Okinawa festival treats kids to lions, drummers, wrestlers
CAMP McTUREOUS, Okinawa — It was classic David vs. Goliath at Bechtel Elementary School here Tuesday as second-grader Freddie Lapan squared off against 200-plus-pound Takakatsu Wauke in the sumo wrestling ring.
Like the old story goes, Lapan “took down” the giant from the Chubu Norin High School sumo team by pushing him onto his back at the edge of the ring. Lapan won the match but no title: It all was part of the fun at Bechtel’s 17th annual Ryukyu Festival.
“It was awesome,” said the victorious Lapan.
Wauke and the fellow members of his high school sumo team first demonstrated different sumo wrestling techniques, performing warm-ups and various throws in front of the packed gymnasium. They then took on students from the crowd, as well as teachers and Marines who volunteer at the school.
The students went undefeated, but the adults suffered one loss.
Prior to the wrestlers, the students were treated to other demonstrations, mostly from local school children. The Okinawan Kenpo Kenyukai Karate Group gave a martial arts show complete with breaking cement blocks and baseball bats; the Gushikawa Kasshin Taiko Drummers also performed.
One of the day’s highlights was the traditional lion dances by the Namihira Kodomo-Kai Bojutsu Shishimai Club, made up of dancers from Yomitan elementary and junior high schools.
“Some students don’t get to out and experience the culture, so we bring it to them,” said Barbara Lambert, who teaches English as a second language. She’s also chairwoman of the school’s social studies committee, which puts the annual event together. “Part of our role is to bring the Okinawan culture into the school.”
The drummers were the favorite part for third-grader Alissia Diaz. She said this was her first chance to experience a bit of Okinawan culture as her family has been on the island for less than a year.
“It was interesting,” she said. “It makes me want to learn more about Okinawa.”
She added that she enjoyed the lion dance even though “at first I thought, ‘Oh no, it’s going to bite my head off!’ But it was good … I liked it.”
Lambert said her committee wants to share the culture with the students because “This is a precious time in their lives. … The feelings and memories they have from this will carry over forever.”