FOR FAMILY HOLIDAY “GATHERINGS”: A VIRTUAL CARE PACKAGE OF OKINAWAN CULTURE
Wondering how your loved ones might bond as an extended family this holiday season — especially when the government recommends avoiding large gatherings and limiting face-to-face interaction to people in your private household “bubble”? And when the CDC endorses take-out, curbside pick-up or socially-distanced outdoor seating as the preferred restaurant-dining modes, making get-togethers inside of eateries sound riskier (cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/business-employers/bars-restaurants.html)?
How will you share holiday moments with family who live on the U.S. continent, in foreign countries — or even across the island(s)?
We got you! Over the next few issues in this section, we at The Hawai‘i Herald will share selected offerings found on the internet which would appeal to local families, including some inexpensive ideas to create holiday time together, while physically apart.
Our first “find” is from the Gardena, L.A.-based Okinawan Association of America which put together a Virtual Care Package (oaamensore.org/carepackage1.html), to help families in the coronavirus era interact while living in different households or even in hard-to-visit care institutions such as nursing homes or sitter services.
Whimsically illustrated with cheerful cartoons and other playful designs, the package presents FREE games, puzzles, videos, phone conversation-starters and even global Okinawan educational and cultural resources and fun activities from Peru, Argentina and here in Hawai‘i.
Over the fall, members of the OAA Bunka-bu Culture Committee, which curates this website, have updated the virtual package weekly, adding many materials for family bonding across distance and time. Inspired by the Smithsonian Asian and Pacific American Center’s “Care Package” of “Poems, meditations, films, and other cultural nutrients for times like this … (c)urated with love … ” (smithsonianapa.org/care/), the OAA Virtual Care Package was created because, “With physical/social distancing as the new normal for the time being, we wanted to … share Okinawan culture and, more importantly, to brighten somebody’s day,” said the OAA.
The site’s first section offers printable (or downloadable/email-able) “Games” such as crossword puzzles; a “Cultural Arts” word-search puzzle complete with Uchinaaguchi (Native Okinawan language) terminology and factoids written simply for a wide age-range of players; and a “Places in Okinawa” word-search puzzle with a place-name list beneath it, from Aguni to Zamami, to make searching easy.
Games also include a “Social Media” category, to be downloaded, filled out and shared on your Instagram or Facebook Story, as you tag your remote family and friends, inviting them to play along! A “This or That” travel edition lets you reveal who you are as a tourist (“searching for perfect omiyage” v. “last-minute bulk-shopping at Naha Airport”?), enticing others to compare their personal preferences, on an imaginary social-media visit to the Ryūkyūs.
The second section, “Yuntaku at a Distance,” gives ideas for a “Conversation Game” to play with küpuna in your family or with older/disabled friends who might be cloistered in an assisted-living facility, care home or hospital during the COVID-19 crisis. Offered bilingually in English or Japanese, in sentences that can be cut-and-pasted for those who prefer texting to conversations over a cell, this phone game challenges you to ask questions of that senior, giving your own answers then comparing results. Does your relative (or friend) prefer dining at fancy restaurants, or eating at mom-and-pop joints, for example? These prompts can spark memories and encourage the family member or colleagues to open up about past experiences, sharing things you did not know, as you also tell them about yourself.
The “Mimi-Gusui: Life Sustenance through the Ears” section is for less talky people; it lets you play music videos or audio clips from Okinawan performers around the world while loved ones listen. They were curated based on the simple question, “Which Okinawan (or Japanese songs) have helped you through this difficult time?” Included are an “uplifting rendition of 「上を向いて歩こう」”Ue wo Muite Arukō” from our dushi-nu-chaa (friends) in Peru,” produced by the Associación Peruano Japonesa (Japanese Peruvian Association) and performed by Albert Shiroma of Diamentes, minyö (folk) musician Lucy Nagamine and John Azama; an Argentine version of bon dance song “Asadoya Yunta” by Dany Hokama who belts it out partly in Spanish while alternating between playing the guitar and the sanshin; and Okinawan folk song “Tinsagu nu Hana” mixed with modern pop music, sung by Hawai‘i’s Brandon Ng and Derek Fujio (this last is an audio clip without video). [The section title, “Life Sustenance Through the Ears” comes from a presentation by the Honolulu-based Ukwanshin Kabudan group where Ng is an Uchinaaguchi instructor and music teacher, according to OAA.]
