Updated: Feb 4
Happy Lunar New Year!
How do you celebrate the new year in your culture? While Western countries spend only a couple of days, many Asian cultures throw a huge celebration and ceremonies to welcome the brand new year.
For Japanese people, the new year is one of the most important event where families gather, cook special foods, and wish a blessing for health, prosperity and safety.
In Okinawa, people celebrate both the solar new year and the Lunar new year.
Kajadihuu Bushi - A Song of Celebration
Kajadihuu Bushi is the most popular traditional Ryukyuan song, or Koten, to welcome the new year. The song is meant to be played at any kinds of celebrations, and every Okinawan would agree that it is the one of most famous Koten songs. Ryukyu Koten Ongaku (Ryukyu Traditional Music) is the genre practiced by noble men and royals during the monarchy (read brief history of Okinawan music here).
There are a few interesting stories related to Kajadihuu. In the middle of the 16th century, Sho Sei, the fourth king died. Although the king's will appointed Sho Gen, the fifth son as the successor, the king's men wanted Sho Kan, the king's brother instead because Sho Gen could not speak. However, Ufu-aragusuku Ueekata insisted that they must follow the king's will. Ufu-aragusuku said to Sho Gen, "Please speak something, I must kill myself to show my apologies to the King otherwise." The moment he pulled out a sword to tear his belly, Sho Gen spoke, "Hold on, Ufu-aragusuku." Ufu-aragusuku jumped for excitement and produced Kajadihuu Bushi on the spot. Another story tells that Kajadihuu is derived from Kanjaadii (the smelter). Ukuma Kanjaa (Ukuma the Smelter) was a beloved man in his community and promoted during the King Sho En era. Some says Kajadihuu is a song to praise Ukuma's hard work.
Now, let's take a look at the lyrics.
Kiyu nu hukurasha ya nau ni jana tatiru
Tsibudi uru hana nu tsiyu chata gutu
This ryuka, Okinawan poem, can be translated as
"What a glorious day is today, how I must express. It is as if a flower bud meets a dew"
Okinawan people love the expression, and you probably see why this song has been performed to celebrate. For the new year, another poem below that describes new year rituals is often exchanged to the first one. This new year version is sung in the video above.
Aratama nu tushi ni taN tu kubu kajati kukurukara shigata wakakunayusa
"New year comes, charcoal and seaweed is decorated, my heart and body are rejuvenated"
For more information about the ryuka, check out this article.
How do Okinawan people celebrate the Lunar new year?
Every Okinawan household usually has a Hi nu Kan (The Fire God) alter and a Butsudan (Buddhist alter), both are the core of spiritual faith in the family. During the new year, people pay respects by worshipping at both of the alters with offerings that are suitable to each of them. The Hi nu Kan is the protector of a household situated at the kitchen. Sake, salt, raw rice, Aka Ubuku (cooked red rice), holy leaves (Buddhist pine or Croton) are offered to the Hi nu Kan. At the Butsudan where memorial tablets Ihai are placed, Akakabii & kelp-wrapped charcoal are decorated to wish a graceful year. Akakabii is a decoration of three coloured papers, red, yellow and white, and each colour is meant to bring health, wealth and good luck.
Okinawan people eat traditional, special foods such as pork soup(with or without noodles), stirred seaweed/kelp, and fried sweet potatoes.
There are some regional differences. In Itoman-shi, where is located the south of Naha and famous for a fishing community, fishermen raise Tairyo-bata (fishermen's flags), wishing safety and a prosperous year. In the Miyakojima region, people celebrate the new year twice - one for the living, one for the dead/ancestors. On the second new year Jurukunitsu (The 16th Day, on January 16th in Luna calendar), families gather at graveyards and enjoy special foods and drinks with their ancestors.
Okinawan people believe that the new year is an opportunity for rejuvenation. You are not getting older but younger as years pass. That may explain why Okinawans live long.
May the new year bless you with health, wealth, and happiness!
Thank you so much for reading! I'd happy to hear any feedback you might have. Please leave a comment or use the contact form on the website.
Special thanks to Mr Taroo for his Okinawan literature research.
Uta Shanshin no Sekai (the World of Sanshin Songs) by Katsuren, Shigeo. 1999.