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
IN THE GUTTER
Location: Nagahama, Yomitan; January 2019
No, I’m not referring to my bowling ball, but rather to my Nissan Serena minivan.
I left home to pick up my son Yoshiaki (“Aki”) from Yomitan High School and then take him to his juku (cram school) in Okinawa-shi (Okinawa City). For the past few years, I have been using a farmers’ road above my house as a shortcut. The road is nicely paved, but it’s narrow — two cars would have to proceed slowly and carefully when passing each other. I never had problems using this road, until today, when an oncoming van bigger than mine came speeding around the curve as I was going uphill. It didn’t help that the weather was rainy and windy. We both slowed down, but instead of hugging his side of the road, the driver of the other van took up most of the middle of the road, so I pulled farther left than usual.
And then it happened. Akisamiyo! Oh my goodness! My front left tire fell into the drainage ditch.
The other driver must have felt bad because he pulled over and came over to offer his help. I called [my wife] Keiko at work and asked her to call an auto garage. She said our insurance policy covers this kind of situation, so she stepped out of her office and got some insurance paperwork from her car and called our Zenrousai insurance company.
A few minutes later, I received a call from a mainland Japan operator confirming my location and the details of the impact on my vehicle (i.e., how many tires went into the ditch, does the van appear to have any damage, does it look like I can drive it after it’s pulled out, etc.).
In the meantime, the driver of the other van said he was going home to get some materials and equipment to help pull out my van. He returned with some hollow tile concrete blocks and a few pieces of wood. He also found some coral rocks nearby and set everything under my tire to create some traction. After a few tries, I was able to reverse my van out of the drainage ditch, so I called the Zenrousai switchboard immediately to cancel my request for assistance.
We cleaned up the materials and I thanked the other driver for assisting me (even though he had taken all the road space, forcing me way to my left). While chatting for a bit, I noticed that he had a bunch of wetsuits hanging in the back of his van so I asked him if he owned a scuba diving shop. He said his shop is in Nagahama. Another car was coming by and trying to pass my van, which was now blocking the road, so we ended our conversation. I thanked him again, shook his hand and jumped into my van. I admit I was thankful that the driver of the third car reversed her vehicle, allowing me to pass. I was nervous about falling into the ditch again.
Although I like to brag about having lived here for such a long time, that doesn’t mean I know everything and have experienced everything in Okinawa. Never say never, because this was my first time in my 24 years here that I’ve fallen into a drainage ditch.
Location: Yogi, Okinawa-shi, January 2019
When our daughter Mizuki came home in January for her seijinshiki “Coming of Age Day” ceremony, Keiko and I took her to visit her obaachan (Keiko’s mom) at her care home in Okinawa-shi. After feeding Obaachan, we took her for a stroll outdoors in her wheelchair, which we normally do if the weather is good. The day was a bit overcast, but it didn’t look like it was going to rain, so we ventured a little further down the road towards Okinawa-ken Undou Sougou Kouen (Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park).
At the end of the road were a few ohaka burial tombs, each with a concrete hinpun (also spelled himpun), or privacy wall. The term hinpun comes from the Chinese word “ping-feng,” which means screen or partition or fence.
Besides protecting the house from curious eyes outside, the hinpun is also said to protect it from evil spirits. Okinawans believe that evil spirits travel in straight lines only — it cannot go around the hinpun. Thus, the hinpun blocks the spirit from entering the home.
Hinpun are made of various materials — a concrete wall, a wall of stones or coral blocks, a stonewall with a small gabled tile roof at the top, wooden boards, or even a neatly pruned hedge of Okinawan hibiscus or trees. If you visit the Marumi Nu Chaya house just above the Zakimi Kouminkan (community center) in Yomitan, you’ll find a hinpun made from a row of hibiscus plants. Traditional hinpun can also be seen at the Nakamura House in Kitanakagusuku Village, a national cultural property, and at the Ryukyu Mura in Onna Village.
WORKING OUT IN THE RYÜKYÜS
Location: Risner Gym, Kadena Air Base; November 2018
I was trying to get back into a “normal” exercise routine. When I was still in the military, I worked out regularly. But running took its toll on my knees, so I’ve been using my military retiree benefits and going to both the Torii Gym on Torii Station, a U.S. Army base in Yomitan, and the Risner Gym on Kadena Air Base to ride the stationary bike and use the weight machines.
I hadn’t been to Risner Gym in a while. The gym is named for retired Air Force Brig Gen. Robbie Risner, who commanded the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron from 1964. The unit flew F-105 Thunderchiefs during the Vietnam War. Risner was shot down in September 1965 and was a prisoner of war until February 1973. I met him when he visited Kadena Air Base in the early 2000s when I was still a captain. He passed away in 2013, but his legacy lives on in the paintings and information on the gym walls.
When I went up to the mezzanine above the weight room to use one of the stationary bikes, I noticed that the gym staff had painted one of the walls with some traditional Ryükyü designs and images of people exercising. What an aesthetically pleasing mural to look at while working out.
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. Colin and Keiko have two children and make their home in Yomitan.