Low-key families might also enjoy section four, “Coloring,” a relaxing artistic activity for different generations, co-created by Embajada del Japon en Argentina (the Embassy of Japan in Argentina) and sansei Uchinanchu Argentine Flor Kaneshiro (florkaneshiro.com), who together “bring you this meditative timecolor painting timelapse video” and downloadable/printable coloring sheet. The imaginative illustration by Kaneshiro depicts mayaa (cats) dancing and strumming sanshin near a traditional house, a gajimaru (banyan) and a yanbaru kuina (a bird only found in the northern Okinawa island). Kaneshiro films himself both sketching and water-coloring that artwork in the timelapse clip (click on the “English” option at facebook.com/Emb.jp.ar/videos/2876504215766501/); the illustrated sheet can be colored by children as well as by their stressed-out adult family members, who could no doubt use mindless but creative activities to do together, after a tough 2020.
Finally, the last two sections integrate a rich range of Okinawan storytelling skills and entertainment platforms for the whole family: “Okinaanchu Movie Night” and the “Watch List.” The former displays a delightful short film called “The Path of Kumiodori (Unjunu Hanamichi)” (imdb.com/title/tt11444178/). Coproduced by the Okinawa Film Office, this 20-min., heartwarming family drama from 2014, written and directed by Atsushi Sunagawa and Chikako Yamashiro, stars Uchinanchu actors including well-known classical instructors and performers, and creatively deploys kumi-wudui/kumi-odori (ensemble dance/combination dance) to drive forward its movie plot.
Shot in Japanese and Uchinaguchi and subtitled in English, The Path of Kumiodori is about Takeshi, a cultural-museum employee in Okinawa who by night practices the Ryukyuan performing art kumi-odori. The OAA states, “The balance between work and stage takes its toll on his relationship with his son, who wants to grow up to be just like Takeshi, that is until he unexpectedly meets incarnation of traditional Ryukyuan performing art ‘marumun’ who lives in the theater.”
“Watch List,” updated frequently by the OAA, curates a list of Okinawan-themed audiovisual resources “to enjoy during this quarantine period — all online and all FREE to watch,” the website states. The list is divided into Upcoming virtual events; recorded Online Performances & Talks; Short Films & Documentaries; Worldwide Uchinaanchu Day of virtual events around the globe; and Okinawan YouTube channels that frequently upload videos.
If you know someone artistically talented who could contribute their own creative images to this virtual package, have them come up with original artwork using Okinawan elements (sanshin, eisaa, karate, traditional kimono, design elements from textiles, etc.) then email the scanned work to Joseph Kamiya, OAA Bunka-bu Culture Committee chairperson, at email@example.com, for consideration.
JASH COHOSTS “ECONOMIC TIES BETWEEN HAWAI‘I AND JAPAN IN THE AGE OF COVID-19” PANEL
On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the Japan-America Society of Hawaii cosponsored a virtual panel on “Economic ties between Hawai‘i and Japan in the age of COVID-19,” for the College of Social Sciences Dean’s Hour webinar series titled “The Hawai‘i-Japan Connection” at the University of Hawai‘i-Mänoa.
The speakers were entrepreneur Takaho Iwasaki, formerly of Fuji Television in Japan, who last year started her own firm, MajiConnection, which focuses on linking up small-to-medium enterprises in Japan and Hawai‘i; economist Sumner La Croix of the UH Economic Research Organization, an expert on Hawai’i’s pandemic response and our (hopefully) efficient recovery under the “new normal” of COVID-19; and Yasuo Tanabe, CEO of Global Link Ltd., a senior advisor to the U.S.-Japan Council and the Northeast Asia Economic Forum, who has worked as a longtime Hitachi executive and a bureaucrat in two Japanese government ministries.
In a one-hour discussion hosted by CSS Dean Denise Konan, the guests first gave brief speeches on what JASH and CSS called “the newest developments in both [the Japanese and Hawai‘i] visitor industries, with an examination of economic revival and what’s on the horizon,” before UHM Prof. of Economics Konan opened up the floor to a virtual Q&A session. In their talks, speakers offered pragmatic opinions on how to maintain business ties between Japan and Hawai‘i during the pandemic, answering questions such as, “What are the prospects of economic exchange between the two regions?” and “What new initiatives are in place to foster the bonds?”
Iwasaki began her slideshow on “How Hawai‘i Can Co-Innovate with Japan,” by raising the provocative inquiry, “Is Japan a loser now?” Reminding the audience of her nation’s manufacturing heyday — from the postwar era through the early digital millennium — she showed images of products which had once made the country famous for its innovation: early videogame consoles, the Sony Walkman and, of course, quality vehicles and TV sets from the 1980s, when the global superpowers had admired Japan’s industrial model of production.
