Murasaki Mura is a replication of a traditional Ryukyu period village. Originally built in 1992 as a set for TV drama “Ryukyu No Kaze” (wind of the Ryukyu’s in English), it’s now a popular tourist spot, dealing in life back in the Ryukyu period, and a place to try your hand at a plethora of traditional crafts. As fun as that all sounds, that’s not the point of this article. For between December and February, it is playing host to something a little different, but also very important in terms of culture: a lantern festival. Allow me to digress.
Paper lanterns are synonymous with Far-East Asian culture, especially in China. Okinawa has a strong Chinese cultural influence, so it’s only natural lanterns would form part of celebrations. Murasaki Mura was chosen by Yomitan local government and commerce associations to enact the very first lantern festival, with the 2015 celebrations starting December 1st 2015, and finishing February 21st 2016.
What can you expect to see at a lantern festival? Well, lanterns. Lots of them. Of course, this isn’t the only thing on offer, with entertainment and food on hand too. Traditional Ryukyu dances and singing, and there’s a cafe serving Okinawa-style dishes, as well as Japanese tea.
Let’s start with the main attraction. Lanterns are everywhere, hung on strings between buildings, inside, outside, in trees, along the ground, and even in specially made scaffolds. The night descends quite early in Okinawa (around 6-7pm local time) so you don’t have to wait long to enjoy the full effect. It’s really lovely. Peaceful, with a warm glow throughout. In addition to the lanterns, there are string lights and light up characters and objects, I particularly liked the big sake bottle and the Chinese dragon! The main part of the village is the best place to see traditional paper types, and a fabulous photo opportunity if you have a decent camera or smart phone. The cherry on top, as it were, is the huge gateway built from scaffolding and lanterns, stunning.
If you’ve been in Japan (or any of the Orient) for a long period of time, you may have become jaded with lanterns, they are so very common in daily life. This is a shame, as most of them are works of art on their own. This festival is a great reminder of their importance, and gives you a renewed appreciation for their simplistic beauty. Best of all, these are static, and lit with electricity rather than fire, meaning their impact on wildlife is lessened (flying lanterns have a tendency to not only be a fire hazard, but kill precious wildlife).
At only 600 yen for entrance, or 500 yen for seniors, students and young children, it’s a relatively cheap night out. It’s open from 6pm until 10pm for the lanterns, or, turn up early, pay the same fee, and enjoy Murasaki Mura, it’s gift shop and craft areas, before watching the sun go down and the lanterns come to life.