Hidden Harvest Moon: Rain & the Shurijo Castle Autumn Celebration


Manga Moon

Manga Moon

“But even when the moon looks like it’s waning…it’s actually never changing shape. Don’t ever forget that.” ~Ai Yazawa, Japanese manga author

“I would believe only in a God that knows how to Dance.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Far Eastern Spectators

Far Eastern Spectators

Held annually on or about August 15 of the lunar calendar under the Harvest Moon (roughly coinciding with the fall equinox), the Mid-Autumn Celebration reproduces the Mid-Autumn Banquet Celebration, one of seven Sappou Shichien Celebrations once held during the historical Ryukyu Kingdom era which served to entertain and celebrate Sappoushi envoys from China.

More Modern Envoys...of a sort.

More Modern Envoys…of a sort.

Jody and I decided to attend this year’s festivities.  Up to this point, we have been rather overwhelmed with moving and settling on the island, trying to get by with what little we have (still no household goods!!), and with Jody trying to acclimate to her job at the Navy hospital.  However, we had been watching the moon’s slow and steady progression each night towards full glory, and concluded that the spectacle of the historical Shuri Castle, dressed and immersed in traditional Okinawan pageantry, under the harvest full moon during our 2nd wedding anniversary weekend was something we probably shouldn’t miss.  We were even surprised to find out that the admission was free, even though the event takes place in the castle’s central Una forecourt, normally requiring payment to enter.

Far Eastern Myth:  Rabbit in the Moon making Rice Cakes

Far Eastern Myth: Rabbit in the Moon making Rice Cakes

Ukanshin odori (“classic dances”) and Kumi Odori (組踊, Okinawan: Kumi wudui, “ensemble dance”) are performed under the harvest moon, and are a form of narrative traditional Ryukyuan dance.  Originating in the Okinawan capital of Shuri in 1719, the dances are founded on amusement and diversion for Chinese diplomats and envoys that traveled frequently between China and Okinawa at the time.  Tamagusuku Chokun, a Ryūkyū courtier (1684–1734), is credited with the establishment of kumi odori as a frequently presented court demonstration.  An amalgamation of several different types of East Asian dance, the kumi odori has continued to hold important cultural significant in Okinawan society, and remains today a prime example of native art sustained by and through the people of Okinawa.

Jody at the Shuremon Gate

Jody at the Shuremon Gate

Costumes & Pageantry

Costumes & Pageantry

The weekend festivities promised to bring the historical Ryukyu court to life.  Four show sets were programmed to take place Saturday evening between 6:30 and 9:00, each lasting about 45 minutes.  We arrived in plenty of time, and since this was Jody’s first visit to Shuri, we took our time wandering through and up the meandering path to the castle, passing through various ornamented gates and past massive coral blocked walls.  Unfortunately for us, the weather was not cooperating; rain was in the forecast, and overcast conditions prevailed.  The luminous moon was nowhere in sight, especially when our travel-sized umbrellas had to be deployed.

Castle Gate

Castle Gate

The Kingdom of the Ryukyus reigned over Japan’s southwestern islands for approximately 450 years from 1429 to 1879, although political collusion in these islands began to appear earlier in the 12th century, a period corresponding to Japan’s Kamakura era.  Through repeated fighting and reconciliation, local warlords known as aji were gradually reduced in number as power was consolidated by a few.  Finally in 1429, Sho Hashi defeated the major ajis to establish a unified nation, marking the birth of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus and the Sho Dynasty.

A Chinese Shishi Lion

A Chinese Shishi Lion

In the following years, the Ryukyus gradually evolved.  Through robust trade and growing diplomatic ties with China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia, the Ryukyus developed as an ocean-faring nation, with Shurijo Castle as its political, economic and cultural center.

Far Eastern Décor

Far Eastern Décor

During this festival, when twilight has passed, the visual effects of Shurijo Castle Park are spectacular, with visitors able to appreciate the grandeur of the illuminated Seiden State Hall from the adjacent festival location in the hall’s Una Forecourt.  The view from the Western Observatory provides a spectacular and breathtaking evening view of Naha City’s lights from far in the south up the coast to even Cape Zanpa, who’s lighthouse beacon was clearly visible.

