KOTO KIDS EXPERIENCE OKINAWA

by Sharon Shimabukuro
Member, Jane Kaneshiro Sozan Kai

Zippy's chili . . . nantu and sekihan to sell at an HUOA craft fair . . . more Zippy's chili . . . saimin and snack items . . . nantu and sekihan to sell at another HUOA craft fair . . .

The goal of all this fundraising was a trip to Okinawa. Aided by a grant from Hui O Laulima, members of the Jane Kaneshiro Sozan Kai embarked on a goodwill tour to Okinawa and Japan in June 2001. Joining the group were members of Hilo's Soshin Kai, under the leadership of Shizuko Akamine.

Escorted by Nadine Shimabukuro of N&K Travel Service, Inc., the group visited castles, museums, the new Peace Memorial Museum and other places of historic significance, cultural villages where they were treated to glimpses of Okinawan houses and the life of early Okinawa, music, weaving and dyeing, a habu (snake) exhibit, an eisa performance, and shopping at the Heiwadori. A visit to the Mori no Garasu Ryukyu Glass Factory was a hands-on experience, as everyone had a chance to blow and shape a glass cup to bring home as a souvenir. Some of the group also visited Yaeyama, while others remained in Naha to visit with friends and family or just enjoy a break from the hectic pace of the tour. The highlight of the group's stay in Okinawa was the goodwill exchange with Okinawan koto and odori students.

Due to the excitement and enthusiasm of sensei in Okinawa, the original plan to visit a koto dojo so the Hawaii students could observe a koto class in Okinawa and interact with the students blossomed into a mini recital of children performing Okinawan music and dance at the Naha Ryotei teahouse. Tanahara Yasuko Sensei, past president and advisor to the Ryukyu Sokyoku Koyo Kai, and the current president, Miyagi Masako Sensei, attended and participated in the goodwill exchange. They were instrumental in the success of the exchange. The sensei of the Ryukyu Sokyoku Koyo Kai gathered their young students and organized the event on short notice.

Allison Yanagi, who was studying in Okinawa at the time, served as mistress of ceremonies. Under the auspices of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association's Hawaii Okinawa Today program, Jay Ogawa and Melissa Uyeunten assisted in videotaping the performance and goodwill exchange, as well as interviews with the sensei.

Shanna Bise, Derek Fujio, Torie Nakata-Nagao, Ashley Shiroma and Heather Shiroma of the Jane Kaneshiro Sozan Kai, along with Dana Shimabukuro and Elizabeth Alonzo of the Soshin Kai, performed several numbers in a gassho with koto students from Okinawa. Derek Fujio, accompanied by Heather Shiroma, performed "Nakama Bushi" as a dokuso (solo). Dancers from the Tamagusuku Ryu Shosetsu Tomoe no Kai, under the direction of Gushiken Ikuko Sensei, accompanied the koto performers in "Kageyadefu" and "Shiki Kuduchi." Gushiken Sensei honored the group by dancing "Aki no Odori" to the accompaniment of the student koto players.

The Okinawa and Hawaii students were able, amidst much trial and error and a lot of laughter, to interact over a delicious box lunch. The Hawaii students learned about "loose socks" (socks one meter long which drape around the ankle and lower calf) and the students from Okinawa were fascinated by Elizabeth Alonzo, who had no roots in Okinawa, but was learning to play Okinawan koto.

Laden with omiyage, new koto books and other treasures, the tour continued with a one-week sweep through Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone and Tokyo. The group visited temples and shrines, collecting omamori (good luck charms) saw a live ninja show at Toei Uzumasa Eigamura, rode the shinkansen (bullet train), stopped overnight at an onsen (hot spring spa), and spent a fun-filled day at Tokyo Disneyland.

The Jane Kaneshiro Goodwill Tour was a resounding success. The goodwill tour and goodwill exchange provided an opportunity for the students to expand their knowledge and appreciation of their Okinawan heritage and interact with their counterparts in Okinawa - and has left a lasting impression on the participants.

