by James Y. Iha
2001 President, Hawaii United Okinawa Association
(Chatan Sonjin Kai, Wahiawa Kyoyu Kai)

When I was installed as HUOA President six months ago, an entire year seemed like a lot of time to check off everything I wanted to accomplish during my term. My predecessor, Dr. Albert Miyasato, had warned me that there’s never enough time to do everything you want to do because time flies by so much faster for the HUOA president. It wasn’t until this month that I realized how true Doc’s words were. Six months have flown by — and although there’s much we have accomplished — there is still so much to do.

With the theme “Yui Nu Kukuru — Uchinanchu Spirit with Hearts Together” behind us and the spirit of “Chibariyo!” in our hearts and minds, we are continuing to move forward.

I am very proud of all we have completed to date. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, much of our focus is on the legacy left by the Issei. When I think back on my formative years, what stands out in my mind is that spirit of helping each other and enjoying each other’s company that I saw in my parents and other Issei and in my neighbors. Thus my theme this year: “Yui Nu Kukuru — Uchinanchu Spirit with Hearts Together.”

That sentiment, I believe, is what inspired us to come together to build “our home”: the Hawaii Okinawa Center. The spirit of “Yui Nu Kukuru” has held us together through good times and bad and helped us to realize our dreams. But with the passage of time, the experiences of the Issei — who give us our grounding — are being lost. As odd as it may sound, our past is the foundation for our future. When we honor the legacy and heritage of our immigrant pioneers, we inevitably strengthen the spirit of “Yui Nu Kukuru.”

The April 28 HUOA club “Summit,” “Our Clubs, Our Future,” was the first of a series of summits focusing on the principle that the HUOA is only as strong as its member clubs. The summit examined the status of our clubs and looked at ways our clubs can learn from each other to ensure not only their viability, but their growth as well.

We also held our first Storytelling Festival in May. It was centered around the theme, “Building Bridges of Aloha.” The festival was HUOA’s way of reaching out to the broader Hawaii community and building bridges between generations and cultures through storytelling. As I looked out at the crowd over those three nights, I felt that we had achieved our goals. Thus we are now seriously considering making both the Storytelling Festival and the summit annual events to help strengthen our clubs and our relationship with the larger community.

This is a very special year for two of our performing arts schools. A few weeks ago, we were treated to a superb 45th anniversary super recital by the Hooge-kai, Yoshiko Nakasone Dance Academy at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. “Dentoo No Bi — The Beauty of Tradition” was a classic example of “the beauty of tradition”: a true bridging of generations.

And, coming up on August 5 will be another blockbuster showcase of Okinawan culture as the Ryukyu Kobudo Taiko-Hawaii Shibu, led by Calvin Nakama Sensei, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a performance at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. “Dento No Hibiki — the Mighty Sounds of Tradition” promises to be another tremendous example of the commitment of people in our performing arts community to preserve, promote and perpetuate our Okinawan culture. I encourage you to come out and support our young talents.

In just a few months, our community will be putting hands and hearts together for the 19th year (can you believe it!) for our Okinawan Festival. The Festival will be held Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1 and 2, at Kapiolani Park, with Hawaii’s largest bon dance closing off the Saturday schedule. The festival will be a time to rekindle old friendships and share our culture and heritage with kamaaina and malihini alike in the festive surroundings of Kapiolani Park. We will again be welcoming several top-notch performers from Okinawa, so plan on spending the weekend at the Okinawan Festival.

All of these cultural events serve to remind us of how fortunate our Uchinanchu community is to have a thriving and immensely talented and disciplined, homegrown performing arts community that is drawing in young Okinawans and Okinawans-at-heart in record numbers. Whenever I see our Hawaii students and their sensei perform, I am left with chicken skin and an emotion-filled lump in my throat. To our Hawaii students and sensei, I say “Ippe Nihwee Deebiru” for all you do to help keep our culture alive so that we will always remember who we are and draw strength, pride and inspiration from that grounding — and so that others may share in the beauty of our culture.