Karleen C. Chinen

(This story was first published in the Nov. 21, 1986, edition of The Hawai‘i Herald following my first trip to Japan. Parts of it have been re-edited.)

I should have been bursting with excitement: I was on my way to Okinawa — my first trip to my ancestral homeland. Everyone who had visited Okinawa had raved about the beauty of the land and the warmth of its people. But as I stared out of the window of my plane and watched the city of Hiroshima grow smaller, and smaller, until it finally disappeared from sight, I knew the hour of reckoning was near.

This would be a bittersweet journey “home.” Not quite a year had gone by since Mom had passed. She was born on Maui, but at 10 months old, her mother had taken her and her brother to Okinawa so they could care for Mom’s widowed father-in-law. The first steps she had taken as a baby learning to walk were on Okinawan soil. And the first words she spoke and understood were Uchinaaguchi (Okinawan language). The first place she recognized as home was her house in Okinawa.

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