Nagasaki Okunchi Festival
Every autumn since 1634, the city of Nagasaki, on the southern island of Kyushu, celebrates the harvest with a long, dancing dragon undulating to the steady beat of drums and cheers. The dance, introduced by Chinese immigrants, is performed by a talented troupe perfectly timing the dragon's body movements with the head and tail. A large "pearl" atop a tall staff leads the dragon all over the stage. It will take you seven years to see the entire performance, though. Nagasaki's 59 districts are grouped into seven chos, or neighborhoods, and each group presents vibrantly unique displays of strength and endurance throughout the day before the city's elders only once every seven years.
The fall seaside festival known as the Nagasaki Okunchi festival is filled with dozens of dancers pushing, pulling, and throwing pillow-lined floats high into the air with practiced acts of teamwork and strength. Red, white, and blue Dutch flags adorn most of the boat-shaped floats in honor of the one Japanese port that was open to Dutch traders only for almost three centuries.
A large section of the city's wharf is cordoned off and the seating areas are quickly filled with local families, elders and officials. Throughout the festival, the streets of Nagasaki are packed with geisha and kimono-clad dancers of all ages waiting their turn in the festivities. When the group arrives and commences with honors and exchanges, the respectful silence is deafening. Be still, too. The only movement is on display. As the group’s boat is presented to the elders seated before them, the sounds become primal. Wood against cement. The motivation and resistance sounding out the charade. The excitement reverberates throughout the entire crowd in steady waves of bright color synced to the rhythmic groaning and grinding of float wheels. Spinning dancers and float handlers propel their energy into the surrounding masses. You can feel it.
When there's a break in the show and you're ready to eat, take a stroll through the tent-lined streets filled with polite crowds enjoying the street vendors' savory and sweet delicacies. Breathe in the heady scents of grilled meats, vegetables and fried desserts and then check out all the delicious flavors they can fit on a stick. Create some exciting memories in Nagasaki and join their annual Okunchi festival held October 7-9, 2019.