View of Naha from Shurijo's Viewpoint

View of Naha from Shurijo’s Viewpoint

Okinawa Aug 2013, Shuri Castle, our view of the stage, mid-Autumn FestivalAs we formally entered the Castle’s inner grounds, we noticed three lines of people just outside the forecourt, one for each of the gated entrances found there.  Noticing that the lines to the right (far side) were shorter, I elected the middle line, not really knowing what to expect.  For those planning to go, get there early and get into the line to the far left; this line provides easiest access to seating on the left side of the stage, where the dancers and musical performers can best be viewed.  The musicians are seated on the right of the stage (as viewed from the audience), facing left, which can obscure the theatrics for some of those seated on the right.

Our View from Stage Left

Our View from Stage Left

Costumed Guard

Costumed Guard

In 1469, some 40 years after the Sho Dynasty assumed power, a coup occurred, resulting in the 2nd Sho Dynasty.  In 1609, the Satsuma Clan of Japan invaded the Ryukyus with a force of 3,000 men and seized Shurijo Castle.  For the following 270 years, the Kingdom of the Ryukyus maintained a nominally tributary relationship with China, historically their main ally and trading partner, while in reality it was controlled by Japan via the Tokugawa Shogunate.  Finally, in 1879, the return to Japanese imperial rule with the Meiji Restoration resulted in the dispatch of troops to oust the Ryukyu King from Shurijo Castle and place Okinawa formally under the Japanese Emperor, officially establishing Okinawa Prefecture and ending forever the Kingdom of the Ryukyus.

Okinawa Aug 2013, Shuri Castle, male performer of the Kajadihu dance, mid-Autumn Festival

Okinawa Aug 2013, Shuri Castle, the beautiful pair from the Shundo dance, mid-Autumn FestivalJody and I were able to attend the first three portions of the program, and unfortunately missed the most impressive dances that occurred later in the evening.  Not wanting to drive (and most likely get lost), pay the tolls (about $6 each way), and mess with parking downtown (quite expensive at the castle), we elected to take a military tour.  And although the provided bus was very nice and the driver excellent, the cost was probably higher than providing our own transportation, and oddly enough, the time of the tour did not coincide with the timing of the programmed events…thanks to the 10pm curfew imposed by the military on its junior personnel.  That combined with rain delays that caused the celebration to being twenty minutes late, resulted in our rather early departure.

Traditional Okinawan Music

Traditional Okinawan Music

Castle Grandeur

Castle Grandeur

Not really knowing what to expect, but having seen other forms of traditional Asian and Asian Pacific Islander dance across the Pacific Rim and within Asia proper, I was somewhat surprised at these particular performances.  The level of pageantry was not as I would have expected or desired (stage decoration, better sound, larger ensembles, period costumed staff), and the dances, while fascinating to watch and experience first-hand in such a powerful and historical location, are almost devoid of emotion and energy…at least by western standards.  Luckily, we had a guide, provided free at the venue, which helped explain what we were seeing and hearing.

Kajadihu Traditional Opening

Kajadihu Traditional Opening

First was Kajadihu, an “auspicious dance customarily performed as the first in programs presented on festive occasions.”  It is said to be the most preferred and popular of all the classical Ryukyuan dances.  It seems to portray a very old Okinawan couple, who moved very slowly, methodically, and nearly in unison, each with a decorated Japanese fan as a hand prop.

Amaka Dance

Amaka Dance

Another dance performed was Amaka, a dance presented along with a song about a married couple vowing their eternal love, although oddly enough, the dance calls for only a solo woman to perform.  This is a type of teodori, a dance emphasizing hand movements without props.  In this song and dance, the loving couple is compared to Mandarin ducks, regarded as a symbol of conjugal affection and fidelity, playing together on a river called Amakawa.

Okinawa Sep 2013, Shuri Castle, performers from the Kajadihu open, mid-autumn festival

Shundo's "Ugly" Pairing

Shundo’s “Ugly” Pairing

Our favorite performance piece of the evening by far was Shundo, which involves two pairs of women artists, a beautiful pairing alongside an “ugly” one!  This is considered a “pair dance” and is the only piece in the Ryukyu classical dances that use masks – to make the ugly pair appear “ugly” – as props.  Although expressed in a humorous way, the melancholy and clunkiness of the ill-favored women runs throughout the work, contrasting with the gracefulness of the admired beauties.

