Colin Sewake
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Knowledge is power” goes the saying attributed to Francis Bacon in his published work, “Meditationes Sacrae” (1597). But how does one go about obtaining knowledge?  Reading books is one way, and those books can be found in your local library.

For those of Okinawan descent visiting the homeland, the Okinawa Kenritsu Toshokan or Okinawa Prefectural Library is a great resource of Okinawan history and culture. Previously located next to Yogi Park near Highway 330, the new OPL reopened in 2018 at its current location on the third floor of the same building as the Naha Bus Terminal near Asahibashi Eki (monorail station) off of Highway 58. Three times larger in size than the old one, the new library, with a capacity to hold 1.4 million publications, contains over 800,000 with approximately 300,000 of them dealing with Okinawan topics. A Daiso, coffee shop and other stores are conveniently located on the second floor.

Hawai’i State Library librarians introduce their genealogical resources to OPL staff members in 2017. (Photos courtesy of Colin Sewake)

This warehouse of information is also especially of great value to those conducting genealogical research as they contain registries from each municipality here as well as logs of those who emigrated overseas to such locations as Hawai‘i.

I didn’t know about the Okinawan community in Hawai‘i or the Hawaii United Okinawa Association when I lived in Hawai‘i nor when I arrived in Okinawa in 1994. It wasn’t until I contacted the Yomitan Club to introduce myself in January 2016 that I got involved with the Hawai‘i-Okinawa community. As I connected more dots between people in Hawai‘i and Okinawa over the next several months, excitement was building up in the international Uchinänchu (Okinawan) community about the Sixth Worldwide Uchinänchu Festival scheduled for October 26 to 30 later that year. Almost 8,000 people from 29 countries and regions including Japan made the trek to their motherland to attend the taikai (festival) that is held once every five years.

I volunteered briefly at an event during the taikai that was held 10 years prior, and I expressed my desire and availability to assist with the one in 2016. Officers from Okinawa Hawai‘i Kyökai, the support organization to HUOA, introduced me to the OPL director and staff that summer so that I could help them as a translator for their genealogical research booth that they were setting up for the first time.

That’s when I met and befriended Librarian Hiroaki Hara who is known to most as “Hiro.” A week before the taikai started, HUOA 2007 President David Z. Arakawa and current president of Nishihara Chojin Kai, joined my network of Hawai‘i Uchinänchu friends. Even though the Arakawa family had lots of information on their grandparents, I encouraged him to send me their names and whatever basic information he had, such as birthdates and addresses in Okinawa before emigrating to Hawai‘i, because OPL wanted to work on some test cases before the taikai. I immediately forwarded the information to Hiro. 

Within a couple days, he replied with some new information that David and the family didn’t know about all these years. They knew that before World War II, their grandfather, Zenpan, owned a hotel and store in Waipahü and that he would take care of immigrants who arrived from his hometown of Nishihara to work on the sugar cane plantations. They always wondered what he did to support the homeland after the Battle of Okinawa. The mystery was solved with the communication and teamwork between David, myself, Hiro and OPL. They learned that their grandfather was part of a group of businessmen who sent 600 goats from Hawai‘i to Okinawa in 1949 to support the post-war relief effort.

Furthermore, former Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa was also searching for his Okinawa relatives and would always mention that the Maui Arakawas were related to the Waipahü Arakawas. OPL’s research revealed that David’s great grandfather, Taru, had four children. After his first wife died, he remarried and had four more children, which were the Maui Arakawa families. David and Mayor Arakawa were indeed related to each other through the same great grandfather. Another important point of family history was discovered and more connections made because of OPL’s efforts!

Over the course of the five-day taikai, Hiro and the OPL processed 273 requests from visiting Uchinänchu with Hawai‘i Uchinänchu accounting for 143 of them.

OPL Director Tadashi Arakaki presented the University of Hawai’i Hamilton Library Director in 2017 with a map of Okinawa created in the 18th Century of the Ryükyü Kingdom.

After the taikai ended, I coordinated a virtual aisatsu (introduction) meeting between OPL and HUOA’s Okinawa Genealogical Society of Hawai‘i in January 2017 so that the two sides could meet each other and further coordinate genealogical research efforts. The OPL director and some staff members, including Hiro, flew to Hawai‘i later in the year to attend HUOA’s Okinawa Festival there in September 2017. They hosted a genealogical research booth, which helped process approximately 170 requests at the two-day event. After the festival ended, Hiro, who became my little brother after our work together, stayed with me at my parent’s house in Wahiawä for a couple days to enjoy more of Hawai‘i. 

