Okinawa’s tomb visit season continues till April 20

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Okinawa’s tomb visit season continues till April 20

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

You may have started to notice flags or banners with the word “清明祭” waving at your local supermarket recently. And while it may seem as advertisement for an elaborate display of tempura, simmered pork ribs, mochi rice cakes and more for sale, this section is actually for a special time in the year for local families.

Shiimii or seimeisai is a tradition where Okinawans pay a visit to their family tombs. Along with obon, a tradition to commemorate ancestors in late summer, shiimii is a big event for Okinawan families.

It is supposed to take place during seimei period of nijyuu-shisekki, a calendar system that divides a year into 24 seasons. Seimei’s season starts around April 5 and ends around April 20, which marks the beginning of the next season kokuu. 

In a sense, shiimii is similar to higan, a Japanese tomb-visiting season (on the mainland) around the spring equinox day in March. Both commemorative days are when locals visit tombs with food and items to offer to their deceased family members. For shiimii, families in Okinawa often throw a picnic blanket in front of a tomb and enjoy the food there.  

Some locals have their family tombs on military facilities such as Torii Station and White Beach. You may see them have a “picnic” next to some of these tombs on base.

If you have local Okinawans in your family, you may have a chance to join shiimii. If you do, please note that it is also an opportunity to clean family tombs. Before enjoying food, you would sweep the floor, cut grass, and rinse vases with water to put in new flowers, and dedicate them to the ancestors. Flowers for shiimii are also sold at local supermarkets during the period.    

You may expect a tomb visit to be a serious ceremony, but shiimii is more of a relaxed event. Although the mood might be relatively quiet, it is an opportunity to enjoy the company of family, enjoy food, and share a moment with dearly departed ancestors.

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