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Futenma Marines dance, celebrate culture and friendship

Date Posted: 2005-09-26

GINOWAN CITY, OKINAWA, Japan -- Dancing to upbeat music and dressed in flamboyant costumes, ‘International Uchinanchu,’ a dance team consisting of 35 Marines and family members from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, mesmerized tens of thousands of spectators watching the Kachashi contest during the 28th annual Ginowan City Hagoromo Festival Aug. 14.

One of 30 teams entered in this year’s contest, ‘International Uchinanchu’ was the first-ever U. S. military team to participate.

Kachashi, meaning “to mix” in Okinawan dialect, is a lively, upbeat, freestyle Okinawan dance performed by men and women of all ages, usually at the end of parties and celebrations.

Ginowan City’s Kachashi contest was started 17 years ago by a local Junior Chamber as a promotion to attract more festival goers to the annual Hagoromo Festival, according to Hideo Matsuya, president, Ginowan City Tourism Promotion Association.

Today, the Hagoromo Festival attracts more than 200,000 people annually and is regarded as one of the biggest festivals in Okinawa, said Matsuya. The Kachashi contest is the two-day festival’s biggest crowd-drawer, he added.

Consisting of Marines from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, MCAS Futenma, ‘International Uchinanchu’ was initially formed to enter last year’s contest, according to team coordinator Elena Takaho, community relations specialist, MCAS Futenma. However, the team voluntarily withdrew after the helicopter accident in Ginowan just a few days before the festival.

The squadron was happy, therefore, to receive an invitation again this year.

“We extend a huge welcome to the ‘International Uchinanchu,’ the first MCAS Futenma team in the history of the contest,” said Matsuya. “The folks from Futenma Air Station are also members of Ginowan City, and we really want them to be a part of our community and this local event.”

Haruko Higa, president, Kachashi promotion committee, who volunteered to teach last year’s team, also volunteered to help this year’s team. “I had a great time teaching Marines and their families again,” said Higa. She said that the members she taught last year remembered the dance and helped her teach new members. After four intensive practice sessions taught by Higa and her friends, ‘International Uchinanchu’ was ready for the contest.

On contest day, in a crowded gymnasium where participants dress and prepare for the opening ceremony, four local volunteers spent nearly two hours helping ‘International Uchinanchu’ members put on special make-up, colorful kimono-like costumes and matching topknots, all provided by the promotion committee.

“They were spectacular,” said Higa after the performance. “Each member was so vibrant, chanting to the music so well.”

The team also impressed the judges with its performance and won the Chibariyo Award, which is presented to the team that gives the most spirited performance.

Being part of the team and participating in the contest was a “once in a lifetime experience” for 1stLt Queta L. Marquez and her 8-year-old daughter Marisa. Seeing the big crowd, Marquez said that she was a little nervous at first. “But seeing everyone having such a great time and sharing that with our Okinawan hosts was an indescribable feeling,” she said.

Lance Cpl. Chris J. White, who played the role of Chondara, the team clown, said he joined the team because he wanted to know and experience Okinawa culture with people from the local community. He said that acting as the funny guy was easy for him because he likes performing in front of people.

“Ginowan City wants to play a key role in spreading Kachashi,” said Yoshio Arakaki, chairman, Kachashi Contest Executive Committee “It’s great that we had Marines participate in this year’s contest. They certainly became the great cultural ambassadors of Kachashi between Okinawa and America.”

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