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Shīmī (Qingming Festival)


Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

“We had shīmī yesterday.”

“I guess you’re having shīmī bento today then.”

On Mondays in early April, students would often chat like this during lunch break.

Shīmī (Qingming Festival) is the event in which people visit their family tombs around Qingming season of the lunar calendar. The dates change every year, but most families visit their tombs on a weekend at the beginning of April.

Why do people eat shīmī bento the following day? There are a few steps to understand. First, Okinawan families make special food for shīmī, which they place before their family tomb. As their prayer ends, they eat the offerings with their fellow family members and relatives. As it’s Okinawa, they tend to make a lot of food, so the leftovers will be used to make bento the next day. Popular shīmī food includes kūbu (boiled fish rolled in konbu), fried tofu, fish cakes, simmered burdock, simmered pork, and fish tempura. All of these are fixtures of Okinawa’s festive dishes.

Shīmī is a custom brought from China. Although Chinese people visit their family tombs, they don’t eat the offered food there. Also, unlike Okinawa, there is no large space in front of the tomb where they can gather and enjoy eating. In Okinawa, even the smallest tombs have a space for shīmī gatherings. Shīmī is widely practiced in mainland Okinawa. However, on other islands, the Sixteenth Day Festival, a celebration on the sixteenth day after Lunar New Year’s Day, is more popular. This festival is considered the new year of the world beyond, yet like shīmī, it is a day to pray for the ancestors.