Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
The Sakaemachi Step. Sakaemachi Market is located in a section of Naha that resembles the past. There are open stalls, a grocery store, small shops selling various goods and small restaurants — it is like Honolulu’s Chinatown. This market should not be confused with Makishi Market, which is located in the middle of Kokusai Döri.
Sakaemachi has a “red light district” feel to it. I was there on a Saturday afternoon, around 3, when, suddenly, I heard some music playing. It sounded like the kind of music you would hear at a dance class.
The music sounded like it was coming from the second floor, so I turned around to look for the dance class. Just then, I saw the merchants coming out of their shops and standing at their entrances, exercising. I don’t know if you could really call it exercising, as they seemed to be going through the motions rather than actually engaging in serious cardiovascular and aerobic activity. But it was fun, nevertheless, to walk by them, smile and see them smile back at me. I learned that the “Sakaemachi dance” is well-known here in Okinawa.
I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, so I returned later with my camera to try to photograph the scene. I got something else, instead.
Rather than dancing in unison, the same merchants were all sitting this time, removing the “threads,” or “roots,” from bean sprouts. It looked like a timed activity because they were all doing it at the same time. Ahhh, maybe it was another kind of dance or exercise routine . . .
Doing business in a tree. There seems to be a fascination with using trees in the design of some businesses here. If you drive along Route 58, near Naha International Airport, you’ll likely see a shabu-shabu restaurant called “Gajimaru” that looks like it’s sitting in the branches of a big Gajimaru, or banyan, tree. Another building in Naha — this one located across from the police station — was designed with a tree growing on its front exterior.
Public opinion poll. “How do you feel about Hawai‘i’s new governor being the first Okinawan ever elected to the position?” Curious to know how they felt about having a “son” of Okinawa elected governor of Hawai‘i, this was a question I posed to some of my students.
The one point they all agreed on was that if he were living here in Okinawa, his name would be pronounced “Igei,” with an extended second syllable. Other than that, here’s how they responded:
Sawako: “I’m very happy and proud of him that he has become governor of Hawai‘i.”
Kumiko: “Honestly speaking, I don’t know him in detail, except a small article in the newspaper. But I’m very glad to hear that he is an Okinawan person. The first generation of his family who emigrated from Okinawa to Hawai‘i must have had a very hard life. Their patient hearts succeeded to their descendants after they died. Therefore, he’ll have a firm belief as a statesman. I’d like him to try his best for the people of Hawai‘i.”
Yuko: “I’m glad to hear that. I’m proud of him. I feel friendship and closeness to Hawai‘i. He is great!”
Noriko: “I’m really proud of having an Okinawan governor in Hawai‘i. I feel the endeavors of all generations of Okinawans in Hawai‘i, not only Mr. Ige’s efforts, but also all Okinawans’ efforts bore fruit.”
Miwa: “Maybe the ideas and identity of people of Hawai‘i are different from mainland America. Some Americans think white people come first. The first generation of Okinawans became Hawaiian and accepted different cultures. Here in Okinawa, I can’t imagine someone from a different race being a leader; we are still fighting. Hawai‘i is very advanced. I am proud of him.”
Okinawan word of the week: Kuu-ji, meaning government. In Japanese, it is sëfu.
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.