Thursday, August 25, 2011

High Octane Grannies (Photo Essay)

This Wednesday last, we head the opportunity to attend the Unjami Festival in the Shioya district of Ogimi Village on Okinawa’s northwest coast. It’s an unusual annual event that dates back some 400 years to the Ryukyu Kingdom, what Okinawa was once known as.
 (That aint coffee in that cup)
(Click on the photos to enlarge)
The festival is unique in that the ladies of the village don traditional costumes, drink copious amounts of Awamori sake and go down into the waters to cheer on their team of boat racers. Please note that the wearing of traditional garb and the consumption of mass quantities of spirits is not unusual to Okinawan festivals. You might even be forgiven for thinking that it’s compulsory.

For a little background information, Shioya is a community within Ogimi village. It was once its own village and the main part of it hugs the coast and sits at the mouth of a huge shallow back bay. Along the north coast of the bay are two smaller communities and the three compete against each other in this annual event.

The event starts off much earlier in the day with prayers and a procession from the two outer communities to the main one in Shioya. This time Ryukyu Mike and Ryukyu Ryu got there early and I came along as the procession was approaching the second of the two smaller communities. I'll try to have more on the earlier events in another post.
 (Life's a dance so swing out sister!)

Mike has a thing about some of these smaller festivals in Okinawa’s rural northern communities. He’s convinced that at one time, the folks of the villages used to go naked up into the mountains for their morning prayers. Being an older fellow and not shocked by such things, he has hopes of one day being able to capture this with his camera.

I don’t think the government allows such practices any more but, Mike still holds out hope. Anyway, most of the time these prayer rituals are conducted by the elders of the village and the thoughts of capturing a 90 year old lady romping through the jungle naked sort of nauseates me. I think I’ll stick to the more public ceremonies and leave the pubic ceremonies to Mike and his camera.

Once all the prayer vigils are held, the ladies gather at the port and start singing, beating their drums, dancing and drinking. The three groups approach each other and it would appear that they taunt each other and sometimes, in a friendly way assault one another. I did see one lady, decidedly under the influence, approach another and force some sake down her throat. At first the victim appeared to resist but then drank it all down like a professional!
 (Here's Mud in your Eye! or some Awamori Sake anyway)

Once the taunting is done, all three groups head down into the water to cheer on the teams of men in their traditional “Sabani” boats from each respective community. They’ve been sitting patiently at the far end of the bay waiting for the women to get liquored up enough to go down into the water. Once everyone is in position, the races start.
 (There was a gaggle f**k of photographers at the landing so I backed off to get the best view I could. Obviously at least one of the ladies had a little too much high octane prior to entering and went right on her fanny)

We stayed for the first two races but the events of the day were by no means over. I had a “honey-do” list from hell to take care of for the wife and had to get home at a reasonable hour. Ah the joys of married life. Mike and Ryu might have decided to go back for more. You’ll have to check out their blogs to find out for sure.
 (The winning team from the first of two heats we stayed for celebrate a hard earned win. Note that they had at least one guy designated to bail out the boat)

(And a good time was had by all!)

This is my submission for Travel Photo Thursday for August 25th, 2011. Be sure to check out the links (Where the font changes color) provided here for more on this festival and other great places around the globe. Feel free to leave a comment and share with your friends too.


  1. Love those high octane grannies! Great shots of what looks like very fun festival events. Interesting!

  2. Lovely photos, those ladies look lively!