The First-Timer’s Guide to Okinawa’s Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival

Apr 20, 2017

In October 2016, I went to the 6th Worldwide Uchinanchu Taikai Festival, and I couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit Okinawa for the first time. There’s something incredibly uniting about international homecoming festivals, to see so many people from around the world expressing their pride in their unique culture. And the thing is, I’m not even Okinawan!

So, what’s the Taikai? Do I need tickets? How much does it cost and how do I register? With all the pre-travel planning I’ve done, I’ve taken out the research and the guess work you’ll have otherwise done and put together this quick guide so you can plan your ultimate Taikai trip.

What’s the Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival?

Since 1990, the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) hosts the Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival — known simply as the Taikai — which is a four-day festival in late October that welcomes Okinawans from around the world to experience and celebrate Okinawa’s rich culture. And, it only happens every five years.

Your local kenjinkai (Okinawa association) is your best resource for Taikai information and they’ll also help you sign up for a Taikai pass from the OPG. The Taikai pass is literally your ticket into the opening and closing ceremonies, free bus rides, discounts on Okinawa’s sightseeing attractions and more, so don’t leave without it!

List of U.S. Kenjinkai

Alabama

Alabama Okinawa Kenjinkai
Alabama Ryu Kyu Kyo Yu Kai

Alaska

Alaska State Okinawan Kenjinkai – Facebook

Arizona

Tucson Arizona Kenjinkai
Phoenix Okinawa Kenjinkai

California

Okinawa Association of America, Inc.
Okinawa Kenjinkai of San Francisco
Okinawa Kenjinkai of San Diego
Sacramento Okinawa Kenjinkai

Colorado

Colorado State Okinawa Kenjinkai

Florida

Pensacola, FL Okinawa Kenjinkai
Florida Okinawa Kenjinkai – Facebook
Tampa Bay Okinawa Kenjinkai
Space Coast Okinawa Kenjinkai Yuimaru-Kai

Georgia

Atlanata Okinawa Kenjinkai | Facebook
Georgia Ryukyu Kyoyukai
South Georgia Okinawa Club

Hawaii

Hawaii United Okinawa Association | Facebook

Illinois

Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai | Facebook
Midwest Okinawa Kenjinkai

Indiana

Indiana Okinawa Kenjinkai | Facebook
Okinawa Yu-Yu-Kai

Kansas

Kansas Okinawa Kenjinkai

Louisiana

New Orleans Okinawan’s Group (Yuntakukai)

Maryland

OKIBEI Okinawa Kenjinkai

Michigan

Michigan Okinawa Kenjinkai – Facebook
Michigan Okinawa Association | Facebook

Minnesota

Okinawa Association Minnesota

Missouri

St. Louis Okinawa Association | Facebook

Nevada

Las Vegas Okinawan Club – Facebook
Funoki – Okinawa Fun Alliance

New Mexico

New Mexico Okinawa Kenjinkai

New York

U.S. East Coast Okinawa Association
Okinawa American Association of New York – Facebook

North Carolina

Fayetteville Okinawa Kenjinkai – Facebook
Jacksonville Okinawa Kenjinkai

Oregon

Oregon Uchinanchu Kenjinkai

Ohio

Okinawa Tomonokai of Ohio | Facebook

Pennsylvania

Okinawa American Culture and Assocation

Texas

Austin Okinawa Tomonokai – Facebook
Elpaso Okinawa Kenjinkai
DFW Okinawa Association
DFW Chanpuru Okinawa Kenjinkai
Okinawa Kenjinkai Part 2 (Online Community)
Houston Okinawa Kenjikai
Okinawa San Antonio Yuunanokai – Facebook
Kariyushi Okinawa Dallas Texas

Utah

Utah Okinawa Kenjinkai | Facebook

Washington

Okinawa Kenjin Club of Washington State | Facebook
Okinawakai of Washington D.C. | Facebook

Guam

Guam Okinawa Kenjinkai – Facebook

List of International Kenjinkai

Argentina

Centro Okinawense en la Argentina

Australia

Sydney Okinawa Kenjinkai

Australia Gold Coast Okinawa Kenjinkai

Bolivia

Okinawa Kenjinkai Association of Bolivia

Okinawa Japan Association of Bolivia

Brazil

Okinawan Kenjinkai Association of Brazil

Okinawa Kenjinkai Association of Campo Grande

Canada

Vancouver Okinawa-Ken Yuaikai

Calgary Okinawan Club

Lethbridge Okinawan Cultural Society

Toronto Kyuyo Kai

China

Hong Kong Okinawan Kenjin Urezun-Kai

Fukkensyo Okinawa Kenjinkai

Shanghai Okinawa Kenjinkai

Tianjin Okinawa Kenjinkai

Beijing Okinawa Kenjinkai

Dairen Okinawa Kenjinkai

Costa Rica

Costa Rica Okinawa Kenjinkai

Cuba

Cuba Okinawan Kenjinkai

Island of Youth Kenjinkai

France

France Okinawa Kenjinkai

Nouvelle Calledonie Descendants D’Okinawa

Germany

Duetschland Okinawa Kenjinkai

Indonesia

Jakarta Uchina-Kai

Korea

Kankoka Okinawa Kenjinkai

Malaysia

Malaysia Okinawa Kai

Mexico

Okinawa Kenjinkai Association of Mexico

Norway

Norway Okinawa Kenjinkai

Peru

Okinawa Kenjinkai Association of Peru

Philippines

Philippine Okinawa Society

Singapore

Okinawan Club Singpaore

Spain

Okinawa Kenjinkai Association of Spain

Okinawa Kenjinkai Association of Las Palmas

Sweden

Sweden Uchinanchu Kai

Taiwan

Taiwan Okinawa Kenjinkai

Thailand

Okinawan Association in Thailand

United Kingdom

Okinawa Kenjinkai of U.K.

