Karleen C. Chinen

Over 900 people packed the Albert T. and Wallace T. Teruya Pavilion at the Hawaii Okinawa Center on Jan. 16 for the installation of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association’s 2016 officers and advisors, and to recognize the 2015 “Uchinanchu of the Year.”

Outgoing president Mark Higa thanked the Uchinanchu of the Year for their service, calling them “the lifeblood of our organization.” He said they, along with the incoming officers, lead by example and help HUOA thrive as an organization.

Higa reflected on his year as president and the term “Sumiti” that guided his presidency. “Sumiti” is the Okinawan equivalent of the Japanese word, someru, or somete, meaning “to dye.”

“We talked about Sumiti . . . about how the famous song, ‘Tinsagu nu Hana,’ speaks of the stain

Outgoing president Mark Higa (left) congratulates his successor, Tom Yamamoto, after presenting him the president’s gavel.
Outgoing president Mark Higa (left) congratulates his successor, Tom Yamamoto, after presenting him the president’s gavel.

that the impatients flower leaves on your fingernails and how it is like the lessons of your parents that are imprinted on your heart. We asked what each of us could do to cherish the imprints left for us from the past and make positive imprints for the future.”

Higa said Hawai‘i’s Uchinanchu community reached out to their extended ‘ohana of friends and co-workers and “all Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart in Hawai‘i and you showed how each of our individual actions can move mountains. We embarked on a 12-month Uchinanchu Magic Carpet Ride,” he said.

That “magic carpet ride” included the 33rd Okinawan Festival and a number of milestone celebrations — the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Hawaii Okinawa Center, the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Hawai‘i-Okinawa Sister-State relationship by then-Gov. George Ariyoshi — and the reaffirming of that relationship in Hawai‘i in July, and in Okinawa in October by Gov. David Ige and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga.

Ige, Hawai‘i’s — and America’s — first governor of Okinawan ancestry, traveled to Okinawa for the first time last October to sign the reaffirmation document with Gov. Onaga. He and first lady Dawn Amano-Ige also met with business, government and education leaders. The trip, which coincided with the HUOA’s annual study tour to Okinawa, also marked Ige’s first visit to his ancestral homeland and the opportunity for he and
his brothers, who were on the study tour, to meet relatives there.

Higa said his year was also highlighted by people-to-people interaction with the Okinawan community — attending the member-clubs’ shinnen enkai, where he and his wife Hanae were often invited to play uta-sanshin and sing; and welcoming the HUOA’s 50th member-club, Shinka, for young adults.

Higa concluded his outgoing president’s message by asking everyone to roll up their sleeves and support 2016 HUOA president Tom Yamamoto and his officers.

Serving with president Tom Yamamoto (Tomigusuku Sonjin Kai) are: president-elect Vince

Tom Yamamoto performs “Hwishi Bushi,” a classical song about the parting of lovers.
Tom Yamamoto performs “Hwishi Bushi,” a classical song about the parting of lovers.

Watabu (Ginoza Sonjin Kai); vice presidents Courtney Takara (Nakagusuku Sonjin Kai), Lynn Miyahira (Gaza Yonagusuku Doshi Kai) and Brandon Nakasone (Bito Doshi Kai); executive secretary Terry Goya (Nishihara Chojin Kai, Urasoe Shijin Kai); assistant executive secretary Sandra Yanagi (Chatan-Kadena Chojin Kai); Japanese language secretary Kumiko Yabe-Domingo (Gushichan Sonjin Kai); treasurer Stephanie Katayama (Nakagusuku Sonjin Kai); assistant treasurer Norman Nakasone (Aza Yogi Doshi Kai, Wahiawa Okinawa Kyoyu Kai); and immediate past president Mark Higa (Nago Club, Hawaii Shuri-Naha Club, Okinawa Genealogical Society of Hawaii). The advisors are: David Arakawa (Nishihara Chojin Kai, Kitanakagusuku Sonjin Kai), Ford Chinen (Tamagusuku Club), Valerie Kato (Kitanakagusuku Sonjin Kai, Hui Makaala), Paul Komeiji (Aza Yogi Doshi Kai), Gainor Miyashiro (Yonashiro Chojin Kai, Hui O Laulima), Grant “Sandaa” Murata (Kanegusuku Sonjin Kai), Cyrus Tamashiro (Nago Club, Hawaii Shuri-Naha Club, Hui Makaala) and Allison Yanagi (Chatan-Kadena Chojin Kai). Circuit Judge Karen Nakasone installed the new officers and advisors.

