Dropping in on Nagahama roujinkai (elder neighborhood group) friends playing gateball recently, including friend Shimori Toma (on the sidelines wearing long-sleeved blue jacket)
Dropping in on Nagahama roujinkai (elder neighborhood group) friends playing gateball recently, including friend Shimori Toma (on the sidelines wearing long-sleeved blue jacket)

Colin Sewake
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist


Location: Nagahama, Yomitan, May 3, 2017

Happy 18th Anniversary to Keiko and me! No, it’s not our wedding anniversary — we were married Aug. 8, 1996, and celebrated 20 years last year.

May 3, 1999, was the day we moved from the Miyagi area of Chatan to Nagahama in Yomitan after our two-story house was completed. Of my 22 1/2 years of living in Okinawa, 18 of them have been in Nagahama.

Groundbreaking for our house was held on Dec. 3, 1998. A few months after the block walls with reinforced rebar steel were built up, three cement trucks came to pour the foundation, fill the holes in the blocks and fill in the form for the second floor. I remember the construction workers sloshing around in rubber boots, trying to control the huge hose that looked like an elephant’s snout when they were pouring the foundation. The house was boarded up for a week after the pouring was finished to allow the concrete to dry.

Once the house was closed up, we held a “sura-bu pa-tei,” (“slab party”) which, apparently, is done only in Okinawa, because houses in mainland Japan are built with wood. It is customary for Okinawan house owners to buy lunch and drinks for the construction workers, so we ordered a couple of “o-doburupüpü platter-type trays and I also bought a few pizzas from on-base. Keiko’s mom cooked some food and we bought sodas and beer, as well. We used plastic Orion Beer crates and wood planks to make the tables and benches and ate in the parking area. For some reason, I remember the Shimakutuba (another term for Okinawan language) word, “pi-tu,” (pee-tooh) that one of the workers taught me, which means iruka, or dolphin.

I can’t believe that it’s been almost two decades since Keiko and I moved to Nagahama. I thought you might find this write-up on slab parties interesting because it is a very unique experience to build a house overseas and to go through some of the cultural events related to the building process.


Location: Nagahama Gateball Field, Yomitan, June 20, 2017

Even though I retired from the Air Force Reserve effective June 1, 2017, I’m still making it a personal goal to keep up with some level of physical fitness. I didn’t exercise at all during the month I was home in Hawai‘i, and I hadn’t done anything since returning to Okinawa on June 10, so I decided to put on my running shoes today and conduct my usual workout. I jogged from my house to the park below the Nagahama Dam, continued on to the Nagahama Seawall and then ended, as I always do, at the Nagahama Gateball Field, which is located directly across from the Nagahama Kouminkan (community center).

My Nagahama roujinkai (elder neighborhood group) friends were playing gateball, as they always do on weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m. I hadn’t seen them in a while because I was in Hawai‘i for a month and was busy before and after the trip, so I decided to stop by and yuntaku (talk story) with them. As usual, several of them asked me where I’d been when they hadn’t seen me for a long period of time. I make it a point to visit my neighbors like this to show them that I’m involved in the community. It’s also how I pick up on all kinds of local information. By chatting with my two friends on the right side of the panoramic pic above, I learned that Yomitan would be holding a village gateball tournament on June 22 at the main grounds, where the Yomitan Matsuri is held every year. They said a few hundred villagers will be participating and that Nagahama would be sending three teams. My two friends said there are 24 aza, or blocks (i.e., Nagahama, Sobe, Furugen, Namihira, Zakimi, etc.), within Yomitan. As you can imagine, there will be a lot of teams participating with 24 aza in Yomitan and each one sending at least a few teams.

Another reason I like to yuntaku with the locals, especially the older folks, is because that is when I learn a lot about the history, culture and language of Okinawa. I already knew that acha- means “tomorrow” in Uchinaaguchi (Okinawan language), so hearing one of them use it reminded me of when I first learned it years ago. It was back then that I learned from someone (can’t remember who) that acha-ya means “see you tomorrow.” I’m sure I’ll learn more when I formally join the group and start playing gateball with them as an elder. The starting age to join the roujinkai is 60 years old, but these folks have been asking me to play gateball with them from many years ago.

BONUS STORY: My friend on the right side in the above photo (wearing the Nike hat, light blue long-sleeve shirt and camouflage military pants) is Shimori Toma. He retired from the Okinawa Police Force several years ago. When I was promoted to Major in the Air Force Reserves back in March 2005, Toma-san was promoted to Lieutenant in the police force, so our Nagahama Kariyushi Kai moai (neighborhood group) threw a party for us at the Nagahama Kouminkan. Per their request, I bought some steaks, beer and American snacks from the base and some of them cooked it on barbecue grills outside the kouminkan. Toma-san and I, and our wives, were seated at the main table in the front and were pinned with red and white ribbons that are used to identify dignitaries at ceremonies. We both had to give speeches as part of the program, and I remember they gave each of us a wooden pen in a wooden case as a gift. It’s one of the many great memories I have from living on this beautiful island in this beautiful community among very wonderful people.

Our 18-year-old family home in Nagahama, Yomitan. (Photos courtesy Colin Sewake)
Our 18-year-old family home in Nagahama, Yomitan. (Photos courtesy Colin Sewake)


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