Okinawa was an independent kingdom called the “Ryukyu Kingdom” for about 450 years until 1879. Trade with Japan, China and Southeast Asia flourished during the Kingdom of the Ryukyu, and it is believed that the foundation of culture of Yaeyama, such as the Sanshin and Awamori, flowed in during this time.
There are folk songs sung only with the human voice and no accompaniment, called “koyou”, or old songs, and songs accompanied by the Sanshin or flute, called “fushiuta”.
The Sanshin, which accompanies fushiuta, was brought to Yaeyama by officials of the Ryukyu Kingdom , and many fushiuta songs were created through the spread of the Sanshin. Dances choreographed to koyou and fushiuta songs are mostly dedicated as part of ritual ceremonies, and are often danced during celebrations and as part of large performances.
Traditional houses are roofed with red tiles and surrounded by fukugi trees and low stone walls. A low stone wall is built just inside the gates to the house to block views from the outside and to ward off bad spirits. Shisa, mythical lion-like creatures made of red brick are also placed on the roofs to ward off evil spirits.
Traditional textiles include Basho cloth woven with fiber from itobashou, cotton fabric woven with cotton, linen fabric woven with fiber from ramie. Yaeyama Jofu, traditional to the region, was woven with patterns instructed by the Ryukyu Government during the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and was brought to the government as tax.
Yaeyama Minsa was originally a thin cotton navy belt woven with a pattern meaning “forever and forever” and was given as a a gift from a woman to a lover.
Island vegetables grown in the warm climate of the Yaeyama Islands such as loofah, goya, and papaya. Tropical fruits such as dragon fruit, pineapple, and mango.
Fresh fish from the region such as tuna, and seaweeds such as aosa and mozuku, as well as shell. Branded beef from cows grown in a relaxing environment.
Besides dishes to enjoy these fresh ingredients. The most popular dish, Yaeyama soba, has a broth of bonito and pig bone, fine noodles made with 100% wheat flour, and is topped with pork cooked in soy sauce, kamaboko, or fish cake, and local leek.
The Yaeyama Islands have a distinct language system (dialect) that is different from Okinawa main island and the Miyako Islands, called the Yaeyama dialect. The Yaeyama dialect does not refer to just one dialect. Instead, each island, and even each village within the region, may have its own dialect. The number of people who can speak in dialect has become few, and there is now an effort to pass this on to future generations through study sessions, etc.
There are many festivals in the region, including rituals in faith or indigenous Gods, ceremonies relating to rice cultivation and those to worship ancestors. Almost all of these ceremonies are scheduled according to the lunar calendar.
Offerings are made at the graves of each family on a day dedicated to worshiping ancestors. On the day of ceremonial dedication on 16th January, we will provide ancestors and liquor at the grave of each house.
March 3rd. Women step into the ocean for purification on the day of the lowest tide.A woman enters the sea mainly at the day when the tide is the most drought and cleanses herself.
Traditional fishing boat race
Haarii festival held on May 4th. A fishermen’s festival praying for safety at sea and abundant catch at sea.
A festival held in June of the lunar calendar, after harvesting the first rice of the year to thank the Gods for the harvest and pray for a fruitful season for the coming year.
A festival in memory of the spirits of the ancestors held from three days from July 13th. There are regions in Yaeyama where Angama, or ancestral spirits, make an appearance.For the 3 days from July 13th to 15th, the old Bon Festival which will supply the ancestral spirit. In Yaeyama there are areas where ancestor spirit called Angama appears.
A festival summing up the rituals that have taken place. A ‘parade’ led by the Miruku God is followed by prayers and performances in thanks to the Gods. The festival is held annually and every twelve years depending on the region.It is a festival of meaning that put together the ritual that went so far. There is a prayer offering gratitude to God and votive entertainment after the queue with the milk god leading the harvest headed. There are areas that are held every year by the village and once every 12 years.
A ceremony held in September or October as a divisional savings for one year. “Section” corresponds to the beginning of the year (New Year).
A festival held in September or October praying that rice seedlings will grow well.