use of pork in the local cuisine. The Fuzhounese would use lard in the making of pastries, giving it extra flavour and aroma, especially the savoury and sweet pork pies. It is a bit like the French with their use of butter in croissants, without it, it just won't taste the same.
Yui Yamaguchi 4 years ago
Lighting at twilight time is also beautiful. Okinawa culture is definitely unique!
Bonson Lam Author 2 years ago
Yes, for sure! Lanterns have so many meanings. From honouring the past, to creating a magical atmosphere, it makes Okinawa special.

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