Hawai‘i’s Largest Ethnic Festival is Moving to the Hawai‘i Convention Center
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
The birth of the state’s largest ethnic festival — the Okinawan Festival — on Labor Day weekend can be traced to 1980 and a concerted effort by a group of Sansei Uchinanchu leaders to perpetuate and share the Okinawan culture of their ancestral homeland with the larger Hawai‘i community. It began with their participation in a life-changing tour to Okinawa in 1980.
Thirty-five years after that first festival, mother nature and other forces have prompted the festival’s sponsor, the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, to reassess. After staging the festival at Kapi‘olani Park since 1990, this year’s festival will move indoors, to the Hawai‘i Convention Center for the next three years. The festival will still be held over the Labor Day weekend, which this year falls on Sept. 1 and 2.
Courtney Takara, who, at 31, is the youngest president to lead the HUOA, said the volunteer electricians, plumbers and construction workers required to install the festival’s temporary infrastructure has diminished over the years. Without these skilled volunteers, the association would have to pay for the work, resulting in additional costs, Takara said.
She acknowledged that “an outdoor festival atmosphere is hard to recreate indoors,” but said she hopes the move to the Hawai‘i Convention Center will give families “the opportunity to start new traditions.”
Logistically, Takara said it costs about $100,000 to operate the festival. Expenses relating to the purchasing the supplies for the food booths are about the same.
“That is one of the easier benchmarks for us. This (holding the festival at the convention center) was more manageable for us based on the manpower and the level of skill sets needed to execute it than when we hold it at Kapi‘olani.”
Takara said the estimated logistical costs of holding the festival at Kapi‘olani Park and at the convention center are similar. At the convention center, HUOA will have to pay for the exhibition halls and set-up of the stage, tables and chairs. The park costs, on the other hand, included hiring off-duty Honolulu Police Department officers to provide around-the-clock security for a week before the festival began, renting golf carts, toilets, trailers, chairs, tables and tents and erecting the tents, booths and chairs.
“We are trying to be prudent about our expenses,” said Takara, an (inactive) attorney and compliance officer with Central Pacific Bank. “Even more so with this festival because there are a lot of unknowns, which is expected when you do move.”
Takara said the HUOA made a concerted effort to communicate with its 50 member-clubs about the reason for the change in venue because many of the volunteers only know what occurs during the two days of the festival and nothing about the weeks and months of planning and preparation that go into each year’s festival.
HUOA officials decided to give the convention center a three-year trial, which will give them time to work out the kinks, Takara said. HUOA did not sign a three-year contract with the convention center, leaving the door open for a possible return to Kapi‘olani Park, she said.
“We don’t want to put the square peg in the round hole. If, after assessing everything at the end of this festival, it doesn’t seem like a good fit for us, we don’t want to be locked in. If it seems like it is not going to work, we don’t want to force it,” Takara said.
One of the advantages of moving to the 1.1 million square foot convention center is that it is air-conditioned, making it more comfortable. It is also safer for the elderly and disabled who use canes, wheelchairs and walkers, and there’s more space for them to relax and enjoy the activities, said the festival’s chairwoman and HUOA president-elect Jocelyn “Jo” Ige, a retired state Department of Education specialist.
“The weather can be unpredictable at that time of the year, said Ige. “It is hot, humid and wet.”
To read the rest of this article, please subscribe to The Herald!
@okinawanfestival, hashtag — #okifest2018.
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.