Vietnam

Okinawa Association of Vietname

Venezuela

Okinawa Kenjinkai Association of Venezuela

Zambia

Zambia Okinawa Kenjinkai

How do I get a Taikai pass?

Registering for the Taikai and getting a Taikai pass is free! However, if there are any application processing fees, then that’s dependent on your kenjinkai. Contact your local kenjinkai for more information about registering and to receive your Taikai essentials, like your pass and parade uniform. If you’re traveling with a tour group, they’ll take care of all the registration details for you.

Uniforms are designed by your local kenjinkai and they aren’t mandatory, but if you’re marching with your kenjinkai in the parade, it’s nice to represent your country or state with matching outfits, don’t you think? #HawaiiRepresent

You can also register directly with the OPG on the Taikai website if you’re not going through a kenjinkai or tour group, but I’d highly recommend you go through your kenjinkai if you have one in your area. Be mindful of registration deadlines so that you’ll receive your Taikai pass prior to your departure to Okinawa, otherwise, you’ll have to make arrangements to pick it up during the festival.

How do I get there?

If you like your days planned to a T with airfare, hotel accommodations, daily meals, ground transportation and guided sightseeing activities wrapped into one convenient travel package, you might be able to find specialized travel agencies that provide Taikai tour groups if you live in an area with a big Okinawan community. The travel itineraries are set and you’ll be shuttled from one place to another with a few days in between to do your own thing.

N & K Travel is a popular option flying out of Honolulu, Hawaii, but for smaller organizations in other states or countries, be sure to check in with your local kenjinkai to see what they’ve got planned. Sometimes they’ll coordinate the flights so that your group travels together or help you with signing up for events that require pre-registration or even host group get-togethers up in Okinawa, but otherwise you’re on your own as far as planning the rest of your trip.

For the budget conscious travelers, travel agency tour groups can be expensive — and it can be, as in $4,000 per person! With a little googling, my flight and accommodations plus my pocket money were less than what I’d spend with a tour group. Very affordable for a recent college grad like me!

Of course, everyone has different travel preferences. Okinawa’s not an expensive place to visit, but you do need to have a travel budget to make things happen!

Here’s my budget-friendly breakdown of what I spent:

  • Roundtrip Airfare to Naha (flying out from Honolulu, Hawaii): $790 via Priceline
  • Accommodations for Two (8 Nights): $575 via Airbnb
  • Pocket Money: $500

What’s there to do?

Parade

If you’re marching in the parade, your kenjinkai will provide your meetup location since parade marchers are kenjinkais that participants come from. After marching in the parade, I’ve concluded that Okinawans are the most happiest people on the planet. No matter if you’re Uchinanchu or Uchinanchu-at-heart, the locals are all ear-to-ear smiles, constantly cheering and waving their “welcome home” signs. Whether you’re parading down the one-mile stretch of Kokusai Dori or lined up on the streets watching it, your first time is a feeling you won’t forget. I mean, shoot, I’ve never seen strangers who were so happy to see me!

Programs

The official Taikai website lists the five-day schedule with events and activities happening simultaneously throughout the city of Naha where you’ll find everything from traditional Okinawan performances, eisa drumming and sumo tournaments to cultural and leadership workshops. Some events are free and open to the public while others require paid admission at the door.

Opening + Closing Ceremonies

The Opening Ceremony involved a lot of introductions and speeches that were translated in Japanese, English and Portuguese. Let’s just say, I didn’t make it to the end. But, don’t forget to redeem your Taikai goodie bag during the Opening Ceremony at the registration tent, complete with a Taikai commemorative pin, event guide book and awamori! There’s also food stands around the stadium to fill your cravings. The Closing Ceremony and Grand Finale is where it’s at. 2016 featured live performances by Kariyushi58, Ryukyudisko (a RAVE was goin’ down and for a little longer than what the older folks would’ve liked), Diamantes and BEGIN! And if that wasn’t enough, they closed it out with a grand fireworks show lighting up Okinawa’s night sky.

Village Parties

It ain’t no party like an Unchinanchu party! Participating municipalities host welcome receptions for overseas visitors and locals to mix and mingle. Don’t quote me on it, but I don’t think you can just crash any ol’ party. You’ll have to designate the municipality on your Taikai registration form. I went to Kitanakagusuku’s party and it was happenin’! Appetizers and Orion beer all around! Met a local elder who spoke very little English, and his friend who just didn’t understand at all, but with the powers of technology, this man whipped out a translator app on his iPhone and we got to talkin’.

