Okinawa Tourism Information:Wanttofeelcleansed?IwouldrecommendyouahonenfestivalinHigawaCommunity,YonaguniIsland.

Want to feel cleansed? I would recommend you a honen festival in Higawa Community, Yonaguni Island.

post : 2015.09.07 21:00

From summer to fall, festival held everywhere in Japan are literally seasonal tradition.   With your six senses, you can feel the touch of the earth, the warmth of people, the way of living, and the breathing of nature from the festivals, which is a great opportunity for you to know “living culture.”

Okinawa is a part of Japan, but festivals in Okinawa are not like those in Japan.  Okinawa has their original colors and heat in their festivals.  Even in Okinawa, festivals greatly differ between mainland Okinawa and Yaeyama Islands.  In Yaeyama Islands, the taste of the festivals between Ishigaki Island and Yonaguni Island shows the difference which even the untrained eye can see.  Those are regional characteristics, and traveling around Okinawa might be a great opportunity to experience the regional characteristics which we are usually not aware of. 

For example, in Yonaguni Island, the westernmost island of Japan, a “honensai (rich harvest)” festival with full of feeling of hand-making is held on the day of hinoeuma (Fire Horse) in or after June of lunar calendar every year.  This was my first visit to Higawa Community, which became suddenly famous since a popular TV drama “Dr. Kotoh Clinic” was shot here. 

A nonfictional writer, Kotaro Sawaki, whom every backpacker might know, wrote about Higawa in his book titled “Unseen Republic,” so even those who hardly watch TV might know the community.  In a small community with only 30 households, which sometimes attracts people’s attention, you can enjoy a heartwarming festival that cannot be seen in any other places.  

Hounensai in Yonaguni Island is often held right after the harvest of the first crop, so the Hounensai festival is an important ritual to appreciate the first harvest and to pray to the god for huge harvest ahead.  In this small island where you can hardly find a “river,” the festival is said to be a compelling chance for the locals to pray from the bottom of the heart, “May we be blessed with enough rain during the summer!”

As depopulation becomes a serious issue in recent years, the festival venue is also a place for prayers of “May the community be blessed with many babies!”  Actually many of the people I greeted with during the festival sincerely wished the prosperity of descendants in Higawa Community.

The venue of the Hounensai was a lush green sacred place called “utaki” which is located a little away from the center of the community.   For the festival day, everybody in the community cut grasses, swept and cleaned beautifully, put up the tent, and spread the blue sheet to create a comfortable venue. 

When the festival is over, and they clear away, the original quiet space will come back as if nothing happened here.   “Try to make the environmental impact of our activities as small as possible not to disturb nature, living things, and the god.”  Such a humility really shows a characteristic of Okinawan people. 

It looked like that they were starting the festival.  By the side of the stage, men clad in “dhutathi (checkered, traditional kimono of Yonaguni)” appeared.  Soon, the solemn melody of “nnun (drum),” “kanin (gong),””fii (flute)” stared filling the venue with a sacred atmosphere.  The exotic melody, which is really different from traditional Okinawan music that I have ever heard of, was turned into comfortable vibration to the atmosphere around the venue.

After the speeches by central figures of the community, women appeared on the stage to start a slow tempo dance.  The dance is called “mithi (sacred sake offered to the god),” which is danced at the beginning of the celebration.  The three women holding mithi, cups, and offerings with their both hands danced swaying slowly to the music, which looked as if servants of the god had come from Nirai Kanai, swaying in the waves.  Three men approached to the stage as if they had been invited.  When they received mithi, etc. from the servants, they lifted with both hands to the left and to the right while swaying their bodies slowly.  It looked as if they had been sending off the god.

“Rain of love, please fall gently.  May the coming year be mirukuyu (the year of paradise)!  Thanks to the chief of Yonaguni and the father of the nation, our wish came true.  We cannot describe by words how joyful we are today.  If I were a pigeon or a hawk, I would fly higher in the air.”  The song “mithi” was dedicated by singing along to the dance.  They sang admirably to showcase what the Hounensai was originally meant to be.

After finishing communication with the god successfully, the time to entertain human, that is us, started.  Bo Odori (stick dance) performed by men is the main event of the Hounensai.  The number of performance of Bo Odori is more than that of the other kinds of performance.  “Thinpai” using naginata (long-handled sword), “Upichi Stick,” in which performers jump around the stage, etc….  The venue was wrapped in cheers and admiring sigh by a series of thrilling stage performances.   Despite the small village, they showed performances that have been continuously passed down over generations, which must have made their ancestors in “guso (the other world)” impressed and happy.   

Main players of the festival was not only grownup men.  Children also tried to perform as hard as they could while being bashful.  Women performed a simple yet lithe and brilliant dance.  Numerous variations of performances never allowed us to catch our breath. 

Time went by so quickly, and they had to close the stage.  They changed the venue to an open space to welcome the finale with a dance called “dhunta,” which is unique to Yonaguni Island.   To the tune of the drums and song, men and women of all ages danced in a circle, joining hands.  After men flied hatagashira* high in the air satisfyingly, they returned to the public hall.  Their back looked so brave and reliable.  And the local people saw them off with gentle, warm eyes. 

*hatagashirathe: a tall bamboo pole with a big ornament on top of a flag


Prior to the Hounensai, a representative of the community offers a prayer for rain.  They say that when their wish was successfully delivered to the heaven, rain of blessings falls during the ritual of the Hounensai.  In the Hounensai this year, shortly after the “mithi,” it started raining cats and dogs.  I believe that their wish was well received, and “yugafuame (rain for huge harvest)” moistened the earth.     

Honensai (Rich Harvest Festival) of Higawa Community, Yonaguni Island

Event Date: The day of Hinoeuma (Fire Horse) in or after June of the lunar calendar
Inquiries: Yonaguni Town Office 
TEL: 0980-87-2241

Okinawa CLIP Photo Writer  Nobuya Fukuda