Beer drinkers flock to Okinawa for Orion fest
Stars and Stripes August 22, 2006
OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa — Music, dancing, beer, Japanese costumes. Beer, food, games and beer. Conversation, fireworks and, well, beer: It was all at the 2006 Orion Beer Festival at the Okinawa City Koza Sports Park last weekend.
On Saturday, Okinawans and Americans crowded the signature orange crates and tables that lined the park and mingled with beer as the social lubricant.
“It’s great,” said Marine Cpl. Travis Gavel, 22, from North Carolina, who works on Camp Foster.
“We come out here and have a great time and act stupid, and [the Japanese people] love it; they laugh at us,” said Gavel, who had donned a Power Ranger mask to dance in front of the stage during a musical performance.
Gavel and his friends got to the park about 1:30 p.m., he said. And they were definitely enjoying the event, said Marine Cpl. Chris Thorpe, 21, from St. Louis, who also works at Camp Foster and came to the festival with Gavel.
“I’m not going to lie,” Thorpe said. “We’re going to stay until the money runs out.”
Ron Clough, an American who works on Camp Foster, said he has attended the festival for the last 19 years and enjoys it for more than just the beer.
“Look at it,” he said. “Everyone is having a good time drinking, but everyone is happy and there’s no fighting.”
Willie Woods has been to more than 20 of the festivals and also remarked on the camaraderie of the event.
“I’m here pretty much every year like clockwork and I [haven’t] had to throw anybody out,” said the 43-year-old New York native who was cooking barbeque at one of the food stands.
Beers in hand, groups of people — American and Okinawan — crowded the park’s pathways and clustered in front of the beer stands. Greetings were called in English and Japanese to friends and strangers alike.
That was one of the reasons Marine Cpl. Victor Wanga, who works on Camp Courtney, attended the festival, he said.
“I wanted to have fun and intermingle with the local populace and experience what the island has to offer,” he said.
The festival is an annual event that has drawn crowds of more than 20,000 to the island where Orion beer was born and has become a signature brew.
The festival made a big impression on Marine Cpl. Andrew Bogart, 23, on Okinawa for a couple of weeks’ reserve training with New York’s 6th Communications Battalion.
“I love it; I am definitely coming back,” he said. “The (Orion) beer takes a little getting used to but I like it.”
While Marines were a strong presence at the festival, other servicemembers also mingled in the mass of people.
“There is so much more here than just a beer garden,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bill Edwards, based at Kadena Air Base. “It’s pretty different. I like that, so we are just walking around trying things.”
One of those things was the local cuisine, which he said he liked and tried to share with his companions.
One of them, Airman 1st Class Scotty Appleby, turned down the food but he was not averse to other new experiences.
“I loved hanging out with the locals, and we’re all here to have a good time,” Appleby said.