3 Must-See Summer Festivals in Okinawa

by Louie Anne Batac

Thinking of somewhere to be in August? Try Okinawa! It’s a great place to experience not one--but THREE--of the best festivals in what is known as “the Hawaii of Japan”.

First in line is Obon, a special time of year when the souls of the dead are believed to return to walk with the living. During this three-day Buddhist celebration of Unke (welcoming), Nakabi (middle), and Ukui (seeing off), families gather around their home altars and local shrines to commemorate their ancestors.

Obon Butsudan
A Butsudan (Buddhist altar) can range from simple to ornate, but typically consists of a raised platform, incense, lanterns or candles, and a door that houses a deity or spirit. Offerings of food and flowers are common.

Rather than being a somber event, it’s actually quite joyful! With rhythmic whistles and painted faces, neighbors parade through the streets!

Okinawan Dance in Kimonos
Okinawans of all generations dance in the streets, dressed in their summer kimonos: "jinbei" for men and "yukatas" for women.
(Photo credit: Tech Ninja Productions)
Taiko Drums
Into the midnight hour, they call to their loved ones with booming drums, delighting (and at times, annoying) its residents. I never tire of it!
(Photo credit: Tech Ninja Productions)

Those with the matsuri spirit can continue on to Okinawa’s famed Eisa and Orion Beer Festivals. Yes, Beer Fest comes sooner than Oktoberfest!

Yukata Girls Orion Festival
Girls dressed in their yukatas ready to enter the Okinawa all-island Eisa Festival.
(Photo credit: Tech Ninja Productions)

Hosted side-by-side, festival goers can enjoy one of the largest performances of Eisa dancing, and just a few steps away, sip on Okinawa’s own, Orion Draft Beer, to the tune of local bands and a laser light show!

Orion Beer Festival Overhead shot
The annual Orion Beer Festival is a crowd favorite!

Festival food is not in short supply here, as long as you’re willing to wait in line. But the Okinawan people are one of the friendliest in the world, and before you know it, you’re next to order one of these festival eats!

Yakisoba Okonomiyaki Festival Food
Yakisoba (pan-fried noodles with vegetables and seasoning) and a local version of Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) are popular festival foods.
(Photo credit: Tech Ninja Productions)
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