Newly-Born Sun Watching - Nakagusuku Castle
I am just in love with the name of this ancient Okinawan ceremony, held yearly at Nakagusuku, castle ruins. This World Heritage Site dates from the early 1300s. No one is exactly sure of the origin of this particular ceremony, but the tradition is that the villages gather every year around the winter solstice at Nakagusuku (on the middle of the island) to witness the birth of the new sun.
This castle is smack between the villages of Kitanagusuku and Nakagusuku, and sits high up on a ridge of mountains overlooking the East China Sea. This easterly view lends it to prime sunrise viewing.
So in the hush of predawn, about 6a.m. December 22, 2018, I drove the 30 minutes out to Nakagusuku. I had to join the line up of cars entering the parking lot - it seems very popular with the locals but the Japanese parking attendants were, as always, extremely efficient.
A short hike up the hill led me to the site where a stage and tents were set up. I was expecting a Shinto or Buddhist ceremony, but it seemed completely secular. I was surrounded by local Okinawans, young and old, murmuring greetings to each other. Free coffee was passed around, and as sunrise approached we were treated to several performances by local Eisa dancers, Taiko drummers, chanters, Sanshin artists, Koto players (a long zither related to the Chinese zheng), Karate performers, etc. In fact, it seemed every traditional Okinawan artistic, musical or physical movement was represented, interspersed with short speeches by local dignitaries in suits.
A special treat to me was the Yotsutake, THE most classical Okinawan dance performed by young women wearing the iconic red and blue lotus hats and golden flowery robes. This dance and costume has come to represent Ryukyu culture and Okinawan heritage over the years.
Performances were paused so we could all take a moment to watch the main event - the newly born sun floating up through the clouds, blessing us all with its light for another year. Surrounded and alone with perfect strangers, I felt that odd connection with my fellow watchers that transcends language and culture and experience. Moments like this are what I live for in my travels around the world. Everyone, together, breathless at a natural wonder that occurs, forgotten, daily. Today we paid attention, and it blessed us.