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Saturday, September 2, 2017

OKINAWA AND HAWAII: The Ideal Partnership

Okinawa and Hawaii are alike in so many ways that I've long wondered why we have not in the past had a closer relationship.  We:
  • are the only island states (Japan refers to them as prefectures) far separated from the national capital
  • have a similar population (1.3 million for Okinawa, 1.4 million for Hawaii)
  • are located along the same general latitude, meaning our climate is similar
  • support the same industries:  tourism, agriculture, military presence
  • live the longest, with Ryukyuan people at 34 centenarians/100,000 three times higher than mainland Japan
Interestingly enough, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor initiated World War II, while the Battle of Okinawa, where 95,000 Imperial Japanese Army troops and 12,510 Americans--plus 149,193 persons of Okinawa origin, one-fourth the island population at that time--were killed or committed suicide, was the final major ground action before the two atomic bombs.  After WWII, there was an actual move to make Okinawa a U.S. Territory, like Hawaii.

There are differences, of course:
  • Size:  Okinawa = 466 square miles, Hawaii = 10,931 square miles (Oahu alone = 597 square miles)
  • Maximum Elevation:  Okinawa = 1,650 feet, Mauna Kea = 13,796 feet
  • Military:  96% of American military located in Okinawa on 32 bases and 48 training sites, the most contentious issue regarding U.S.-Japan relations; while the military is prominent in Hawaii, with exceptions here and there, we mostly tolerate them for economic reasons
  • Islands:  Okinawa = 48 inhabited, Hawaii = 6 inhabited
  • GNP/capita:  Okinawa = $34,842, Hawaii = $51,277
Okinawans have been shown to be genetically slightly different from mainland Japanese.  The indigenous peoples of the Ryukyu Islands are also known as Uchinanchu, and have been shown to be significantly related to the Ainu people of Hokkaido.  As my father's father came from Utashinai, located north of Sapporo, perhaps I'm closer to being Okinawan than Japanese.

There has been a pervading prejudice against Okinawans as inferior to mainland Japanese, influencing who you could marry.  While this feeling has recently been overcome by the changing times, this general attitude also carried into societal attitudes in Hawaii.  Almost everyone whose name ends in "-shiro" can be linked back to Okinawa.  Certainly, there are others, and I don't know if general ignorance on my part was the reason, or a perhaps a more progressive sense, but one of my girlfriends in high school into college was Okinawan, and I did not know that Ige was rooted in Okinawa until fairly recently.  Similarly, growing up in Hawaii, Jewishness was just not part of life here, so for the longest time I thought a Jewish person was blond because the two major female characters in the movie Exodus had hair of that color.

Hawaii has the largest population of people who moved away from Okinawa.  In the early 1900's about 20% of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii came from that prefecture.  Okinawans were distinct, as they spoke a different dialect, ate sweet potatoes instead of white rice, and occupied a lower social strata.  In a sense, this isolation forced them to stick together, and they began to dominate certain economic areas.  It was estimated that  at the time of World War II, Okinawans already owned 80% of restaurants in Honolulu, largely through tanomoshi funds.  This percentage has dropped because of national fast food chains, but  even today, Zippy's, Times Supermarket,  Tamashiro Fish Market, etc, the tradition continues.  And, certainly, they entertain better, from a high school friend Teddy Chinen, who became Teddy Tanaka, to Jake Shimabukuro, who recently entertained us at 15 Craigside.

About the matter of Okinawa and Hawaii working together for our common progress, I have been involved in the process.  Kiyonari Kikutake had designed and built the showcase exhibit, Aquapolis, for the 1975 Ocean Expo to commemorate the American handover of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, the year I joined the University of Hawaii faculty.  

I remember John Craven and Kikutake designing and building a small floating structure in 1976 for our bicentennial, which, unfortunately sank and remains today rusting in Kaneohe Bay.  But I went back to Okinawa on several occasions, for I wanted Aquapolis to be floated to Lisbon for their 1998 Ocean Expo or to Hawaii for our Blue Revolution experiments.  Unfortunately, funds could not be located and the platform was sold as scrap to Taiwan.

Into the 90's I traveled to Okinawa on several occasions:
All the above is just background for the annual Okinawa Festival being held in Honolulu this weekend.  Activities actually began yesterday when the World Uchinanchu Business (WUB) Network had its 21st Conference at the East-West Center.  WUB was started by Robert Nakasone, with the support of then East-West Center President Kenji Sumida.  Here below are John Tasato and Bob (left), both of whom talked me into moderating one of the sessions, then below, Kenji (right), with the Hawaii United Okinawa Association President Vince Watabu and East West Center President Richard Vuylsteke.


There is something called a Shisa, a lion-dog from Okinawa mythology, to protect from evil.  It dances like a Chinese Dragon:


That's Governor David Ige with Vuylsteke.  The past presidents of WUB gave short keynotes:


On the left in the above photo is Steve Sombrero, who was once associated with the Hawaiian Onsen group we formed just at the time the Japanese bubble burst in the early '90's.  He expressed interest in re-starting this effort.

There was an excellent bento lunch catered by Zippy's, with short statements by Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho.  I participated in the two afternoon sessions focused on clean energy, chairing the first group, which included Hawaiian Electric's President Alan Oshima (left).  The second session included the President of the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research Dennis Teranishi and new Hawaii State Energy Administrator Carilyn Shon (with Mark Matsuura of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute to the right):


We took a group photo:


There was this elaborate dinner planned with unlimited Okinawa awamori and sake, but I decided enough was enough and went to see the Rainbow Wahine Volleyball team sweep South Dakota.  What a difference in cuisine, though, for instead of the finest Okinawan delicacies, I had hot dog, garlic fries and a cup of beer.

But for anyone who got this far and lives in Honolulu, the Okinawa Festival generally draws 40,000 to Kapiolani Park, today and Sunday.  There are 50 Okinawa clubs hosting this affair to fund their cultural programs:
  • This is the 35th such event.
  • FREE (okay, you need to pay for the food and drinks) and has been voted Hawaii's Best Ethnic/Cultural Festival in past Hawaii's Best People's Choice Awards.
  • There will be continuous live performances at the Kapiolani Park Bandstand.
  • Saturday night features a gigantic outdoor bon dance.  
  • Free parking at Kapiolani Community College, with $3 transport to the site, but just buy a festival pin for $5 to get free travel.
For more information, visit okinawanfestival.

Finally, 15 Craigside has a pervading spirit of Okinawa.  First the percentage of Japanese extraction is very high, at least 80%, and maybe even closer to 90%.  Secondly, while Okinawans represent 17% of Japanese in Hawaii, my guess is that this percentage is twice as high here.  I could diligently count names, but I really don't know which ones are Okinawan.

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Hurricane Irma at 110 MPH will strengthen and is looking now like she is heading for Florida or the Eastern Seaboard:


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