AN EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
by Lynn Miyashiro (Urasoe Shijin Kai)
2000 Geidai Scholarship Recipient

“You’re going to Okinawa,” said the voice on the phone.

“Are you serious? No way! Are you for real?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m serious, you’re going to Okinawa. You got the scholarship,” said the voice once more.

The voice belonged to Gary Honda, Executive Director of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association. He said Shigeko Asato, who coordinated the scholarship applications for HUOA, had called him from Okinawa to relay the news.

Months earlier, I had mixed feelings about even applying for the year-long scholarship to study Okinawan dance at Geidai, the Okinawa Prefectural College of Arts. I submitted my application more to appease my dad than anything else. I was reluctant to apply for the scholarship for several reasons, two of the main ones being that I was already working — and it had been 10 years since I danced. I was also concerned about my students: Hawaii’s school year ends in June while the school year in Okinawa starts in April. If I was selected for the scholarship, I would have had to leave my students one quarter before the end of the school year.

“I can't believe it!” I thought to myself after I hung up the phone. I didn't know if I was happy or not: Not knowing whether I would be given the scholarship was good, because I didn't have to make a decision. But after receiving the news, I had a lot to consider. In hindsight, I think I really wanted to go, no matter what. It was just a matter of convincing myself that it was okay. As I talked to people close to me, it became clear that everything would work out even if I went to Okinawa.

All of my concerns: my students, my teaching position, course work for a PDE (Professional Diploma in Education) — would I be able to survive in my classes in Okinawa? All that melted away with each soul-searching discussion I had. Other teachers said my students would be fine. The principal offered me a leave of absence. The instructor for the PDE course said I could continue my class over the Internet. Many people told me not to worry about the language barrier, that I would somehow survive in my classes. With all that support and encouragement behind me and after lots of my own consideration, I accepted the scholarship. A little over a month later, I was in Okinawa.

Alyce Nakama, the Ryudai (University of the Ryukyus) scholarship recipient, and I traveled together from Hawaii. We were met by relatives and Asato-san, who took care of getting the ryuugakusei, or foreign students, settled. After a late night dinner with my relatives and a quick trip to Family Mart (a convenience store) to pick up essentials, I moved into my apartment. The six-tatami mat living area with kitchenette, shower/bathroom, and lanai was small, but adequate. With the kitchenette, the living area measured about 9 feet by 27 feet. At first, I thought the apartment was too small, but since I ended up spending so much time at my relative’s house or at lessons, all I really did was sleep there. So the size of the apartment was no problem.

Over the next few days, Hirata-san from Geidai helped me and the other ryuugakusei — Ezequiel Hokama from Argentina, Carlos Odo from Peru and Yuko Yamauchi from Los Angeles — get settled at Geidai and acquainted with Okinawa. We registered for classes at Geidai and applied at the municipal office for our alien registration card. Hirata-san also took us to the bank, where we opened an account with only 10 yen — just about 10 cents — and an inkan (name stamp). Interestingly, you can have a bank account with nothing to put in it. Also interesting was the fact that people don’t sign their signature for official paperwork, everything is stamped with their inkan.

Classes started almost two weeks after I arrived in Okinawa. My classes in funsouhou (hair styling), sanshin, fue (flute), taiko, and odori (dance) were held once a week for 90 minutes, while Japanese class was held daily for 90 minutes. During the second semester I added kokyuu (played with a bow) to my schedule.

Ezequiel, Carlos, Yuko and I saw each other every day — and practically every night — during the first few months; we became very good friends. Having each other really helped us get accustomed to life away from our families, friends and our home countries. Although at the beginning we had a hard time communicating with each other (Ezequiel and Carlos spoke Spanish and some Japanese) — with a little Japanese, Spanish, English and gestures, we communicated just fine. Yuko was a tremendous help to me in class because she understood quite a bit of Japanese so she could explain a lot of things that the teachers were saying.

Outside of school, I went to sanshin lessons at Choichi Terukina Sensei’s dojo (school), fue lessons at Kiyoyuki Owan Sensei’s dojo, and karate lessons at Takeshi Miyagi Sensei’s dojo. I took the beginner-level tests for sanshin and fue — and passed — and also performed karate in a matsuri (festival).

I really enjoyed learning from these teachers because they were all very encouraging. I learned not only what I went to their dojo for, but so many other things about Okinawa as well, because they would talk about why everything was the way it was. Each time they shared something about those topics, I wished I understood more Japanese because what I walked away with was about half of what they shared. Because of them, I experienced so many things that I would not have been able to had I not been in Okinawa.

I spent most of my weekends at a relative’s house rather than at my apartment. Spending time with them and getting to know these people who had been just names and pictures to me in Hawaii kept me from feeling homesick. For my uncle’s 73rd birthday, I played sanshin while another relative played koto. I was a little nervous because I was the only sanshin, but it turned out okay. My relatives from both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family took great care of me during my entire stay in Okinawa. The strengthened family bonds that once again stretch across the Pacific Ocean is one of the most treasured possessions I brought back from Okinawa.

Many people said that the year would go by quickly. For me, it just flew by. By the time summer vacation came along, we had all just gotten the hang of being in Okinawa: knowing what bus to catch; what days different types of trash would be picked up: recyclable, combustible, and noncombustible; and the location of the 100-yen stores. By winter vacation, I realized that there were only three months left and then it would be time to go home. There was so much I wanted to do before going home, and I’m happy that I managed accomplish so much in that short period of time.

Before leaving Hawaii, many people told me that after being in Okinawa, I wouldn’t want to come back to Hawaii. That was so true! Like many other Sansei and Yonsei who have gone to Okinawa to study Japanese or Okinawan culture, there is a fascination that makes it hard to return to Hawaii. I met two former scholarship recipients who have not returned to their home countries — one who went to Okinawa three years ago, and the other who has been there for five years now. Although I was in Okinawa for an entire year, there are still many things I want to see and do. I know that one day I would like to return to Okinawa.

Saying good-bye to everyone was the hardest thing I had to do in Okinawa. I was surprised that so many of my friends and relatives came to the airport. I was happy to see them one last time, but it made parting so much harder. After many tearful hugs and good-byes, my mom, dad, sister and I passed through the x-ray machine and headed for the boarding gates.

EPILOGUE

Soon after returning from Okinawa, Grant Murata Sensei of the Afuso-ryu Gensei Kai asked me to play the fue for the Hooge Kai, Yoshiko Nakasone Dance Academy’s recital because their regular fue player, June Nakama, was dancing in the recital. This was an excellent opportunity for me to dive into the geino (performing arts) community here in Hawaii. I knew about four of the 20 songs in the program, so I worked hard to learn the rest of them.

Since returning, I’ve also begun studying sanshin with Murata Sensei and the Afuso-ryu Gensei Kai. For now, sanshin and fue are the only practices I can fit into my schedule so I plan to continue my Okinawan cultural enrichment through those two instruments.

Lynn Miyashiro, 29, is the daughter of George and Joyce Miyashiro of Wahiawa. The Miyashiros are active members of Urasoe Shijin Kai. Lynn will return to classroom teaching at Waianae Elementary School in late July.