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Sample Okinawa's outer islands at the "Rito Fair"

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-09-18

The 11th annual "Rito Fair" will take place this week, from Friday, September 17 to Sunday, September 19 at the Okinawa Convention Center in Ginowan. The fair brings together a total of 24 different islands within Okinawa Prefecture to introduce to visitors original craft products, food items, and culture. It is the largest event which focuses on the prefecture's smaller islands, and provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about the customs and lifestyles of these wondrous places.

Despite the close proximity of one island from another, each island has developed its own distinct customs and rituals. Many of these traditions can still be seen today, making the islands of Okinawa a very unique place to visit. Everything from language to food varies as you travel from north to south, where you will find islands that are flat with sandy beaches and also those that rise out of the ocean in the form of tall, rocky cliffs.

The main hall of the fair will hold booths selling many different products. You will find an amazing variety of tastes among the many local island dishes, which will include both traditional and newly developed flavors. Visitors can purchase a variety of packaged foods ranging from tuna jerky made in Tokashiki Island to smoked chicken sausages made in Kume Island. Fans of exotic food will discover quite a few interesting items as well: sea snake soup from the island of Irabu and hot sauces made from local peppers on Ishigaki are just a few of the colorful and fascinating foods on offer.

The local sake of Okinawa Prefecture, awamori, will also be available in many different varieties. Each bottle holds a distinct flavor from the island at which it is made, giving you a chance to add to your collection of spirits. The island of Yonaguni holds the title for making the strongest awamori - with a potent 60% alcohol content. You can even sample some free awamori cocktails on the first day of the fair, compliments of Okinawa Prefecture.

Another major attraction at the "Rito Fair" will be original crafts from many of the islands. Hand- carved masks used during obon on Ishigaki Island, traditionally died textiles from Miyako, and pottery can all be purchased for a nice memento of your stay here in Okinawa or as a gift for someone back home.

In between browsing at the many booths, you can take in some local culture at the Convention Center's theater. A total of 13 different dances are scheduled to take place over Saturday and Sunday, and all of the dances are traditional. This part of the fair provides a rare opportunity to see the different styles of dance and dress that were developed on each of the islands of Okinawa Prefecture.

Don't forget to pick up some brochures of some of the islands if you are planning to travel. Most of the islands are well connected by ferry, and some of the major islands have direct flights to and from Naha Airport. Most of the exhibition booths will have information on sight seeing and places to stay.

For anyone who has often wondered about what the other islands of Okinawa Prefecture have to offer, the "Rito Fair' is your chance to explore and gather information, while having fun at the same time. All of the cultural events are free of charge, including entrance into the main hall.

To get to the Okinawa Convention Center, head south from Kadena on Highway 58, passing Chatan. Look for the signs pointing the way as you enter Ginowan.

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