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Sweet Potato Festival worth checking out

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-09-30

The humble sweet potato first made its way to Okinawa from China in 1605, becoming a mainstay of Japanese foods, particularly during the troubling World War II years.

It doesn’t sound very exciting, but this tuberous root has become a hit, and takes on a special aura this weekend as the Noguni Soukan Festival is celebrated in Kaneku Kaihin Park, located near the Kadena Marina on Highway 58. It’s a chance to mix and mingle, soak up some suds and traditional foods, try those sweet potatoes, and simply have fun. Admission is free.

The festival is named after Noguni Soukan, the Ryukyu bureaucrat who brought the sweet potato home from China, planting seeds in his hometown, Kadena Town. The potatoes tasted so good, words quickly spread across Japan. The durable nature of the sweet potato, and the ease in which it grows, saved countless Japanese from hunger through the centuries.

That’s why Kadena town folk –Okinawans as a whole, for that matter—are proud of Noguni Soukan, and started the festivals in his honor. As you’d expect, sweet potatoes are for sale, and vendors will even be offering tasty samples. That’s only the beginning though. Interestingly, the town where Noguni Soukan worked his magic 405 years ago isn’t the Kadena Town people think; the original community is now in the midst of the sprawling U.S. Kadena Air Base.

Saturday’s festivities begin with afternoon ceremonies. Technically the beer begins flowing Friday evening at this 30th Annual Noguni Soukan Festival, and the fun continues through Sunday evening. Music is live on stage at 6:30 p.m. each day, with fireworks capping the festival evening at 8:55 p.m. Other events will include a tug-of-war, Eisa dance, a singing contest, Tahitian dance, an Okarina concert,, a softball tournament, tea ceremony, sumo wrestling, and a sweet potato harvest.

There’s limited parking at the Kaneku Kaihin Park, so organizers encourage visitors to use free shuttle busses rotating around Kadena Town from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday East coast circulating bus stops are in front of Marunouchi Printing Company, the Central Bus Terminal and Yara bus stop, and the Kadena Road Station. A second route goes from Kadena High School South Gate, through Yara housing complex, then in front of Korinza Building, Nosato Kyoshin Hall, Kadena bus stop and Marunouchi Printing.

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