Shundo's More Appealing Pair

Shundo’s More Appealing Pair

Next year we will be much better prepared, logistically and with our own expectations.  And we will hope for clear skies and a bright moon, whose beaming light would clearly make this a more spectacular evening for all to harvest.

Staged Performances

Staged Performances

p07_photo01Left:  Enormous moon sets the scene for “Jade Rabbit—Sun Wukong” from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. The giant disk, which became an expressive device in much Japanese painting, is a prominent element here. This image is from the allegorical Chinese novel, Journey to the West (Xi You Ji), in which the immortal monkey, Sun Wukong, transforms into a rabbit to fulfill his quest; the monkey taunts the rabbit in the moon.

Shūbun no Hi (秋分の日): Happy Anniversary to my One Wild and Crazy Wife!!


My One Wild and Crazily Beautiful Wife!!

My One Wild and Crazily Beautiful Wife!!

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Love is the only gold.” ~Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Ride of Our Lives

The Ride of Our Lives

Japanese Marriage Dolls; Almost Caucasian

Japanese Marriage Dolls; Almost Caucasian

An anniversary is a time to celebrate the joys of today, the memories of yesterday, and the hopes of tomorrow.  Today is my and Jody’s 2nd Wedding Anniversary.  Yes, we are newlyweds (pretty much), but neither of us are new to marriage…which makes this, our 2nd chance together, more pleasurable to appreciate, and must sweeter to relish.

And although Jody has “Command Orientation” today at work, and we still lack most of our personal belongings, AND our celebratory cat decided to wake us up last night – early at 0430 and often afterwards – in order to voice her happiness in our union (but more likely in the prospects of an early breakfast), the Japanese have actually marked our day as a National Holiday.  And for many of the same reasons.  It’s really an over-the-top gesture for our host country to acknowledge “our day”!

They Probably Have the Day Off...for a Mental Counseling Appointment

They Probably Have the Day Off…for a Mental Counseling Appointment

“Autumnal Equinox Day” (秋分の日 Shūbun no Hi) is a public holiday in Japan that usually occurs on September 22 or 23, the date of the fall equinox in Japan Standard Time.  Autumnal Equinox Day became a public holiday on 1948; previously, it was the date of Shūki kōreisai ( 秋季皇霊祭), a religious event relating to Shintoism.  Kōreisai were days of worship in Japan that began in 1878 (Meiji 11) to pay respects to the past emperors and imperial family members.  After the 1948 passing of the Act on National Holidays, these days were marked in a non-religious manner as the national holidays of Vernal Equinox Day and Autumnal Equinox Day.  During these events, one prayed for good harvest in the spring and expressed thanks for the harvest in autumn.  The equinoxes were also the days of ancestor veneration in China.  Like most other holidays, this holiday was repackaged as a secular holiday for the sake of separation of religion and state in Japan’s postwar constitution.

Jody at the Shureimon Gate, Shuri Castle

Jody at the Shureimon Gate, Shuri Castle

Shuri Castle, our Anniversary Venue

Shuri Castle, our Anniversary Venue

In conjunction with this holiday, on Okinawa there is a Mid-Autumnal Festival held at the historical seat of royalty and government of the Ryukyus, Shirijo Castle.  We attended, honoring our anniversary is this traditional and long-standing Okinawa way, complete with traditional dancing, music, singing, and some level of pageantry.

Anniversary Pageantry, Just for Us!!

Anniversary Pageantry, Just for Us!!

Rich-King Wedding 2011, Route Love signageJody and I selected this rather sacred day of the calendar for our union due to its inherent importance and long history and tradition, like that described above.  The concept of “equal parts,” day and night, as well as the cross-cultural importance and timelessness of marking this particular day resonated with us both and reflects how we view our respective rules in this, our greatest adventure.  And in these ways, I can, during each autumnal equinox, express my thanks for the harvest we’ve nurtured and cultivated together through each spring, recognizing that the majestic circle of life revolves around Love, through equal parts, day and night, love and devotion, husband and wife, respect and honesty, but most simply, man and woman but hand in hand.