Yamamoto, who is a vice principal at ‘Iliahi Elementary School in Wahiawä, has been involved in the Okinawan community for many years. He was exposed to Okinawan culture while working in Okinawa on the Japan Exchange and Teaching program. His time there also strengthened his bonds with his Kaneshiro relatives in Tomigusuku, from which his maternal grandparents, Kamado and Kami Kaneshiro, emigrated. (His father’s family roots are in Hiroshima.) Yamamoto’s time in Okinawa led to his decision to study uta-sanshin with Terukina Choichi-Sensei, a national living treasure in the Afuso style of sanshin. Terukina-Sensei traveled from Okinawa to witness Yamamoto’s installation as HUOA president. He also performed in his student’s honor during the program.

Upon returning to Hawai‘i, Yamamoto continued his study of sanshin with Grant “Sandaa” Murata-Sensei and the Ryukyu Koten Afuso Ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Choichi Kai USA Hawaii. He performed the classical uta-sanshin number, “Hwishi Bushi,” accompanied on koto by Yasuko Arakawa-Sensei of Aki no Kai.

Yamamoto, who is also an accomplished hula dancer and ‘ukulele player, selected “Itsi Madin — Laulima” as his theme for his year as president. A melding of Okinawan and Hawaiian words that mean “forever (itsi madin) working together (laulima),” he noted that we live in a Hawai‘i community that is imprinted with the influences of so many cultures that help us appreciate diversity while also reflecting deeply on our own culture. “A common practice that our Okinawan community and many other cultures share and cherish is the idea of working together to accomplish great things,” Yamamoto said.

The year 2016 promises to be a busy one for Yamamoto and the Okinawan community, with a new group of high school students coming from Okinawa to participate in the Hawai‘i-Okinawa Student Exchange Program, the 26th annual HUOA Children’s Cultural Day Camp and the 34th Okinawan Festival, among other events.

The community is also excited about the Sixth Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival, set for October in Okinawa. The last “homecoming” festival, which was held in 2011, included a contingent of 1,000 from Hawai‘i. In the past, the largest group of attendees has come from Hawai‘i.

Yamamoto reported that after breaking ground on the Hawaii Okinawa Plaza project last year, construction on a revenue-generating development project across the street from the Hawaii Okinawa Center will begin this year.

He also plans to introduce a Hawaiian music concert series at the HOC in partnership with the Hawai‘i Association of Recording Arts. The concerts will benefit both HUOA and HARA.

The new president said he would not have committed to serving as president if he didn’t believe that he would be working “side-by-side with 39,999 fellow members who come together to make this organization what it is today.” He, too, applauded the dedication of the Uchinanchu of the Year honorees, saying they “worked hard to preserve the traditions and values of their clubs and also to maintain the heartbeat and spirit of their ancestors.”

Congratulatory messages were offered by Gov. David Ige, who recalled his welcome last October in Okinawa. “Such warmth and pride,” he said of his “homecoming.” Ige said it was “truly a once in a lifetime experience.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who also visited Okinawa last year, spoke of his first visit. Also in attendance from Okinawa was Mayor Haruki Gibo from Tomigusuku City, the ancestral village of Yamamoto’s maternal grandparents. Mayor Gibo traveled to Hawai‘i in honor of a Tomigusuku grandson’s installation as HUOA president.

Congratulatory remarks were also delivered by Consul General of Japan Yasushi Misawa and United Japanese Society of Hawaii president Cyrus Tamashiro.

Karii!” (Okinawan congratulatory toasts) were offered by HUOA past president (and Yamamoto’s cousin) Isaac Hokama and Colin Alos.

Entertainment was provided by several Okinawan performing arts schools, including Ryukyu Koten Afuso Ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Choichi Kai USA Hawaii; Ryukyu Sookyoku Koyo Kai Hawaii Shibu, Aki no Kai; Tamagusuku Ryu Senjukai Hawaii and Chinagu Eisa Hawaii.


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