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Okinawa Lion Dance Festival a roaring good time

A shishi pounces around the stage during a performance Sunday night at the Lion Dance Festival in Uruma.

MEGAN MCCLOSKEY / S&S

By CHIYOMI SUMIDA AND MEGAN MCCLOSKEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 3, 2006

URUMA, Okinawa — Getting playfully “bitten” by a shishi during a traditional lion dance performance is considered extremely good luck.

Midori Uehara has been going to the annual all-island Lion Dance Festival in Uruma for 21 years hoping each year it would be her turn.

Sunday she finally got her wish.

“I’m so happy,” Uehara gushed.

At the festival Sunday, six community groups performed the dance, which has been around for hundreds of years in Japan and is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity to the community.

It takes two people to play the comical lion, which pounces around the stage and teases the audience. The person playing the head of the lion is the leader of the performance.

Tsuyoshi Oshiro and Kiyoshi Kawabata performed on behalf of Uema in Naha.

Oshiro began the dance as the front part of the lion, but mid-performance switched parts with Kawabata.

“It was real quick, wasn’t it?” Kawabata proudly asked after their dance, which drew continuous laughter and cheers from the crowd. “By changing the role in the middle of the dance the atmosphere of the shishi changes, which attracts the audience more.”

The historic dance has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.

“We perform the dance with pride because by performing the shishi dance we are receiving and then handing down the tradition of our community,” Oshiro said.

Rie Fujita, who was in the crowd and is originally from Fukuoka, Japan, saw the Okinawan version of the lion dance for the first time Sunday. She said it is “so different from the ones in the mainland.”

Each lion dance follows a similar pattern, but individual communities have their own unique versions.

“The shishi dance of Kin is known for its slow and dignifying movements,” said Ryoji Miyazato, 37, who used to perform the dance until six years ago and now teaches the skills to others.


A shishi, or lion, gets ready to “bite” during a performance Sunday night at the Lion Dance Festival in Uruma. Getting a playful bite from a shishi is considered good luck and is coveted by audience members.
MEGAN MCCLOSKEY / S&S

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