Karleen C. Chinen

This annual Okinawan Festival edition is one of our favorites to produce each year. It’s a lot of work, but always fulfilling, because the Okinawan Festival is one of the finest examples of a community’s efforts to keep their cultural heritage alive and thriving and sharing it with everyone. We thank the festival’s pioneer leaders, Roy Kaneshiro and Stanley Takamine, for their vision. We also thank the Hawaii United Okinawa Association for providing us with the festival information in advance so that you can plan your festival experience. Ippe nifee deebiru (thank you very much) also to the many individuals and businesses — small and large — who chose to support our celebration of all things Okinawan.

This issue also marks the introduction of a new column. For several years, we were fortunate to have attorney and English as a Second Language teacher Louis Wai share his experiences of living in Naha City. I was especially drawn to Louis’ observations of life in Okinawa because they were through fresh, non-Okinawan eyes. Louis had grown up in Kalihi, where some of his neighbors were Okinawan, and he had married a local Okinawan woman with whom he had three children. But, despite its many similarities, Hawai‘i and Okinawa are still two different places. As most of you know, Louis returned to Hawai‘i almost two years ago so he could enjoy being a grandfather to his toddler grandchildren.

I thought we’d never find another Louis Wai — until I somehow ended up on the email blast list that featured the writings of Colin Sewake, a Nikkei U.S. Air Force veteran from Wahiawä who had settled in Yomitan, on the western coast of Okinawa island. Colin’s “posts” were being sent mainly to the members of Hawai‘i’s Yomitan Club, whose ancestral roots are in Yomitan. Colin, whose ancestral roots are in Hiroshima, was documenting his observations of life in Okinawa through fresh eyes and with photos. So, I sent him an email, telling him of my interest in his material and asking him whether we could publish it in the Herald as a column. He called me from Okinawa the next day with an enthusiastic “Sure!”

We chatted a bit — he told me how he ended up in Okinawa. And then he said he has no intention of returning to Hawai‘i to live. To visit family (incidentally, Colin’s mom, Lauretta Sewake, is one of the UH Wahine Volleyball “aunties”) and friends: yes, definitely. But not to live. Gulp. “Really?!” I asked. “Yea, really,” he said. And then came the words that I couldn’t help but agree with him about: “Because, to me, Okinawa is what Hawai‘i was like 20 years ago.” Remember folks, Okinawa, known for having among the longest-lived people in the world, is one of only five Blue Zones that have been designated worldwide.

At any rate, The Hawai‘i Herald welcomes Colin Sewake and his column, “My Hawai‘i.” Read on and you will understand why we chose those words for his column.


LOCATION: Okinawa, Dec. 12, 2016

Every Dec. 12th, I take time to reflect upon that Monday when I arrived in Okinawa in 1994. I remember it like it was yesterday . . . the white Air Force ROTC polo shirt I wore . . . the “Freedom Bird”-contracted Northwest Airlines Boeing 747 I rode from Los Angeles International after completing a basic contracting course in San Antonio, Texas . . . the approach over and arrival at Kadena Air Base . . . sitting in the base theater for over an hour to clear Customs and Immigrations (the terminal was under construction and I was single then and had to wait for families with kids to clear first) . . . my captain sponsor taking me to the squadron to meet my lieutenant colonel commander . . . seeing tons of hibiscus flowers all over . . . the coolness of the December
air . . .

That Thursday was the squadron’s Christmas party, so the commander invited me to it. I told him that I only had my jeans and polo shirt because I was still living out of my suitcase. He told me not to worry and to just attend. I later learned that the local nationals were all looking at each other, asking, “Who brought their high school kid to the squadron party?” One of them said, “Hey, that’s not a high school kid. That’s the new 2nd lieutenant in our squadron!”

I remember when I was a few days out of graduating from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and the Air Force ROTC program. It was personnel policy to have the cadets’ assignments done no later than 72 hours after graduation. One of my cadet friends called to tell me that he saw “Japan” listed next to my name, so I called the Detachment located on the lower campus to verify and was told that I was being assigned to the 18th Contracting Squadron at Kadena Air Base — my first choice for job and location!

My Wahiawä neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Masao Teruya (now deceased), were from Okinawa, and it was Mr. Teruya who basically taught Jimmy Inamine of Jimmy’s Bakery in Okinawa how to bake, which is why the strong bonds continue on to the next generation today. Excited, I went next door and told Mrs. Teruya about my assignment. I distinctly remember two comments she made to me that day: “You’re going to come back married,” and “Go call Jimmy.”

I didn’t understand both of those comments at first. In my head, I thought, “What?! No way am I gonna get married that quick!” A standard length of assignment for an overseas tour for a single person is two years, and I had no intention of getting married until I became a captain, which normally takes four years. Well, Keiko and I met in the office, started dating a month after I arrived and got married about a year and a half later. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

Regarding the second comment . . . I always thought it odd that an Okinawa guy had an American name. Mrs. Teruya explained the above story to me and when I got settled in, I asked Keiko to help me call the corporate headquarters in Naha. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet Jimmy. Through a church pastor friend, who was the English teacher for his kids, I was able to meet oldest son and current president, Seiichiro Inamine, and his Hawai‘i-born wife, Naomi, in 2005. Although I never got to meet Jimmy Inamine himself, I’m in touch with Seiichiro and Naomi 22 years after first hearing the Jimmy’s Bakery story.

Okinawa is such a beautiful place, not just the ocean and scenery and culture, but the people. I’ve been treated well and taken care of by many people here in what has become “My Hawai‘i.” I use the phrase “My Hawai‘i” since I have no plans or intentions to return to Hawai‘i to live permanently again, so everyone here has become my ‘ohana and a part of the incredible support network with which I have been blessed.


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