Uchinanchu Festival Opening Ceremony
Following a Festival Eve Parade along Naha’s Kokusai-dori on Wednesday, the 5th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival got under way last night in Onoyama Park with the Opening Ceremony at Okinawa Cellular Stadium. The ceremony attracted a large attendance of 20,000.
Around 5,200 exiled Uchinanchu or Okinawans are attending this year’s festival from a total of 23 countries. What makes it rather special is that this is an event far removed from the displays of nationalism or military parades seen in some countries. The overseas participants are simply happy to visit Okinawa – some of them for the first time – and to meet up with relatives, and to explore their roots and culture, and generally to celebrate these islands in a joyful spirit of peace and friendship.
The entertainment began with the festival’s theme song performed by 14 year old singer Natchi. Other musicians on stage included Misako Koja – one of Okinawa’s greatest female singers – who also played sanshin and was accompanied by Kazuya Sahara on keyboards. She concluded the set with her popular song ‘Warabi Gami’ which has become a standard feature of her show.
The evening’s festivities ended with a performance of the song ‘Mirukumunari’ by Hidekatsu in which he was joined by several hundred young eisa drummers and dancers who then put on an impressive show of eisa all around the stadium. Among those Uchinanchu attending from overseas were especially large and vocal contingents from the USA, Brazil, Peru and Hawaii. Despite the occasional rain which threatened to spoil things this was a very good start to the festival which ends on Sunday.
I was lucky to be able to attend this ceremony as a kind of honorary Uchinanchu and my thanks for this goes to Uchina Goodwill Ambassador Tom Corrao of the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai and his wife Nozomi.