PACE — Local Okinawans hosted a community potluck in conjunction with World Uchina Day, which traditionally is celebrated on or near Oct. 30 worldwide. 

The event, which featured traditional Okinawan food and entertainment, marked the first time the typically private party was open to the community.

"An overwhelming display of first-time interest and participation was shown with over 100 in attendance at the Pace Community Center," an event media release stated.

The program consisted of four major components: food; entertainment; workshops; and a Japanese costume contest.

For food, there were numerous Okinawa and Japanese dishes prepared by the Kenjinkai members and professionally made sushi by Sake Café’s Sushi Chef.

Sonomi Porter surprised many attendees with her fresh homemade Okinawa Soba and Richard Baldwin made his Japanese Curry Rice, an old family recipe.

For entertainment, the Emerald Coast Okinawa Eisa group performed three of their favorite taiko drum dance routines. Michiko Frith, Yoneko Murphy, Sylvia Love and Asako Morton danced to the old-time Japanese classic, "Sakura Sakura," the Cherry Blossom Dance.

Akiko Daniels, Kiko Clarke and Akiko Kellogg played "Asadoya Yunta" on the  traditional Sanshin, a three-string Okinawan banjo-type instrument, while Michiko Frith, Yoneko Murphy and Asako Morton danced to the music.  Many people who knew the Okinawan classic song joined in singing during the performance.

Many of the second-generation and University of West Florida students joined in a demonstration of Jitubidoi, an Okinawan-style group line dance. Afterward, the Eisa drummers joined in to repeat the song while the audience got up and joined in on the group celebration. The performance portion ended with Katchshi, where practically everyone got up out of their seats laughing, waving their arms in the air and moving to the fast beat of the music. 

During the workshop phase, the audience participation was repeatedly encouraged and many participated in learning the Sakura Sakura dance, Jitubidoi line dance, origami, Shodo ink writing of their names in Japanese characters and even got a lesson in Eisa, taiko drum dance.

The event ended with announcement of the Japanese Costume Contest winners. Cash prizes of $50, $25 and $15 were given to the top three winners, respectively, and child-appropriate prizes were given to the top three children for their costumes.

"Overall, the event was enjoyed by everyone in attendance with dozens of positive comments, completion of the 'topics of cultural interest' forms, request for future event notifications and new members," the release stated.

"The community potluck was a definite success with a resounding request to make it into an annual event, preferably at a larger venue like the Santa  Rosa County Auditorium or the like, where two years ago the group brought the 15 Grand Masters of the Okinawa Traditional Performing Arts, Team Kizuna, for Santa Rosa’s very first international cultural event with over 450 in attendance."

Florida Okinawa Kenjinkai (Gajimarukai) is an education-oriented cultural nonprofit organization that aims to perpetuate and advance the Okinawan heritage through traditional cultural performing and visual arts at home, groups, local schools, festivals and other community events.

This group has demonstrated the cultural arts for the past 20 years throughout Florida and in the Olympics.