Louis Wai
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Hula mania. Truth be told, if I were in Hawai‘i, I probably would not go and watch a hälau practice hula. But, because my daily life here does not include hula, which is part of the culture of my homeland, I decided to watch a practice being led by the wife of one of my law students.

Hula practice in Okinawa. (Photos by Louis Wai)
Hula practice in Okinawa. (Photos by Louis Wai)

As most of you probably know, hula is very popular in Japan and Okinawa. There are hula performances quite often here, and at many different venues. I don’t know enough about hula to tell what is good hula or bad hula, nor do I know the structure of hälau back in Hawai‘i.

Here, my student’s wife and her twin sister are both kumu hula (hula teachers) — they have about 10 students whose skill levels vary. Some are advanced; others needed to be guided personally by one of the kumu. I could tell, however, that the sisters are very good dancers. Further proof of that is they might dance for Keali‘i Reichel on his next trip to Okinawa.

Thunder under the bridge. While walking near my apartment one evening, I could hear the deep, thunderous sounds of eisä drums in the distance. As I got closer, along with the drums I could hear the singing that goes along with the drumming. This particular eisä group was practicing in a parking lot under a Route 58 overpass, which looks like the area under the H-1, mauka of Kahala Mall.

If you didn’t already know, eisä is the highly choreographed Okinawan drum dance that many equate with Japanese bon dance. In Okinawa, it is practiced and performed year-round, not just during the obon season. Eisä is also performed in the Okinawan and Japanese communities in Hawai‘i.

Freeway underpasses seem to be a favored place to set up house for the homeless.
Freeway underpasses seem to be a favored place to set up house for the homeless.

Homeless in Okinawa. Areas under overpasses seem to be ideal not just for eisä practice, but for homeless structures. Unlike in Hawai‘i, there doesn’t seem to be many homeless “campsites” here. The two areas I know about seem to have about four or five campers. What I do see more of are homeless “structures,” such as in the photo to the right. After I took this photo, it was partially destroyed by a typhoon.

Politics: 200,000 votes + 0 votes = VOID. This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. There was an election in mainland Japan in which a candidate seemingly won the election with 200,000 votes; however, in one of the districts, he did not receive any votes, so all of the results were voided. Three men were arrested for padding the votes. Some people in that district said they voted for him, but, obviously, their votes did not count in the final analysis. Is that dumb or what? I sure hope the candidate himself did not live in that sub-district.

Hot, steamy glasses. Did I get you excited? Well, calm down, because I’m talking about the weather. One of the common complaints about Okinawa from non-Okinawans like me is about the heat and humidity here. After all, Okinawa is located in the subtropical climate zone. The “hot” season only lasts about four months — from June to September, although it feels much longer — when the temperature is usually about 85 degrees and the humidity about 85 percent. You read that right — 85 percent! I’m told that because of Okinawa’s longitude and latitude, the sun feels extra hot. Walking to the car is pretty much the most sun I can handle on days like these. If I go outside, I take an umbrella with me, even if it looks a little strange. Sometimes when I step out of the car after driving, my glasses actually fog up because the humidity is so high. Oh well, such is life.

Fresh rice from Ishigaki island — milled and packaged on the same day, July 10, 2014.
Fresh rice from Ishigaki island — milled and packaged on the same day, July 10, 2014.

Fresh to da max. How’s this for fresh? I recently ate rice that was milled and packaged on the day it was purchased. It wasn’t that much more expensive, but even if it was, it would have been worth the money. The rice was grown on Ishigaki, one of the neighbor islands south of Okinawa island. One noticeable difference was the shine on the fresh rice — that was very distinct. To be honest, in a blind taste test, I couldn’t tell the difference between the new rice and the “old” rice, but if given a choice, I would choose the fresh rice every time.

Okinawan word of the week: Speaking of rice, here are just a few of the dozen or so Okinawan words for rice — kumi, mee, ‘nni, awamee, chiifan. In Japanese, it’s kome.

Louis Wai was born and raised in Hawai‘i. He practiced law in Honolulu for many years before earning a master’s degree in English as a Second Language in 2008. In 2010, he decided to move to Okinawa, where he now teaches English.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here