08 Aug 2019 in Discover Japan
Experience a week of Okinawan celebrations with the locals.
Situated around 1,200 miles south-west of Tokyo in Okinawa Prefecture, the tiny sub-tropical island of Taketomi has its own unique culture. Every year, it celebrates these time-honored traditions in some 30 different festivals. By far the most important – and most spectacular – of these is the Tanadui festival, held every autumn to pray for a plentiful harvest.
The festival comprises 10 days of prayers, theatre, dance and music, culminating in 2 days when over 80 lively performances are enacted by exuberant, colourfully-clothed locals.
As part of its mission to celebrate the island culture, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island is inviting guests to experience the festival from the inside. Stay at this luxury resort and you’ll be able to participate in a ceremony alongside the islanders, get insights from local guides, and enjoy the culinary treats of one of Okinawa’s most original festivals.
Tanadui is held every year in the ninth month of the lunar calendar (14-23 October in 2019). The festival dates back some 600 years and is designated as one of Japan’s Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties. For such a tiny island (Taketomi measures just 1 mile wide and 3 miles long), it’s a major celebration.
When HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island was established in 2012, its founding principle was to coexist with the island – and the Tanadui festival is an important part of that. The resort is made up of private villas, built in the island’s signature style of wood and red roof tiles, with white sand streets and stacked coral walls perfectly mirroring the style of Taketomi’s three small villages.
Islanders regularly come to the HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island to demonstrate their culture, arts and cuisine. And, at the entrance to the resort lies a vegetable garden that plays a key role in the Tanadui festival.
Sowing the seeds
While agriculture was once a major part of life on Taketomi island, most locals now make their living by other means, including tourism. In order to preserve the island’s farming traditions, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island has worked with the older generation to maintain age-old techniques and keep flagship produce growing on the island. Head to the resort’s garden and, alongside rows of Taketomi potato, you’ll find an area reserved for foxtail millet – a key ingredient of the Tanadui festival.
Millet seeds are sown as part of Tanadui and islanders perform a special dance to win favour with the Gods for a successful crop. Foxtail millet is also a key ingredient in much of the festival’s food – but, for many years, it had to be imported specially for Tanadui. That all changed last year, when the first crop from the resort’s garden was used as an offering for the Gods.
This year, the gardens will again be the site of the ceremonial sowing of millet seeds on the fifth day of the festival, following by Shinto chanting. Guests are welcome to come and see the event for themselves.
In addition, HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island will be serving a special festival breakfast (1-23 October) featuring dishes such as gokokumai, a mix of rice and foxtail millet, and andansu, made with millet and miso.
In the afternoons, you’ll be able to sample a traditional festival snack called Iiyachi, a sweet rice cake of millet and red beans. And early evening, you can treat yourself to 3 types of pindako, a Tanadui garlic-and-octopus dish made using recipes from 3 different islanders.
Sing, dance, chant
The festival’s eighth and ninth days (21-22 October) are the liveliest, with some 80 performances staged in honor of the deities. And, thanks to special tours organized by HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island, you’ll be able to experience them to the full.
On the eve of the eighth day, the locals perform a ceremony known a Yukui, visiting houses in the village while chanting a prayer. Homeowners offer the visitors pindako, along with salt and awamori (Okinawan sake). By signing up with HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island, you can take part in the ceremony, training with staff to practice the chants beforehand: an immersive experience you’ll remember for a long time to come!
During the climactic two days of performance, you can opt for a guided visit of the festival with a local expert. From the side lines, you’ll hear about the different costumes, music, dances and kyogen (comic theatre sketches) that make Tanadui such an exuberant and memorable moment in the islanders’ year.