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Okinawa Picnic Offers Families, Culture, and Summer Fun

Okinawan paarankuu (hand drum) musicians perform at the annual OAA picnic.

The Okinawa Association of America (OAA) will host its annual members’ picnic on Sunday, July 14, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Whittier Narrows Recreation Park, Group Picnic Area E-1, South El Monte.

Featuring live entertainment, youth games and races, raffle drawings, and Okinawan-style Bon dancing, it’s the perfect event for reunions or a sunny outing with family and friends. Non-members are also encouraged to attend the event and apply for membership.

For many OAA members, the picnic is rooted in their family’s history. The gatherings were pioneered by early Uchinaanchu (Okinawan) immigrants in the 1930s as a way to build community and to bring elements of the motherland to their new home in Southern California. The organizers later added a high school scholarship award to recognize the academic and service achievements of young Okinawans in the organization.

The event has since become a multigenerational gathering centered around great company and the rich cultural heritage that unites the community.

Picnic-goers can enjoy local talent during the all-day entertainment program. From traditional dance, folk music, and karate to the dynamic Ryūkyūkoku Matsuri Daiko drum-dancing group, this is one of the few annual events in Southern California that spotlights the diverse culture of the Ryūkyū Islands. There will also be non-traditional performances including a high school cello quartet and karaoke.

Activities include a water balloon toss tournament, relay races, Hot Potato (set to fast-paced Okinawan songs), and tama-ire (a popular bean bag toss game in Japan). Prizes will be awarded to all participants (while supplies last). There will also be an arts and crafts table for parents and children.

The picnic’s festivities will culminate with Bon Odori, a community dance circle that is performed in honor of the ancestors. All audience members are invited to join – no experience is necessary as the choreographies are repetitive and easy to follow.

The OAA’s Bon Odori is unique in that all of the songs are Okinawan and live music will be provided by sanshin (traditional three-stringed lute) and paarankuu (hand drum) musicians. If you want to learn the choreographies ahead of time, practice videos are available at

There will be raffle drawings throughout the day with fun prizes. One grand prize winner will take home four “Park Hopper” tickets to Disneyland and California Adventure, generously donated by the Walt Disney Company. Other prizes include tickets to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, children’s bicycles, gift cards, water heaters and rice cookers donated by Tiger Corporation, and more.

Tickets are $1 each. This fundraiser will benefit the OAA’s yearly activities as well as much-needed maintenance and repairs for the organization’s facilities.

On-site parking is $6 per car (carpooling recommended). Doors opens at 10 a.m. Optional bento lunches ($10) and raffle tickets are available for pre-order only:, (310) 532-1929. Volunteers are needed on July 13, 14, and 15; contact the OAA or visit to sign up.

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