Okunchi Matsuri

Okunchi Matsuri

October 7-9
Regarded as among the most unusual festivals in Japan, the Okunchi Festival in Nagasaki dates back to the 17th century, when many Chinese lived in the city and when both Dutch and Chinese traders regularly anchored their ships there. For many years, the ruling shogun of Japan barred foreigners from other Japanese ports, and the few Dutch and Chinese ships that were allowed to stop in Nagasaki were the country's only point of contact with the non-Japanese world. The Okunchi Festival pays tribute to these traders by presenting both a Dutch dance and a Chinese dragon dance, along with processions, street fairs, and other entertainment.
The Dutch and Chinese dances are performed in an open area at the beginning of the many stairs that go to the Suwa Shrine. Civic authorities and priests view the ceremony from the stairs, while the rest of the audience sits on risers flanking the performance area. Two young women execute the Dutch dance, one of whom wears a false mustache and plays the part of a man. The two dancers bend at the waist, exchange coy smiles, and flirt with each other, to the amusement of the crowd. The Chinese dance features four dragons made out of cloth stretched over flexible frames. Each dragon conceals about a dozen dancers, who help it "dance" with snakelike motions by maneuvering the black rods attached to its body. The dragon dance reenacts the legendary battle between darkness, symbolized by the dragon, and light, symbolized by the sun—a golden globe atop a long pole. Needless to say, the sun always wins.
In addition to the dances, the Okunchi Festival also features the traditional procession of the mikoshi —the ornate palanquin on which the local deity is believed to descend for a ride as it is carried through the streets. The festival ends when the empty mikoshi returns to the shrine after the god has departed.
A similar Okunchi Festival is held at the end of October in Karatsu in Saga Prefecture.
CONTACTS:
Japan National Tourist Organization
1 Rockefeller Pl., Ste. 1250
New York, NY 10020
212-757-5640; fax: 212-307-6754
www.jnto.go.jp
SOURCES:
IllFestJapan-1993, p. 114
JapanFest-1965, pp. 194, 202
YrJapanFest-1974, p. 43