Celebrating culture, honoring our ancestors

25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival
25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival

Everyone loves a good fest. Food, music, drink, maybe dancing — what’s not to love? Earlier this month the Hawaii United Okinawa Association held its 25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival at the beautiful Kapiolani Park, between Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. We were there only on Saturday evening for the bon odori, or obon dance.

Obon is a Buddhist festival of gratitude towards and celebration of one’s ancestors. Traditional group dances of colorfully dressed professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists alike circle a tower, called a yagura, ringing with drummers, musicians and singers. I love watching the dancers’ faces. Some seem contempletive and serene, whether they are thinking of their loved ones now gone or simply intent on the music. Others are clearly enjoying the camaraderie of the present, laughing and teasing someone nearby. Still other brave souls venture into the fray not knowing the dance steps and openly copying the movements of a more confident dancer in their view. All are welcome and encouraged, which is what makes bon odori so much fun.

Singers lead the dancers at this year's festival
Singers lead the dancers at this year’s festival
A more traditional yagura at the 2006 Okinawa Festival
A more traditional yagura at the 2006 Okinawa Festival
This little guy knows that if you don't know the steps, you just follow someone who does!
This little guy knows that if you don’t know the steps, you just follow someone who does!

Before the dancing begins at dusk, the festival is alive with markets, exhibits, games, and food booths. There’s a craft market, a nursery, an open farmers’ style market, and a food market of Okinawan favorites: black sugar cookies, bittermelon teas and beverages, Okinawan style noodles and kombu.

So many food and drink booths from which to choose
So many food and drink booths from which to choose
okinawa_andagi_mkg
These dedicated andagi makers go non-stop to fill the demand for the delicious doughnuts
Ashibitchi and Andadog — does it get any better?
Ashibitchi and Andadog — does it get any better?

To build one’s stamina before putting on the dance togs, fresh-cooked Okinawan specialties are also available: aschibitchi (pigs’ feet soup), chanpuru ( tofu scramble), yakisoba (fried noodles), and andagi (fried doughnuts). Last but not least, there’s the piece de resistance — the Andadog, Hawaii Okinawans’ answer to the corn dog.