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Celebrate Okinawan culture at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park

by Sang Woo Kim

Staff Writer

In Okinawa Prefecture, soba is not a bowl of buckwheat noodles in a light broth — it is a helping of thick, white noodles served in a hot soup of pork-bone stock flavored with katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna flakes). From foods to rituals, culture in Okinawa — shaped by its history as the Ryukyu Kingdom and its tropical terrain — is distinctive from that of any other region of Japan.

To celebrate this diversity, the annual Okinawa Matsuri brings together regional dishes and music at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park for a major event, which last year attracted more than 80,000 visitors. This year, the festival takes place May 10 and 11 and hosts open-air concerts by 13 singers and bands, including Gold Rush, TwinCross and D-5, who will sing their own interpretations of Okinawan soul music.

Suzu, a 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Naha, and Civilian Skunk, a former middle-school band (now in their 20s) from Tomigusuku, represent contemporary Okinawa music, while DJ Sasa will play a remix of sanshin Okinawan music. The sanshin is a string instrument from which the Japanese shamisen was later derived.

Regional dishes to be served include Okinawan soba, taco rice and umi budo (sea grape) seaweed, along with cups of awamori, Okinawa’s traditional rice wine. On top of the food and music, there will also be stalls selling accessories and sanshin, and Ryukyu costume rentals.

The Okinawa Matsuri 2014 takes place at Yoyogi Park Event Square on May 10 and 11, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on both days. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.okifes.jp.