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Tōkachi and Kajimayā


A preparation of tōkachi.
Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Tōkachi (August 8 on the lunar calendar) is an event to celebrate people turning 88, while kajimayā (September 7) is for celebrating people turning 97. Around that time of year in Okinawa, a place widely known for its resident’s longevity, you can see elderly people being celebrated everywhere. 

More than 100 people celebrated kajimayā in 1998. As for tōkachi, there were so many that people and their relatives simply gathered to celebrate on their own. However, Okinawan society places importance on family ties and blood-relations, so the gatherings often included more than 100 guests, requiring a large hotel banquet hall or restaurant.

Kajimayā is celebrated not only by relatives, but also the people from the local district. The people who’ve turned 97 wear a red padded waistcoat and a red hood, while holding a big pinwheel in their hands. They ride on the back of a convertible, which is also red, and parade through the district as the residents come out and celebrate. Back in the days when people could not find a convertible, they would make a stage on the back of a pickup truck instead. 

The word kajimayā originally means both a crossroad and a pinwheel in the Okinawan language. That’s why the elderly people carry pinwheels with them.

It was an occasion for the family to show their gratitude, saying to the elders, “Thank you for bringing up your children, and keeping an eye on the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You must have experienced many difficult times during your long life. From now on, just enjoy life like you did as a child.”

However, this kind of celebration is relatively new. Historical documents show that up until the Meiji period, some regions practiced kajimayā as a ritual to rehearse their funerals. Family members let the elderly wear burial kimonos and parade through seven kajimayās (crossroads) in the district. It is unclear why there was such a ritual, but it contained a strong religious aspect, presenting life and death side by side. The name kajimayā may have actually been taken from the ritual, not from the playful pinwheel. 

By comparison, the modern kajimayā seems quite light-hearted, but there aren’t that many occasions to celebrate those who have lived long lives. It is a rare and important ritual for the community. If you see elderly people dressed like dolls and sitting on the back of a red convertible, you should stop and wave at them to celebrate. On the other hand, tōkachi is believed to have been brought to Okinawa from Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima prefecture). In many regions of Kyushu they celebrate people turning 88, which is called tokaki. Tokaki is also the name of a stick used to even out rice in a wooden measuring cup. On the day of celebration, bamboo tokaki are given to attendees. The names tokaki and tōkachi are believed to have been derived from this ritual.