Did You Know? There’re are over 420,000 Uchinanchu overseas. The top locations are Brazil (39%), Peru (17%), Hawaii (11%) and Argentina (4%).

Taikai Planning Tips

Always wear your Taikai pass.

If there’s one thing I want you to know, it’s to always wear your Taikai pass. (Plus, it’s always a conversation starter when you see strangers wearing their Taikai pass when you’re exploring the city.) I learned the hard way that you can’t convince an event volunteer you’re really on the list when your name doesn’t show up on their online database. (OPG you’ve got some kinks to work out!) Luckily I didn’t lose my pass, I just had a case of forgetfulness so I jumped on the monorail to fetch my Taikai pass from my Airbnb apartment 10 minutes away and made my way into the Opening Ceremony. If you do lose it, let’s just say it’d be difficult to replace.

Stay in the city if you’re not renting a car.

The Taikai’s locations are in Naha so you can get to locations easily. Airbnb is an affordable accommodation option for budget-conscious travelers who just want the basic amenities and the experience of “living local.” Rather than staying in a hotel along Kokusai Dori in the main tourist area, rent shared rooms, apartments or entire houses for comparable or even cheaper prices than what you’d pay for at a hotel. Use my affiliate link and get $40 off your first stay with Airbnb. It’s on me!

Here’s How to Use Public Transportation Like a Pro

Monorail. ? If you’re not being shuttled from one place to another on a tour bus, or have the freedom to drive wherever you want to go with a car rental, getting around central Naha with public transportation is easy as many of the Taikai’s locations, along with Naha’s popular sights, are located near the monorail line.

The Yui Rail runs from the Naha Airport in the west to Shuri Castle Station in the east with a total of 15 stations altogether (it takes only 27 minutes!). If you plan on riding the monorail frequently, buy a 2-day pass at 1,200¥ for unlimited travel within the given timeframe.

Bus. ? A perk of being an overseas participant with a Taikai pass means free bus rides! Flash your pass when you board the bus. (The bus pass is on the backside of your Taikai pass.) The bus pass is valid during the Taikai period, but is not eligible for express buses, the airport limousines, Yanbaru express buses and regular sightseeing buses. The Naha Bus Terminal has friendly employees who can provide bus routes and schedules to your destination.

Taxi. ? Taxis are expensive. With prices starting at $5, I’d avoid using taxis unless you absolutely need to.

Know the basic Okinawan words.

Don’t worry—you don’t need to know Uchinaaguchi (Okinawan language) or Japanese to get around Okinawa as many people in the service and tourism industry speak English, but it’s certainly a nice gesture to know the basics.

Hello: Haisai / Haitai (hai-sai / hai-tai)
Thank You: Nifee Deebiru (ni-hey-de-biru)
Yes: Uu (oo)
No: Wuu Wuu (woo-woo)
Goodbye: Guburii Sabira (kgoo-buri-sa-bira)
Excuse Me: Guburii Sabura (goo-buri-sa-bura)
Cheers: Karii (ka-ri)

Read: Saving a Language: Okinawan Words + Phrases for More Than Just Travel

Learn how to kachashi.

Obviously, you’re gonna want to know how to kachashi like an Uchinanchu.

Connect to free WiFi all over Naha.

2G international data speed can only take you so far (sorry, T-Mobile!), but that’s okay, Okinawa’s got you covered! Free Wi-Fi is available at various Taikai venues, tourist attractions and within the proximity of Central Naha.

How to Connect to Free Wi-Fi

  1. Find Be.Okinawa_Free_Wi_Fi on your Wi-Fi settings, then open your browser to access the internet from the authentication page.
  2. Select your language in the drop-down menu on the upper right part of the screen.
  3. Authenticate via social media or by email, then you’ll be connected to the internet.

For the Uchinanchu at Heart

My first trip to Okinawa in October 2016 was a unique, cultural experience where I met new people and immersed myself in a world other than my own. I’m sure you’re bound to look forward to attending it again every five years!

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7 Comments

  1. Eiko.H.天野英子 Amano

    I’m trying to invite my friends to the Uchinanchu 2021.
    Is it going to be in October?

    Reply
  2. Eiko.H.天野英子 Amano

    Went in 2016.
    Luv it!!!!
    Inviting friends to go for 2021.
    Does anybody have the dates for 2021?
    See you all!!!
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Kat

      Hi Eiko! I haven’t heard anything yet, but I’ll write a post when I get more information about the next taikai from my local kenjinkai.

      Reply
    • Jenifer Toy Ogimi

      Will be there 2021

      Reply
  3. Linda

    I went to the 1st and 2nd Taikai with minimal participation of watching the parade and attending the local city party, then missed the 3rd. I resumed with the 4th and 5th in full active participation of walking in the parade with my Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai, and even performed taiko and odori with a group IN Okinawa, in a joint venture. I am looking forward to the 6th one in Oct 2021!!!

    Reply
  4. Linda

    oops! I think I missed 2 Taikais…and looking forward to the 7th!

    Reply

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