After returning to Hawaii, Jane Kaneshiro Sensei asked each of the Hawaii students to write a short essay on their impressions of the trip. Here are a few excerpts.


"In retrospect, the Jane Kaneshiro Goodwill Tour achieved all it intended to, and then some. The interaction and relationships born between the Hawaii and Okinawa groups may never be set asunder, and the impressions of our ancestors' homeland shall never be forgotten. My fresh perspectives on Okinawa bred new emotions and thoughts within me, reflecting back to my ancestors who once were born and raised in those islands. I see the ideals and upbringings of my ancestors in the ways of those people we met in the goodwill exchange. The Okinawan people represent one possibility of those who came before, a representation of time and growth. We, as the descendants of those original Okinawa immigrants, form a second possibility, and the goodwill exchange allowed the two associations to meet again, a grand reunification down the stream of time.

It is this constant branching of the river of life that allows for the diversity in this world, and there are countless branches which remain to be found. However, the Jane Kaneshiro Goodwill Tour allowed two of those branches to intertwine, and it is my hope that this lifelong bond will only be the first of many fruitful relationships to come." - Derek Tadashi Fujio


"Well, anyways, it was fun playing with the Okinawan people because when we played as a whole group it sounded really nice." - Torie Nakata-Nagao


"On this trip to Okinawa and Japan, I had a really good time. What I mostly liked was the get-together with the local koto students and their senseis. It was a good experience for me because you couldn't mess up, and there were these really high senseis watching you play. I also liked all the tours we did, and the full day of Disneyland.

What I didn't like was the hot weather, it was like down here but no wind. I also didn't like that you had to pay to go swimming (1,000 yen, which is about $9.50 here)." - Ashley Shiroma


"After the long and tiring eight-and-one-half-hour flight from the island of Oahu, we finally landed in Okinawa, Japan. As I walked out of the airport and to the tour bus, a burst of hot air got me thinking, "If it's this hot during the evening, imagine what's it like during the afternoon!" . . . .

. . . .[I]n our stay in Okinawa, we visited Bise village in northern Okinawa called Motobu. Going there was special to me because my family ancestors was from Bise village and finally going to meet some family there for the first time. . . .

. . . .The students of Jane Kaneshiro Sozan Kai had a mini koto performance with the koto students from Okinawa. It was a great experience for me because it was our first time playing out of Hawaii and with many students from Okinawa together.

The more places we visited and learned more about the Okinawan culture, it made me appreciate my culture more and made me want to learn more about Okinawa. . . .

. . . . This trip brought me closer with my family because they also came along and I saw them 24/7 during this goodwill trip. I also got closer to my cousin from California, who also came along in this trip and the other koto student who I've gotten closer to from this trip. I think the most memorable part on this trip was when all the kids sat in the back of the tour bus after the long day's tour, and all the adult slept and we would talk and laugh until our stomachs were sore." - Shanna Bise


"The Goodwill trip opened my eyes to [the] broad field in Okinawa culture; the sanshin, koto, taiko drums, eisa dances, and its history. Since I am Okinawan/Japanese, it really meant a lot for me to learn the history. Going to Okinawa helped me not only with the brochures, but actually seeing the historical spots and absorbing its presence and what happened in the past. I thought the most memorable experience was the Himeyuri no To, or "Star Lily Monument." It was dedicated to the young girls who risked their lives becoming nurses, tending the sick and wounded. It really made me think about those young women and young doctors whose lives ended so short for their country. I remember everything! Playing the koto with the students from Okinawa was great. Even the language barrier was alright. We still had fun. Meeting Tanahara Sensei, former president of Ryukyu Sokyoku Koyo Kai, was an honor. There was so much fun while absorbing the excellent cultural experience . . . I would do it again!" - Dana Shimabukuro