Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
“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.’” — Colin Sewake
VISITING AUNTY FUKUE
Location: 3-36-2 Iso, Urasoe-shi, Nov. 22, 2017
On my way to work, I stopped by Takayesu Soba, located behind Urasoe General Hospital in the Iso area of Urasoe City. A while back, I told you the story of how a few of us, myself included, helped Takayesu Soba owner Fukue Takayesu find the grave of her late husband’s grandfather in Hilo. He was the second son in his family. His remains, as well as those of one of his brothers — the fourth son — are interred in Hawai’i.
In September of last year, Fukue — and her two younger sisters planned a trip to Hilo to ohakamairi (grave visitation), although they had no idea where the ohaka (grave) was located nor if any of her husband’s relatives were alive and living anywhere in Hawai‘i. Okinawa Hawaii Kyoukai president Choko Takayama asked me to come with him on a visit to Fukue-san and to listen to the details of her late husband’s family.
We visited the soba shop and then moved next door to Fukue-san’s house, where she discussed the family details. She also showed us some old black and white photos of the family. One key photo showed the ohaka with a view of Hilo Bay in the background. My father is from Kohala and my uncle and cousins live in Hilo, so I’m familiar with those parts of the island and figured that the ohaka was probably located just north of Hilo. Fukue-san and her sisters were leaving for Hawai‘i in a week. It was already Saturday and they were leaving on Friday, so I had less than a week to figure out where the ohaka was located.
When I got home that night, I immediately emailed the details and pictures to a bunch of my Hawai‘i friends and Hilo relatives. Frankly, I didn’t expect a quick response from any of them, but within four hours, my Hilo friend, Robert Kaneshiro, responded. Robert and I had lived in the same dorm at the University of Hawai‘i. He said the Takayesu ohaka is located right next to his Kaneshiro family’s grave and that he had just gotten home from hakamairi himself.
I immediately shared the good news with Takayama-san, who then passed on the information to Fukue-san. We visited her again the next day.
A few days later, she and her two younger sisters were greeted with leis at the Hawaii Okinawa Center by Hawaii United Okinawa Association executive director Jane Serikaku and “Family Ingredients” producer Daniel Nakasone. Takayesu Soba was one of the Okinawa soba shops that were featured in the first season of the PBS program.
The next day, Robert Kaneshiro and their cousin, Miles Takayesu, greeted the sisters at Hilo Airport. Miles, it turns out, lives just a street away from Robert. The sisters were able to visit the ohaka and also spent the afternoon sharing information about the Takayesu family and touring Hilo during their one-day visit there.
Because of my involvement in helping Fukue-san find not the ohaka, but also connecting her with Miles and other relatives, she began referring to me as her “musuko-san,” or “son.” In return, I call her “Fukue-Obasan,” or “Aunty Fukue,” when I see her. I try to visit her periodically — and also enjoy a really good bowl of yushidoufu soba now that I have another “relative” in Okinawa.
FM YOMITAN GUEST APPEARANCE
Location: FM Yomitan Studio, June 13, 2016
For the past several months, FM Yomitan has been conducting a joint broadcast with Honolulu’s Radio KZOO on Mondays at noon, Japan time (Sundays, 5 p.m., Hawai‘i time). The first 30 minutes of the program is a joint broadcast largely dedicated to reporting on the status of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association’s Hawaii Okinawa Plaza, now under construction, and other Hawai‘i-Okinawa information. The second 30 minutes is devoted to local programming.
FM Yomitan president Tomoharu Nakasone generally hosts the show, but he was out today, so announcer Miyuki Higa filled in for him. Choko Takayama, president of the Okinawa-Hawaii Kyokai (association), and Asami Ginoza, secretary-general for the Hawaii Okinawa Plaza project (Fundraising Promotion Committee), normally appear as guests on the program, along with Masaji Matsuda, who also is a member of the Okinawa-Hawaii Kyokai. However, all of them were unavailable, so Masaji called me Friday evening and asked me to sit in as the guest and talk about my experiences of living in the Yomitan community for the past 17 years.
I arrived at the studio at 11:30 a.m. and introduced myself to Higa-san. As we talked about my involvement in the Yomitan community, she took notes and developed questions to ask me during the program. I basically repeated our conversation during the actual broadcast, so we already knew what we were going to talk about based on that pre-interview.
After introducing myself on the program and talking about my background — from Wahiawä, graduated from UH, came to Okinawa with the U.S. Air Force in 1994, met Keiko and got married, moved to Nagahama in 1999 — Higa-san asked me to talk about my life in Nagahama. I talked about my visits to the Nagahama Kouminkan (community center) from time to time to talk story over coffee with the kucho (area chief) and other neighbors who hang out there. I also talked about the Nagahama Kariyushi Kai moai (tanomoshi, or pooled savings) group that I was a member of from about 2000 to 2008. I mentioned that 17 of us used the money we saved to go on a four-day, three-night trip to Hokkaidö in December 2003.
Higa-san also asked me about some of the similarities between Hawai‘i and Okinawa, so I talked about how we both were once independent kingdoms that were subsequently overthrown and how our island lifestyles are so similar. If you were listening in, you probably heard us chat about wearing shima zoris . . . slippahz! When she asked me about other languages I speak besides Japanese, I said that English is my native language, that I studied Japanese at UH for two years and that I also speak Pidgin English. I had to explain that Pidgin is basically English mixed with words from Hawai‘i’s other immigrant groups with a grammar all its own.
I took my purple (Hawai‘i) Yomitan Club book to the studio to show Higa-san during the pre-interview. I’m glad I did, because she included that in our interview. I was able to talk about the club; its president Gwen Fujie and her uncle, the former Yomitan mayor; the T-shirts the club printed and then discussed the contents of the book, which showed how connected the Yomitan Club members are to their culture and roots from afar.
I stated several times during the program that I enjoy living in Yomitan because of the sense of community I feel here and because everyone is very kind and looks out for each other. I also mentioned that Yomitan is quite a bit like my hometown of Wahiawä — laid back and country-like with pineapple and sugar cane fields at one time. Yomitan is my home away from home. I ended the program by repeating what a beautiful community Yomitan is and encouraging those with roots here to learn about their culture, connect with their relatives and to visit.
Higa-san also asked me about my favorite Uchinaaguchi (Okinawan language) word, which caught me off-guard. My good friend Kinjo-san from the Yomitan pottery village near my house is one of my main sources of Uchinaaguchi language learning — I think he’s the one who told me that I am an “Uchinaa Muukuu,” which, translated, means “son-in-law,” but is used to describe a non-ethnic Okinawan man who has been adopted or accepted (mukouyoshi) into the Okinawan family.
Earlier in the radio program, I had introduced myself as having roots in Hiroshima and not having any Okinawan ties from my Sewake family. I like this phrase — Uchinaa Muukuu — because it’s Okinawan language and sounds cool. It’s kind of unique to my situation, so I use it as my identity here in Okinawa. There aren’t many people who marry into an Okinawan family and stay here, so it’s a phrase that isn’t used as often as other words, like churashima (beautiful island) and churaumi (beautiful ocean), etc.
Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, O‘ahu, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment. He met his future wife, Keiko, within a month and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin retired from the Air Force and, recently from the Air Force Reserves. He now works as a customer service representative for Hotel Sun Palace Kyuyokan in Naha. Colin and Keiko have two teenaged children and make their home in Yomitan.