“Ban…Zoom!” The world’s (possibly) first all-Zoom “banzai!” rung out from well over a hundred mobile devices and computer screens across the Hawaiian islands, shortly after 4 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 13. The digital chorus celebrated that Japanese Consul General in Hawai‘i Koichi Ito, together with wife Misako Ito, are moving away to Ito’s next diplomatic assignment, after a much-appreciated but too-short tenure of three years in Hawaiʻi.
The Itos, a hard-working, congenial couple representing the Japanese government among the islands’ AJA and Japan-oriented communities since Oct. 2017, were celebrated in an entertaining one-hour, virtual “Aloha & Farewell To Consul General and Mrs. Koichi Ito” Zoom program organized by the Kizuna Group and culminating in this very Nipponese, though digital-era, salute, before the closing, fully online, participatory bon dance.
Pre-filmed videos by government officials praised the Consul General’s achievements, such as working smoothly with Gov. David Ige through the years on “common goals, especially clean energy and more recently, COVID-19,” said the state’s top official.
Honolulu City and County Mayor Kirk Caldwell credited Consul General Ito with collaborating with Honolulu on the transition between two Japanese imperial dynasties, when Crown Prince Naruhito became Emperor in 2019; on the return of Japanese kabuki to Hawai‘i that same year, after an absence of over a half-century; on the 150-year commemoration of the coming of the Gannenmono (the first official group of Issei to migrate to Hawai‘i) in 2018; and on the well-received visit, in that same year, of Japanese royal couple Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko to the islands.
Caldwell also spoke what was no doubt on many of the event attendees’ minds when he emphasized that “There is no more important relationship internationally than the one between Hawai‘i and Japan — it’s been that way since the days of King David Kaläkaua.”
United Japanese Society of Hawaii Past President and Advisor Christine Kubota made sure that Mrs. Ito received her due as well, noting that both the Honolulu City Council and the Kizuna Group had gifted Misako Ito with certificates of appreciation for her teamwork with her husband in helping the Hawai‘i community. “Behind every great man is a greater woman supporting the man and making him look good,” Kubota humorously commented.
A “Hilo” posse headed by Art Taniguchi, Honorary Consul General of Japan at Hilo, diversified the proceedings beyond O‘ahu-centric presentations. They projected a collective Big Island thank-you by, among others, representatives of Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin and the East Hawaii Hiroshima Kenjin Kai. Other group video-mahalos, largely from Oʻahu-based organizations, were by the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce and many of the Kizuna Group’s 24+ organizations.
Co-hosted jubilantly by Heather Omori, member of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and longtime AJA/Uchinanchu community leader/attorney David Arakawa — the playful, live-streamed celebration included 120 participants.
Representatives Zoomed in from the Hawaii United Okinawa Association (President Lynn Miyahira and Executive Director Jon Itomura), the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i (President Emeritus Carole Hayashino), the UJSH (President Frances Nakachi Kuba), the HJCC (Board Chair Jason Ito), the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center (Executive Director Deidre Tegarden), the Japan-America Society of Hawaii (Chair Steve Sombrero), Daijingu Temple of Hawai‘i (Rev. Akira Okada), Higashi Hongwanji of Hawaii (Bishop Kenjun Kawamata), Central Pacific Bank (Chair/CEO Paul Yonamine), Hawaii Meiji Kai (President Kenneth Saiki) and the University of Hawai‘i-Mänoa (among them, Tokiko Bazzell of Hamilton Library’s Asia Collection, Robert Huey of East Asian Languages and Literatures and Lonny Carlile and Gay Satsuma of the Center for Japanese Studies). Many other notable groups in the Hawai‘i Japanese community were represented by grateful individuals expressing sadness at the end of the Itos’ stay.
The program’s lively entertainment section opened with all-male family band Manoa DNA
(manoadna.com). DNA stands for “Dad” — i.e., father Lloyd — and his two sons, “Nick” and “Alex.” The Kawakamis, a contemporary island-music group from Hawai‘i popular in Japan, performed “Aloha You – Kizuna,” a hit from their 2010 Japanese-language album released in that country by JVC, titled Pure Aloha.
“Aloha you, aloha me! / Bokura o tsunaideiru kizuna. / Minna ga ohana sa. / Aloha you, aloha me,” crooned the Kawakamis, their melodious harmonies seeming to envelop the departing couple with the celebration’s twin themes of “kizuna” (deep socio-emotional connection and spiritual bonding) and of the Itos remaining part of Hawai‘i’s extended Nikkei family long after leaving our shores (for a sample of this Manoa DNA song, see youtube.com/watch?v=ZD1JQ5MGWb8&feature=youtu.be&autoplay=1).
Adding humor to the proceedings was Okinawan ‘ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro who punned using the classic Japanese idiom, “Ichigo ichie” (once in a lifetime: lit., “one time, one meeting”). Twisting “ichigo” for its much less spiritual, but much more tasty, homonym — meaning strawberries — he joked, “It is one of my favorite phrases, because I like strawberries…Hope your time in Hawai‘i was ichigo ichie desu.” In his usual jaunty style, Shimabukuro performed Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s beloved 1990 arrangement of “Over the Rainbow.” “We will think of you when we see rainbows,” was his poetic ending to the song.
The Consul General and his spouse took turns giving earnest, heartfelt thanks, making clear how much they would miss the Hawai‘i Japanese American and Japanese communities. Consul General Ito shared how he had supported Caldwell in encouraging Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, during their tree-planting ceremony in Thomas Square, to sing a song, join hands and dance with other attendees, local style — despite the fact that in Japan, the Imperial Household seemed disapproving about this unconventional practice for members of the Imperial family. But this ended up being the highlight of the royal couple’s visit, Ito admitted.
Mrs. Ito enthused about her time here: “It was so fun…I keep saying that three years of life in Hawai‘i is a big, big present from God, one of the happiest time in my life.”
The “surprise musical performance” near the end was a short song by Consul General
himself! — offering his version of the famous “Hole hole bushi” folksong, which Japanese plantation workers used to belt out as they labored, making their tough, often dangerous, work day tolerable:
“Hawai Hawai to yö / Yume mite kitaga / Nagasu namida mo / Kibi no naka,” the soon-departing official sung for the live audience in a pretty decent, folksy voice.
“Every time I hear this song, I feel attachment to the Issei and their determination to start their lives here with their families,” Ito confided after the audience’s hearty, if virtual, applause.
Carlile and Kubota coordinated an on-camera delivery of farewell presents from the Kizuna Group, including a surprising number of golf shirts and branded coronavirus face masks. Attendees “brought along” a drinking glass and beverage in their viewing rooms, to toast the couple with a kanpai! led by Yonamine, who is also incoming chair of the U.S.-Japan Council. Yonamine remarked before this toast, “The U.S.-Japan relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world.”
Finally, a fun digital banzai! — quickly renamed “Ban-Zoom” by attendees — was led by Saiki. Ban-Zoom, emcee Arakawa confided at this point, was a term shared with him by JCCH’s Hayashino. Then the closing event, a joyful (albeit socially distanced) bon-odori of “Tanko Bushi” (the coal-miner’s song) by Iwakuni Odori Aiko Kai, was led long-distance by the group’s teacher Anju Madoka from Ōsaka, as she provided the vocals and shamisen accompaniment, danced to by all.