Dapper Couple

Dapper Couple

My Toast to Jody on our Wedding Day, September 23, 2011, as true today as it was back then:

“Family, coworkers (mostly ex-coworkers I guess), skydivers, bikers, friends, friends of friends, and additions of my newest family members, I energetically welcome you tonight, and humbly thank you for taking your time to celebrate with me and Jody.”

6317316640_3be5d90de1_b“A favorite quote of me, and if you look around, you can see that I really like quotes, is, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Isn’t that the question for all of us?  Isn’t that central to what our respective journeys are all about?  ‘Your one wild and precious life.’  Thank about that for a moment.”

“To those of you that really know me, this day – marriage – was NOT supposed to happen.  I was rather vehement about that for a long time.  Dan – is that not true??  Kamyar, what was my one repetitive piece of advice to you for YEARS?? [his answer:  ‘don’t get married!’]  I believed that marriage just wasn’t in the cards that god dealt, and actually, I still believe that to be true.

Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars

“Instead, god decided to write my way in the stars.  As the poem ‘Desiderata’ says so simply, ‘…the universe unfolds pretty much how it should.’  It is up to us to look, find, see, and interrupt the lettering.”

6317359844_5e6e502686_b“Jody and I found our ways to each other, through quite different mechanisms.  If you ask me how we met, I’ll probably tell each of you a different story – it’s a tradition of ours based on what a very good friend of mine is famous for saying:  ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story!’  She will tell you, I think, that she was wandering, not aimlessly, but still directionally challenged.  But I will tell you this:  it was I who was lost.  And Jody, my Desideratum, my desired thing, my compass, my north star – it was Jody who enlightened me to the way.  Jody has been the one, the only one that has taught me to navigate through my one wild and precious life with renewed purpose and complete meaning.  Know this:  the rules of navigation never navigated a ship….”

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“We are all children of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;

and have a right to be standing here, in absolute love.

And whether or not it is clear to those here today,

no doubt for us, Jody, the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Toasts and Toasted

Toasts and Toasted

“As you, our family and friends, and this great expense of nature serves as my witness,

I promise to go placidly with you through the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there is in our silence.”

She Can Leave Her Hat On

She Can Leave Her Hat On

“As far as possible and without surrender, I will strive to be on good terms with you,

who with I shall be wholesome, disciplined, and gentle.

I will speak my truth quietly and clearly;

and likewise will forever listen to the whisperings of your soul.”

Direction

Direction

“I will enjoy your achievements as well as your plans,

and refuse to be blinded to virtue

as our lives will be one of striving for high ideals

and full of our own personal heroism.”

Rich-King Wedding 2011, happy couple close embrace

“I pledge to always be myself,

And especially never feign affection.

Neither shall I be cynical about our love;

for in the face of all barrenness and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass.”

Rich-King Wedding 2011, fall equinox wedding invitation

“I will take kindly the counsel of our years together,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

I resolve to nurture your strength of spirit

to help shield you from sudden misfortune.

No longer distress yourself with dark imaginings;

Our fears born of fatigue and loneliness are no longer.”

Rich-King Wedding 2011, the bride waits

“I am at peace with God and this union,

as you have shown me peace in my soul ,

in the midst of the cluttered confusion of life.”

Rich-King Wedding 2011, Bride & Groom happy self-portrait

“In the face of the sham, drudgery, and broken dreams of the past,

You have made the world – my world – a beautiful place.

Be we cheerful this day as we always strive to be happy.

I love you Jody, my Desideratum, my desired thing

Wife from this day forward.”

Rich-King Wedding 2011, a classic car wave goodbye from the departing couple

“Tonight, the fall equinox, where like there are equal parts day and night, there are also equal parts love and support.  Thank you, each and every one, for supporting us, for your friendship, and for your Love.  It means the world to us both to have you all here tonight.  So, please raise your glass and toast with me to friendship that lasts; to family and the ties that bind, and to Jody King, my one wild and precious Wife!  Cheers!!”

Okinawa Aug 2013, A-Okay sunset at Sunabe Seawall