Onna Industrial Festival or what to do with a lifetime supply of bean sprouts

Travel ?? Comments Sun 21 December 2014

It was my second last day at OIST, Michael had left earlier that morning, and not being able to book the OIST car, we didn't really have much to do. The weather was horrible (described as 'rain with periodic stopping and starting' by Google), and sick of lounging around my apartment, I met up with Tania outside Jimmy's (the closest we have to a 'shopping outing' here) where Tania mentioned checking out the Onna Industrial Festival.

'Industrial Festival?'

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant - all I could imagine were guys in suits, lecturing the public on the need to invest in industry.

'Yeah, there will be pottery sales. And a tuna filleting demonstration.'

It's not like I'm doing anything else, I reasoned. So off we went, ready for our one hour walk to Onna.

Well, almost. As we walked down the hill towards the beach, we joked about attempting to hitchhike, to avoid the constant drizzle of rain. But by the time we hit the bottom it was a fully formed plan, and I assumed the position.


Oh man, we got a lot of stares. Not just brief glances, but whole families turning their heads synchronously with mouths agape - it was like watching the that famous scene from the exorcist over and over and over again. (Funnily enough, every time a car of Americans passed by, you could tell they were doing their best not to stare).

The many open-mouthed stares finally got to us, and we gave up, continuing on our way.

So you can imagine we were pretty shocked when a car pulled alongside us 5 minutes later, and lowered the window. Later on, Tania and I tried to work it out; had she driven past us whilst our thumbs were up, thought about it, and then gone around the block? Unfortunately we'll never know for sure, as she spoke no English (apart from 'Do you speak Japanese?'), requiring communication via not one but two translation apps (us translating from English to Japanese, and her Japanese to English to make sure there was no language mangling occurring).

Not even knowing whether it was on the way, she kindly offered to drop right at the festival, as we cursed in the back for not having any gift to give her ('Goddamit, we should have bought Tim Tam's at Jimmy's!' 'Do you have anything with you?' 'Uh, I have an OIST notebook?'). Instead, we opted to write her a thank you note in Japanese, with Tania writing as I translated ('Agh!' I said, glancing at her GPS 'we're there in 80m, keep writing go go go!').

The Onna Industrial Festival was nothing like I expected. There were food stalls! And entertainment!


Burger Shop H&S; was there!


The Sata Andagi lady from Onna no Eki was there!


She even let out a squeal of excitement upon recognizing Tania!


There were giant yams for sale!


There was takoyaki, the first ones I'd had in Japan!

Perhaps they called it an Industrial Festival in order to confuse and scare away tourists? we wondered.

The entertainment was also awesomely bizarre, consisting of a man in drag playing a traditional instrument, a women playing an electric drum set, and an elderly man with one of the coolest hairstyle.



One of the guys watching the performance was so taken by the music and/or drunk that he rose up and gave an impromptu dance performance.



It was a fantastic atmosphere, and on the way back, the dancing guy invited us back to his table with his friends! This was an opportunity we couldn't give up (read: we had no idea what we were agreeing to due to the language divide), and soon we were being offered food (chow chow!), drink (open the door!), asked if we were a married couple (ha), and swapping names, ages, and places of origin.

We communicated with what little English and Japanese we had in common, all the time whilst he kept yelling triumphantly that he was an English teacher (which I'm starting to suspect was not, in fact, the case). Everyone he introduced us to at the table were also introduced as English teachers, as they laughed politely.

Suddenly, something was happening up on stage - vegetables and a weighing scale had replaced the entertainment, and our new friends were now focused on the presenter, eagerly raising their arms every sentence or so. Abruptly, they stood up and walked towards the stage.

'Go, go!' we were egged on by the few who remained sitting, prompting us to to walk on stage, get into queue, and be handed gloves.

'You have to peel the roots off the beanstalk,' we were told by one of the women from our table, as we started to realise we had just volunteered for a bean sprout de-rooting competition.


Kids dancing as the first heat commences


Is this the prize? we mused, wondering how we would hitchhike back with a giant bucket of bean sprouts


Waiting for our heat to begin

The first heat was over, and we had worked out that whoever had the largest pile of de-rooted bean sprouts by the time the song had finished would be crowned 'Fastest Bean Sprout De-rooter in Okinawa'. But being an entertainment event (a crowd was watching on eagerly), it wouldn't be right not to introduce the contestants!

Oh crap I thought, as the presenter moved down the row.

Please don't pick me, please don't pick me


The presenter, ominously making her way towards me

As if on cue, she walked right over, missed Tania, and stuck the microphone into my face.

'Uh, konnichiwa' I tried to say as quietly as I could into the microphone.

'Konnichiwer?' the presenter repeated with a giggle. Cue crowd laughter.

I stood there, not really sure what I should do or say. Thankfully, Tania leaned over and managed to whisper into the microphone - 'Watashi wa nihonjin no hanasu koto wa arimasen!' (i.e. I do not speak Japanese; luckily it was easy to see that this applied to both of us, due to my dumbfounded expression).

'Ahhhh!' she replied, and helpfully made sure I knew what I was doing on stage.

'She made fun of your accent!' Tania whispered as she walked off, and it suddenly sunk in why the crowd was laughing.

'How rude.' I replied, briefly imagining my lightning fast de-rooting skill stunning the crowd and evoking hours of applause.

Unfortunately my de-rooting speed was every bit as terrible as I thought it would be, and even though I entered a strange moment of zen constantly separating bean sprouts, by the end I could tell I was no where near first place.


Tania, by comparison, had done pretty well


One of the ladies from our table, happy with her result


Tania's bean sprout yield


Getting my entry weighed

As was to be expected, none of us won. The winner and runner up did get a chance to take home as many bean sprouts as they could carry! I was slightly disappointed the bucket of bean sprouts wasn't up for grabs, however.


Winners claiming their bean sprouts

We did get participation prizes though; an awesome towel featuring a pineapple and a goya! I mean, how much more Okinawan can you get.


Our consolation prize was still pretty awesome

And then, everyone who competed was allowed to take away as many bean sprouts as they could. Suffices to say Tania jumped at this opportunity.

The next game was all you can take carrots (entry only 100 Yen!), but we realised we should probably start walking back to OIST (we assumed all our hitchhiking luck was gone for the day). Plus, Tania had just bought a whole bag of carrots from another seller.


All you can take carrots, only 100 Yen

Many sayonaras and arigatos were exchanged with our new friends (and a thank you note via Google Translate), and off we went for a scenic seaside walk back to OIST.


That's the location of the festival on the right hand side


Graves were built along the shore, and even on some of the rocky islands in the ocean




I just couldn't resist this photo oppportunity

Emboldened by our bean sprout adventure, we opted for the path less travelled rather than walking along the highway - a course soon reversed when we realised the path less travelled was actually a driveway to a seaside mansion (in our defense, it was a pretty rundown driveway).

Still, it was a pretty exciting afternoon, and not at all what I expected from an Industrial Festival.

Tags: japan okinawa