by Karleen C. Chinen

Cheery faces and the fragrant scent of flower lei filled the air as nearly 1,000 Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart came together at the Hawaii Okinawa Center on Jan. 20, to celebrate the installation of James Iha as president of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association — and to thank outgoing President Albert Miyasato for leading HUOA through a memorable year filled with activities marking the centennial of Okinawan immigration to Hawaii. They were also there to cheer on the Year 2000 “Uchinanchu of the Year.”

The opportunity to preside over “all of these exciting and invigorating experiences was truly an honor for me,” said “Doc Al” in his message. He thanked the many people and organizations who supported not only the centennial activities, but his administration’s programs, centered around the theme, “Shike ya Chode (One World; One People).” (Doc Al’s outgoing message can be read in its entirety on page 2.)

2001 President Jimmy Iha and his fellow officers take their oath of office.

And then it was time to pass on the reigns of leadership to Jimmy Iha, a member of Chatan Sonjin Kai and Wahiawa Okinawa Kyoyu Kai. State Sen. Jan Yagi Buen, whose grandparents emigrated from Chatan, Okinawa, installed the 2001 officers. Serving with President Iha will be:

• President-elect: Gladys Tokunaga-Asao (Tamagusuku Club)
• Vice Presidents: Keith M. Kaneshiro (Aza Gushikawa Doshi Kai, Kochinda Chojin Kai and Hui Makaala), George Tamashiro (Wahiawa Okinawa Kyoyu Kai) and Karen Shishido (Hui Makaala)
• Executive Secretary: Jane Tateyama (Club Motobu)
• Assistant Executive Secretary: Gerrie Nakamura (Wahiawa Okinawa Kyoyu Kai and Chatan Sonjin Kai)
• Japanese Language Secretary: Chikako Nago (Young Okinawans of Hawaii)
• Treasurer: Douglas Miyasato (Aza Yogi Doshi Kai)
• Assistant Treasurer: Jane Okamura (Hawaii Shuri Naha Club)
• Advisors: Dorothy Shiroma Hoe (Hui O Laulima, Gaza Yonagusuku Doshi Kai and Nishihara Chojin Kai), Roy Kaneshiro and George Uyema (Chatan Sonjin Kai), Ken Kiyabu (Yagaji Doshi Kai), Henry Uyeshiro (Onna Sonjin Kai) and Maurice Yamasato (Haneji Club).

“Yui Nu Kukuru — Uchinanchu Spirit with Hearts Together” will guide Iha’s year as president. He said the spirit of “Yui Nu Kukuru” was practiced by the Issei who instilled it in their children. It was further embellished with fellowship through songs and dances and displays of respect and compassion toward all people,” said Iha.

“I can still recall very vividly the wonderful times my Issei parents had singing and dancing with their fellow Uchinanchus. How my mother brought sushi to her non-Japanese neighbors and friends during New Year’s and other festive events. How she prepared chicken soup for our neighbors who were ill to nurse them to good health. I am sure that most of the Nisei present today as well as the older Sansei can recall many other incidents when our Issei displayed their compassion toward other people . . . . Remembering our ancestors, I hope all of you will embrace our theme — ‘Yui Nu Kukuru — Uchinanchu Spirit with Hearts Together.’”

Jimmy Iha was the tenth child born to Sonkyu Iha from Chatan and his wife Kame, from Yomitan. He has been president of both Chatan Sonjin Kai and Wahiawa Okinawa Kyoyu Kai, both of which recognized him as their “Uchinanchu of the Year.” He is also an active member of Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission. A retired educator, he served as principal of Kaunakakai Elementary, Molokai High, Wheeler Intermediate and Leilehua High School. After retiring as an administrator, he returned to the DOE as a program and educational specialist with the DOE’s Central Oahu school district.

Iha also retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel after serving 28 years with the Hawaii Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserves. He is also a Vietnam War veteran. He also served as interim executive secretary of the Oahu Interscholastic Association and as director of the Hawaii Army National Guard Youth Challenge Program.

