“Dad.” I’m often asked if I miss Hawai‘i since I’ve been in Okinawa for almost five years now — I arrived here in July of 2010. I can honestly say that I don’t miss Hawai‘i: I can close my eyes and see Hawai‘i’s beauty and feel its spirit.
What I do miss, however, is hearing my daughters, Maile and Leila, call me “Dad.” The way they say it and how it sounds when it reaches my ears, fills my heart with pure joy. It represents the unconditional and oftentimes unspoken love between a father and his daughters. I know that I’m not the only parent who feels this joy. Anyway, that is what I miss most about being away from my daughters.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending 10 days with both Maile and Leila — and their families — here in Okinawa and in Tökyö. Then I followed them home to Hawai‘i for another week. It was the best 10 days of my life.
“Grandpa.” Whenever Maile or Leila called out, “Dad,” when we were together, I assumed they were calling me, so I would answer them, only to find that they weren’t calling me; they were referring to their respective husbands. That meant they had given me a new title: “Grandpa.” It’s a title that makes me just as happy to hear, maybe even happier. Although my daughters are at ease calling me “Grandpa,” I admit it took some adjusting on my part. My grandsons’ pronunciation of “Grandpa” reflects their ages. But no matter how many different pronunciations they come up with, I know they are calling me, and I love it.
During their visit — and my visit home to Hawai‘i — I got to share my love with my sons-in-law and my three grandchildren — all boys. It was Joe’s and Maile’s — and their sons, Micah and Jonah — first trip to Japan and Okinawa. In Okinawa, Maile turned to me one day and said, “I could live here.” That felt so good to hear, especially since my children’s ancestral roots on their mother’s side are here in Okinawa.
This trip was Leila’s and Doug’s — and even Luke’s — second visit to Okinawa; they were here exactly two years ago. At the time, Leila was pregnant with Luke.
In Okinawa, we spent their first full day visiting Shuri Castle and window-shopping along Kokusai Dori. On the second day, we traveled north with the Noharas, my hänai family here, to see the Churaumi Aquarium. That night, we joined the Noharas for their grandson Yuta’s fourth birthday. You can just imagine the chaos of having five boys — three from Hawai‘i and Yuta and little his brother Sota — all under the age of 4 meeting and playing with each other for the first time.
The next day, Sunday, we visited the Peace Memorial in Itoman and joined some of my students at Tropical Beach, where the boys got to play on the shore of the East China Sea. Micah, who is 3 years and 9 months old, was babbling on and on in a language only he and his parents understood. One of my engineer students commented, “Oooh, advanced English.” On Monday, they took “Samurai pictures” in costume and went to the children’s petting zoo in Okinawa City.
We flew to Tökyö on Tuesday. Outside the baggage claim area, the Air Porter greeted us with a sign that read “Leila Shimokawa.”
The apartment we rented in Kachidoki had views of Tökyö Bay, Rainbow Bridge and even Mount Fuji, with snow at the summit. We spent a 45-degree day — and night — at Tökyö Disneyland on Wednesday and then visited Shinjuku on Thursday. On Friday, we ate at Tsukiji (the “real” Tsukiji, known for its fresh seafood) and visited Shibuya. We went up the Sky Tree and to the Asakusa Shrine on Saturday. On Sunday, with the help of Joe’s good friend Akira, we spent the day shopping in Toyosu before piling into the Air Porter for our return to Narita Airport.
This visit by my family was made even more special because the cherry blossoms were in bloom. My grandsons were champions — a little fussy at times, but not as bad as the five adults. Needless to say, I am proud of my family.
Okinawan family words of the week. Yaaninju, means “family.” In Japanese, it is kazoku. Suu is the Okinawan word for “father.” In Japanese, it is otösan. Some young people address their fathers more informally, calling them “Töchan,” which is like saying, “Dad,” or “Daddy,” instead of the more formal “Father.” And, finally, tanmë, or usumë, is “grandfather” in Uchinäguchi. In Japanese, it is ojïsan, or, more informally, “Ojï.”
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.