Today, however, the once-prestigious “Made in Japan” label no longer packs the punch it once did. Where are the status symbols of today made?, Iwasaki queried, displaying images of currently in-demand U.S. and other products produced outside of Japan: the Tesla, Amazon goods/services, iPhones and other things made by non-Japanese tech-industry giants such as Google.
Iwasaki noted that Japan has shifted from manufacturing hardware and other physical goods, to investing in Artificial Intelligence and data — in other words, information services. Japan still gifts two great advantages to its exports: a great storytelling imagination, as shown by its successful selling of anime and gaming transmedia storyworlds abroad, and a strong legacy of quality production coming from its uncompromisingly excellent craft tradition going back generations.
Exchange programs between Japan and Hawai‘i can lead to collaborations, as can practical internships, Iwasaki predicted. These exchanges will teach Japanese to localize their entrepreneurial efforts, so they cultivate a sense of regional markets, and also nurture relationships and friendships in a culturally friendly community.
Iwasaki also expressed that Hawai‘i could host Japanese small-and-medium-sized entrepreuneurial enterprises, whether Japanese SME startups are at the initial “Proof of Concept” stage or the “Minimum Viable Product” stage right before mass production. Vacan, Inc., is one such example; the real-time vacancy information firm, which uses AI and Internet of Things technology to track foot traffic and displays on digital signage and smartphones, tested its services in the islands. However, for this type of startup hosting to work, a high-quality, sustainable and efficient ecosystem of service and product development must first be created, she said.
Dr. La Croix, retired from the UHM Dept. of Economics, spoke on “Reopening Tourism from Japan to Hawaiʻi in the Age of COVID-19,” a talk based on a brief he co-authored with Senior Fellow Tim Brown of East-West Center and F. DeWolfe Miller, emeritus faculty of the UHM John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Speaking on Oct. 28, a day after Gov. David Ige had announced the re-opening of Hawaiʻi-Japan tourism which was to start on Nov. 6, La Croix outlined the now-well-known pretravel RT-PCR coronavirus-testing protocols for the state’s “Safe Travels” program for Japanese visitors (and others arriving from outside of Hawaiʻi). He said for this new effort to work — to re-open Japan-Hawai‘i travel effectively and safely — two conditions must be met: (1), “Hawai‘i residents need to conclude that Japan tourists will not be a source of community transmission,” and (2), “Japan tourists need to conclude it is safe to fly to/from Hawaiʻi — that we have our epidemic under control.” Do we meet these conditions?
Using data from the International Health Metrics and Evaluation Group of the University of Washington, La Croix analyzed that Japan has a much lower prevalence of COVID-19 than, for instance, California (19.8 cases/100,000 people v. 264.09 cases/100,000 people, or more than 13 times lower). He concluded, “(I)f tourists from Japan and California both take the same RT-PCR test pre-departure, a visitor from Japan will be 13 times less likely than a visitor from California to be infected … If Japanese tourists continue to wear masks in Hawai‘i at the 87 [percentage] rate observed in Japan, then [we predict] minimal to no transmission to local residents.”
Second, compared to Hawai‘i’s climbing incidences of COVID-19 transmission in August, where numbers rose into the hundreds of new cases a day, the September and October numbers have gone down. With mask-wearing , limiting contact to groups of five or less and continued hand-washing, Hawai‘i people might be able to keep coronavirus transmission relatively low, so that some Japanese tourists may feel safe in traveling here. However, even then, since relatively few Japanese can afford the 14-day quarantine upon returning to their country, Nipponese tourists likely to visit the islands will probably be limited to “retired, affluent seniors, perhaps with some prior travel to Hawai‘i” and young, childless married couples who are already working from home, he predicted.
Lastly, Tanabe, a visiting scholar at UHM, showcased his decades of Japanese industry and government leadership work, in mapping out future areas of economic collaboration between Hawaiʻi and Japan, beyond corporate mass-tourism:
(1) Visions of a new socio-economic system of sustainable development and “New Capitalism” in the U.S., which commits to all stakeholders including communities and the natural environment;
(2) Sustainable energy;
(3) Digital economy;
(4) Transit-oriented development;
(5) Advanced healthcare/medical tourism;
(7) Higher education and
(8) Local-to-local exchange.
The final aspect, “local to local exchange,” involves building upon Hawai‘i’s existing sister relationships with Fukuoka, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Ehime and Hokkaido, whereby we in the islands “should take advantage further for local to local business development,” Tanabe recommended.
[The event’s videorecording, speakers’ PowerPoint slides and additional speaker information are at socialsciences.hawaii.edu/webinars/hawaii-japan.html.]