The industrial Fair, or sangyo matsuri in Japanese, is a fixture in the annual event calendar on my island. From the English translation you might think of cars, heavy manufacturing, and other well-known industry. In Japan, though, many products are made by very small local companies rather than in large factories. Even when big factories are necessary, there are often many small shops acting as suppliers. Taken to a further level, small rural communities without those major industries often have a vibrant industrial community supporting local needs. You might be surprised to learn about all the things going on around you in small local Japan.
Recently, our island had its yearly sangyo matsuri, an event designed to inform locals about the various products made on Kumejima and also to sell those products. One of the local kaizen (community) centers was taken over by scores of tables and activities for everyone to enjoy.
Since Kume Island is primarily agricultural, it is perhaps no wonder that there were plenty of produce tables outside the center with local farmers selling locally grown vegetables. Groups sold everything from daikon to benimo.
On the island, sugarcane is a primary export, so there were also booths highlighting different strains of cane and a booth that produced raw sugar from the sugarcane so that the whole process could be observed, and tasted! The workers used a machine to squeeze out cane juice then boiled it down (with certain chemicals to maintain the proper ph balance) to create the dark brown sugar cubes that are a popular snack item in Okinawa.
Kumejima is known for its prize-winning cattle. There were recently national awards and local presentations were made to acknowledge the hard work of local farmers and their livestock. There was also a small petting zoo set up for children to see local animals up close. There were various goats, small pigs, and even a couple of horses.
Japan is known for the many ways its people use the ocean. Kumejima is blessed with an abundance of natural oceanic beauty that helps support the local economy. Many products and services are built from the ocean and were also highlighted at the event. The most spectacular way this was done was through the creation of a shallow seawater pool. Children were given bags and then allowed to go out into the pool to try to catch fish and kuruma shrimp with their hands. The children had great fun trying to grasp the little fish, though some got over excited and ended up going for a swim.
Another spectacle thrown by the local fisherman was the filleting and auction of a whole tuna. The tuna was brought in and cut before a crowd of onlookers, then the sections of fish were auctioned off for sushi or steak. I ended up with a nice piece for 400yen (about 5 dollars) that I pan seared with garlic, salt, and pepper. It made a really delicious dinner!
There were also booths highlighting the various ways Kumejima uses Deep Sea Water. I bought shampoo made from the water at the Point Pur table. Nearby there were various bottled mineral waters that Kume Island companies process.
Perhaps the most obvious way both agricultural and fishery proponents highlighted their industries were through appealing to the many hungry visitors. There were many tables selling delicious foods, including fish tempura, shrimp skewers, soups, curry, bread, miso and more. With so many local and delicious ingredients to work with, there were plenty of options for great food. Local bakeries, omiyage makers, and onetime restaurants all showcased the great local ingredients. I ended up with tempura, gyoza, taiyaki, benimo tempura, and more! It was all too much to eat on my own but there was so much great stuff to try.
Culture and Creations
About half of the booths at the center revolved around things that are made in Kumejima, some of them as part of a long tradition. Two areas were interesting takes on reclamation art, where old buoys were turned into characters or planters. One of these groups included a game for students and was run by a local home for the impaired.
About a third of the center was devoted to Kumejima’s tsumugi (pongee silk weaving). The many patterns available were shown off and several items were available for sale. Throughout the day visitors were asked to dress up in full silk kimono to show off the great beauty of the classic fabric, while a local also demonstrated the method of string preparation.
Of course, there was also a bit of heavy industry thrown in too. A local solar panel company erected a giant solar panel set to encourage it adoption.
Throughout the day there was plenty besides shopping, fishing, and eating to keep people entertained. The local high school band played several sets, and local nursery school teachers created balloon art. The local radio station 86.9 FM Kumejima did a special live broadcast throughout the event (their studio is housed in the center), and yours truly stopped by for a bit to chat about the event.
Three athletes from the Okinawan professional soccer team also stopped by and had a soccer booth for the athletically inclined. Students got to challenge a player to a kick off against a target.
Even after more than a year living on this island of more than 8,000 people, I was surprised at all the different things people make and do here. With all the research I do for my weekly Haisai English radio show and Kume Guide, I was still floored by the variety and utter deliciousness of everything there.