In March 2018, over 25 OGSH members visited OPL to learn more about their genealogical research resources. Just a few months later, Hiro returned to Hawai‘i, this time with his wife and kids, as a student in the University of Hawai‘i East-West Center’s library sciences program. During his two years there, the relationship with many Hawai‘i Uchinänchu and OGSH strengthened. He attended the shinnen enkai (New Year’s banquet) of several HUOA clubs with old photos in an attempt to have Hawai‘i Nisei (second generation) identify their Issei (first generation) immigrant relatives from Okinawa and connect them with their families from the motherland. Hiro obtained his master’s degree in 2020 before going back to work again at OPL.

That relationship with Hawai‘i Uchinänchu continues today. Last November, Hiro helped Nishihara Chojin Kai member, Gail Shon, research her Yonamine family information. I went to OPL a little early to meet with Director Takeshi Miyagi before Gail and her husband Philip arrived. We chatted about how Hiro and I have been stressing the importance of overseas Uchinänchu doing genealogical research and connecting with relatives before people pass away and families and generations become separated from each other. I further emphasized what a great asset Hiro is to helping people with genealogical research and hope that he stays around for many years to come. Before Hiro and I left to meet Gail and Philip at the library’s entrance, we took a picture with Director Miyagi under the photo of Fuyü Iha, who is known as the “Father of Okinawan Studies,” that hangs in his office. 

After meeting Gail and Philip, we went to a study room so that Hiro could explain the documents that he found on the Yonamine family based on the information, such as name, date of birth, and date of death, that Gail previously provided about her grandparents. OPL shared with OGSH a few years ago a database that contains logs of immigrants who went to Hawai‘i. Standard information includes name, date of birth, passport number, company who issued the passport and date of departure from Japan.

Hiro shared information from another book, which contains residency logs from the 1940s around the timeframe of the war. The green book is organized by yagö Japanese for the family’s house name. I later learned from OHK Vice President Masaji Matsuda that the Uchinäguchi (Okinawan language) word is yännä. If you know your relative’s yagö/yännä, it’s more accurate than the first and last name in identifying the exact house where they lived. If OPL can identify the location of your relative’s house in the past, they can overlay a current residential map and point to the approximate location. A book of maps of all houses and buildings and its owner are recorded and updated annually and available to the public in OPL.

When we were done, Hiro showed Gail and Philip the Immigration Corner that contains publications from all the countries where Okinawans emigrated. There are quite a few books for locations like Hawai‘i and Brazil that were destinations for larger numbers of immigrants. There are also publications for the municipalities, the different shi (city), cho (town), and son (village), in Okinawa. Naha-shi has a larger population and, therefore, has more books than areas with a much smaller population.

Hiro also escorted them to the display on the 3,100-plus Okinawan Prisoners of War that were sent to internment camps in Hono‘uli‘uli and Sand Island in Hawai‘i for a year and a half after the Battle of Okinawa. Twelve of them died of natural causes while there, and former POW Hikoshin Toguchi’s desire was to at least hold an iresai memorial ceremony for them in Hawai‘i even if the remains couldn’t be located. A Former POW Memorial Service Committee co-chaired by Toguchi and former OHK President Chökö Takayama led a group including another former POW, Saneyoshi Furugen, and Vice Governor Isho Urasaki to Hawai‘i in June 2017 to visit grave markers (no remains) on Schofield Barracks, Hono‘uli‘uli and Sand Island where Toguchi and Furugen were interned 72 years prior before going to Jikoen Hongwanji for the ireisai. The display contains black and white photos of Hono‘uli‘uli that were obtained by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i and Okinawa Times articles on the ireisai.

OPL staff member, Eiji Yokoyama, assists a Hawai‘i Uchinänchu with genealogical research at the Worldwide Uchinänchu Festival in Naha, Okinawa in 2016.

Although most publications are in Japanese, you can spend hours combing through books for not only information and records but also photos. OPL is an incredible storehouse of information for those who want to dedicate the time to conducting genealogical research and cultural studies in order to unlock the power it holds.

For more information about 1st Generation Immigration Genealogical Reference Services, visit 

Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment. There, he met his future wife, Keiko, and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin is now retired from the Air Force and the Air Force Reserves. He and Keiko have two children and live in Yomitan.


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