The Future Rests in Good Hands

by Karleen Chinen

After a year of honoring the sacrifices and perseverance of our Okinawan immigrant pioneers who began settling in Hawaii 100 years ago — and their American-born children — “Okage Sama de 2000: Bridging a Century of Uchinanchu Aloha” came to an official close on Dec. 10 at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

“Hukurashaya Uchinanchu — We are Proud to be Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-Heart” was the theme of the closing banquet program which looked to the future with optimism and confidence that the Okinawan cultural legacy rests in the capable hands and dedicated hearts of the next generation of Okinawans.

More than 700 Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart attended the banquet, which was organized by the Young Okinawans of Hawaii (YOH) and the Hawaii Shuri-Naha Club. The event was co-chaired by YOH immediate past president Sandy Goya and Shuri-Naha Club president Nellie Borja. People gathered in the foyer of the Hawaii Ballroom to greet each other, talk story, and enjoy the photo boards displayed by the HUOA clubs.

Those attending the banquet were taken on a video stroll down memory lane with a look back at the more than a dozen events that were held during the centennial celebration year. It began with the interring of the ashes of Toyama Kyuzo — “the father of Okinawan immigration to Hawaii” — at Mililani Memorial Park, a moving opening program at the Hawaii Okinawa Center on January 8, 2000 — exactly one hundred years to the date after the first 26 Okinawans arrived in Hawaii, and continued on through the year. The video montage was assembled by HUOA’s “Hawaii Okinawa Today” video team. It brought back heartwarming memories of a year marked by celebration, appreciation and reflection.

The banquet program featured a full cast of young Okinawans who, indeed, make up the “the next generation.” In their program, this “next generation” made it known that they stand proudly and with deep gratitude on the shoulders of the generations that came before them. They took time to honor a few who have given selflessly to their country and their community.

• Yeiki Kobashigawa, who, in June, more than 50 years after fighting with the famed 100th Infantry Battalion in Europe in World War II, was presented America’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, along with 21 other Asian Pacific Americans — 18 of them AJAs.

• Akira Sakima, who last month was awarded an Imperial Decoration, The Order of the Sacred Treasure - Gold Rays with Rosette, by the government of Japan for his contributions to strengthening the ties of friendship between Japan and the United States.

• One hundred-year-old Kamesuke Nakamura was born in Okinawa the year the first immigrants arrived in Hawaii. Little did he know then that he would follow in the footsteps of those first 27 pioneers. Nakamura was instrumental in the establishment of not only the Hawaii Okinawa Center but the HUOA as well. Nakamura returned to Okinawa with his Hawaii-born wife after living many years in Hawaii.

Event co-chair Sandy Goya said YOH and Hawaii Shuri-Naha Club were honored and appreciative of the opportunity to present the final event of the Okinawan Centennial Celebration year. “Everytime I reminisce about the program, the joy of fellowship, community support and love in our community overwhelms me. With tears in our eyes, smiles on our faces, and joy in our hearts — to our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, relatives, Uchinanchu pioneers and friends — Ippe nihei deebiru!!”

Goya said the centennial year was a year of learning and of continually seeking advice and knowledge. She credited Clarence Tomokazu Nakasone for his assistance in creating the event theme. “Our goal was very simple, yet sincere,” she said. “It was to assure Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart that we, the next generation, have taken to heart our momentous task in passing on our culture. We thank you for hearing our voices.”

Iris (Yafuso) Hiramoto, who co-wrote the script for the program, said she used the names of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother in the program, as did her stage “husband,” YOH president Jon Itomura. “I told Jon and Sandy that it would mean so much more to us, because then we can also give back to our parents, family and ancestors. Those in the audience who knew those names were deeply touched.”

Many people never realized how committed young people are to preserving Okinawan culture, she said. “After they saw the show, I think they know that they will not lose the history — and that it will be passed on to the next generation.”

She said many of the young performers — children like 11-year-old twin sisters Carolyn and Marlene Shimamura; Tori Eguchi, 9; and Shannon and Lauren Asato, 9 and 6, respectively — are lucky to have parents who teach them about their culture. “The parents will teach the young ones to understand and cherish the true Okinawan history. That’s how the legacy will live on.”

“I’m really glad that I was part of this program and of Young Okinawans of Hawaii. It was a great opening to the new future we face,” said Hiramoto. “I will keep this one in my heart forever.”

For Grant “Sandaa” Murata Sensei, “Hukurashaya Uchinanchu — We are Proud to be Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart” was a gift to — and from — the Okinawan ancestral spirits. He said the program was a means of assuring the spirits that Okinawan culture will live on well into the new century and among young people who, even with the benefit of an education, have made — and continue to make — Okinawan culture an important part of their lives.

He believes the Okinawan ancestral spirits have guided the young performers “to love their Okinawan culture and to bring them closer to their roots. After 100 years of gulping down Coca-Cola and eating french fries, something’s gotta change,” he said. “I always tell my students, ‘There’s something spiritual inside of you. You are special because you take the time and effort to learn your culture.’”

Mighty spirits of young Okinawans

Elevating the pioneer’s dreams

Like golden flowers blooming

all over the Hawaiian islands

Hukurashaya Uchinanchu

Yes, we are proud to be Uchinanchu

and Uchinanchu-at-Heart.

excerpt from “Hukurashaya Uchinanchu”

by Clarence Tomokazu Nakasone



Calvin Nakama and Tom Yamamoto gave the audience a good laugh with their performance in “Bazangaa,” an Okinawan comic opera.


GENERATIONS: Shizuko Shiroma and her granddaughters, Sherice and Tiffany; 91-year-old nisei Haruko Arakaki, daughter Lillian Takata and great-granddaughter Chantelle Takata; and nisei Janet Tamashiro, daughter Pam Tamashiro and granddaughter Chiemi Bryant perform “Kariyushi — Imin Hyakunensai.”