Jimmy and Marian Iha have two sons, Derek and Daniel, a daughter-in-law Karen, and two grandchildren, Derren and Kadee. Iha’s older brother, the late Peter Iha, served as HUOA’s 1975-76 president.

Iha said he hopes HUOA members will take an active role in preserving the Okinawan legacy and the bright and promising future it holds — “a future where our multigenerational membership will understand and appreciate our cultural heritage, which in turn will help us to better appreciate and understand our multiethnic society in Hawaii, our nation and world.”

The Yui Nu Kukuru Chorus directed by Nago Club member Betty Higa.

The new president also extended his appreciation and gratitude to the “Uchinanchu of the Year” honorees who were also recognized that evening. “Through their dedication and commitment they have not only assisted their individual clubs but the Hawaii United Okinawa Association as well. We must always remember that the success of HUOA is highly dependent upon the strength and effectiveness of our member associations,” Iha said. (See “Uchinanchu of the Year” on pages 6 and 7)

Congratulatory messages were offered by Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, Consul General of Japan Minoru Shibuya, and United Japanese Society of Hawaii president Ken Saiki. Lt. Gov. Hirono thanked HUOA and the Uchinanchu community for their hard work in organizing last year’s centennial tribute to the Okinawan immigrant pioneers and the legacy they left. “It’s been an incredible year and I want to congratulate HUOA.” She thanked HUOA for involving her in so many of the centennial activities. “Thank you for making it a year of celebration for everyone,” she said.

HUOA vice president George Tamashiro delivered Mayor Harris’ message; he had to leave early due to another engagement. He said Mayor Harris appreciated the partnership the city enjoyed with HUOA during the centennial year.

Consul General Shibuya, who assumed his Hawaii post a few months ago, said he was impressed by his first visit to the Hawaii Okinawa Center. “I’m very impressed not just by this beautiful building, but by the turn-out tonight.” He offered his congratulations on a successful centennial celebration. Shibuya said Japan is aware of the strong ties between Hawaii and Okinawa and welcomes programs like the Obuchi Education and Research Program.

UJSH president Ken Saiki said the entire community gained a better appreciation of the Okinawan culture as a result of the centennial celebration. “We appreciate HUOA’s support of the United Japanese Society of Hawaii,” he said.

Karii toasts were offered by Henry Arakaki of Chatan Sonjin Kai and Susan Kodani, president of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

The evening’s entertainment featured just the right mix of performances: taiko, Okinawan dances, karaoke, choral singing and a special treat. Ryukyu Kobudo Taiko-Hawaii Shibu got the entertainment off to a lively start with a vibrant taiko piece. A good mix of Okinawan dances was presented by Hooge Kai - Nakasone Yoshiko Dance Studio, with jikata provided by the Afuso-ryu Hawaii Sandaa Kai, led by Grant Murata Sensei. Soothing karaoke numbers were shared by Jenny Watanabe and Ralph Ige, followed by moving renditions of three Okinawan classics — “Tinsagu nu Hana,” “Bashofu” and “Ashimiji Bushi” — sung by the Yui Nu Kukuru Chorus. The chorus was organized by Chatan Sonjin Kai members Roy Kaneshiro and George Uyema. The chorus music was arranged by Dale Senaga with choral direction by Kazu Sunabe and Betty Higa and piano accompaniment by Daniel Akiyama.

Rounding out the entertainment program was a special appearance by Uchinanchu Blues Brothers Roy Kaneshiro and Maurice Yamasato.

Those attending the installation banquet also took home a work of art — their program booklet. Through the efforts of Chatan Sonjin Kai member Barbara Maeshiro, noted Okinawan bingata artist Eijun Shiroma agreed to share a photo of one of his precious bingata works with HUOA for the program cover. Shiroma succeeded his father as head of Shiroma Ryukyu Bingata Works. He is the 15th generation in his family to practice the art.

Congratulations and ippe nihei deebiru to Installation Banquet co-chairs George Kaneshiro and Henry Arakaki and Chatan Sonjin Kai members for organizing a superb installation program from start to finish!