Shiimi: A Time To Reconnect and Remember Our Roots

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Okinawan family enjoying Shiimi at their family tomb.

The season of Shiimi begins on April 5th this year.  Usually lasting from a week or two, families gather at gravesites or tombs to pay respects to the ancestors by offering food, incense, and burning paper money.  For many in Okinawa, it takes up almost the whole day, and looks like a family picnic at the family’s tomb.  Man also play sanshin and dance.  Its like a small party with the departed relatives, and is observed around the beginning of spring.

This practice of Shiimi comes from the Chinese ChingMing, and is observed on the dame time according to the lunar calendar.

Tin Yau Yee honors his ancestors by spelling whiskey on the ancestral grave, April 1994. Photo: Doug S.Y. Young , Library of Congress,American Folklife Center

Tin Yau Yee honors his ancestors by spelling whiskey on the ancestral grave, April 1994. Photo: Doug S.Y. Young , Library of Congress,American Folklife Center

As many cultural practices that reflect the Chinese influence on Okinawa, Shiimi still one of the main observances that date back centuries, and still widely practiced today.  Family members go early to clean and prepare the gravesite.  Many have become elaborate, with tents, mats, tables for food, and even catered traditional foods.

Here in Hawai`i, we don’t see Shiimi practiced too much in our Okinawan community, partially due to the issei not passing this tradition down.  many of the Okinawan traditions and language was lost or not practiced due to the prejudice the Okinawan immigrants faced after arriving in Hawai`i.  They tried hard to assimilate in the already bad conditions of the plantations.  Hopefully, we can revive and pass on this practice in Hawai`i, as a way to instill respect and honor those who set the foundation of where we are today.

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