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
Location: Domestic Terminal, Naha International Airport; July 2018
What’s known in Hawai‘i as “Spam musubi,” a slice of cooked Spam meat placed between rice and wrapped in nori seaweed, is called “Pork Tamago Onigiri” here in Okinawa — just like Hawai‘i’s Spam musubi, but with a piece of scrambled egg added for good measure.
One of my Hawai‘i friends who lives here got stuck in Tökyö due to Typhoon Prapiroon, a small storm system that forced the cancellation of several flights. He finally made it back to Okinawa on July 2, so I picked him up at the Naha Airport Domestic Terminal baggage claim.
While waiting for him, I noticed a long line of customers formed outside the “Pork Tamago Onigiri Store.” The line took a while to go down and grew long again as I waited for my friend to come out. The majority of the customers looked like mainland Japanese to me. When I thought of how I used to eat Spam, scrambled egg and rice as normal bentö-type food that my mom made for us whenever we went fishing or on picnics, I thought it was funny to watch so many people line up for a food item that I wouldn’t even think of waiting in line for.
HAWAI‘I IN OKINAWA
Location: Naha, June 2018
It’s been over 23 years since I left my island home of Hawai‘i to settle here in Okinawa. Over 4,600 miles of ocean separates me from my two home islands. And yet, there are signs of Hawai‘i in Okinawa that narrow the distance quite a bit.
After returning from six weeks in Hawai‘i following my father’s passing and funeral services, I stopped by my workplace, Hotel Sun Palace Kyu-youkan (https://www.palace-okinawa.com/sunpalace/), to check in with some staff members. Just as I was ready to leave, I bumped into Tom Yamamoto (2016 Hawaii United Okinawa Association president) and Regina Yoshimori, Castle High School’s student activities coordinator. They were waiting for Yoshikazu Matsubara, vice principal of Tomari Senior High School, to pick them up for meetings and appointments for the 28th annual Hawai‘i-Okinawa Student Exchange Program. Tom, a vice principal at ‘Iliahi Elementary School in Wahiawä, was the exchange group’s leader; both Regina and Tom served as chaperones for the students from Hawai‘i. It was great to see familiar faces from my original island home.
I then headed over to the Palette Kumoji building nearby, where Masami Kinjo, wife of Hotel Sun Palace Kyuyoukan president Hitoshi Kinjo, had set up a tenjikai (exhibition) featuring the works of graphic artist Hilo Kume, whose artwork and jewelry is a mixture of Hawaiian and Okinawan themes.
A Hiroshima native, Hilo Kume now lives in Tökyö. In 1997, he began featuring his works at galleries in the Kaimana Beach Hotel and in Honoka‘a. He secured a contract with Island Heritage Collection in 2001 and continues to produce drawings that are used in paintings, calendars, postcards, pen/pencil cases, water bottle holders, omiyage gift boxes and Smartphone cases. He said he has five tenjikai scheduled for this year with another one possibly in Hawai‘i in the fall.
Besides selling a collection of his published art and a Hawaiian CD he recorded, Hilo Kume also sells vintage aloha shirts. One was made in Kyöto and sells for ¥45,000 ($410). He also showed me several more from the 1940s and 1950s that are being sold for ¥88,000 ($800) to ¥98,000 ($891)! I am amazed by the detail he puts into his drawings, especially the ones from the Big Island, where my father was born.
Masami Kinjo also displayed her handmade “Ki-Lei” brand jewelry. When viewing her sakuhin pieces, many customers commented that they are kirei, or “pretty.” Her brand name also sounds like her son’s name, Ray.
Masami-san was into metallic art and jewelry making from long before her days as a University of Hawai‘i student, where she studied English and met her future husband. Her designs incorporate Tahitian pearls, various corals, maile leaf and plumeria flower engraving; traditional Okinawan minsa designs and; most recently, the hana flower block tile. Although she doesn’t have her own store or website, you can find her pieces displayed in the lobby of Hotel Sun Palace Kyuyoukan in Naha City.
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.