Humble sweet potato honored with weekend festival

Noguni Soukan Festival takes place at Kaneku Seaside Park over the weekend.

It is a delectable Okinawan vegetable served year around, but this weekend the sweet potato’s status is elevated and honored with a festival of its very own.

The 32nd Noguni Soukan Festival, the Sweet Potato Man, takes place Saturday and Sunday in Kadena Town.  The festivities take place in Kaneku Kaihin Park located near the Kadena Marina on Highway 58.  Admission is free.

Music live on stage runs the gamut from Okinawa local artists to Kadena kids.  On Sunday there’s a parade, the Hatagashira show and  Sumou.  Capping both days of the festival will be fireworks exhibitions, with more than 1,000 pyrotechnics being discharged.  The fireworks Saturday start at 8:55 p.m., while they begin at 8:45 p.m. on Sunday.

As the Noguni Sokan, the sweet potato, is honored, there will be sweet potato digging contests for children, while the All-Okinawa Bullfighting events are moved into the ring.  There will also be traditional dances, including the Sembaru Eisa and live music.

Fireworks is on tap on both days.

The festival pays homage to Noguni Soukan, the Ryukyu bureaucrat who initially brought the sweet potato to the island from China in 1605, planting the tuber seeds in Kadena Town, his hometown.  From there, the sweet potato became a mainstay, literally saving countless Okinawan lives from hunger during the frugal World War II years.  Although it remains speculation, it’s thought the original sweet potato patches are on what is now Kadena Air Base.

Vendors will be serving and selling the sweet potatoes throughout the festival.  Limited parking is available at Kaneku Kaihin Park, so organizers encourage visitors to use free shuttle busses rotating around Kadena Town throughout the festival.