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Sweet Potato Festival worth checking out

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-10-03

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.

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. 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.

Kadena townfolk –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.

Saturday’s festivities begin with ceremonies at 3 p.m., followed by a Kadena children’s performance. Music is live on stage at 6:30 p.m.,presented by Parsha Club Zukan, G-FA. Fireworks cap the festival evening at 8:55 p.m. Other events will include a singing contest, live painting, a children’s baseball tournament, tea ceremony, sumo wrestling, and a sweet potato harvest.

There’s actually a pre-festival…a warm up, if you will…on Friday evening, at Kadena Rotary. The pre-festival will feature live music and dance.

The Noguni Soukan Parade is at 3 p.m. Sunday, followed at 4 p.m. by the Muruchi legend. Okinawa traditional dance begins at 5 p.m. Fireworks become the festival finale at 8:50 p.m. There’s also to be a tug of war, a dance contest, a baseball tournament, an international friendship exchange, and of course…a sweet potato harvest on Sunday.

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