Approximately 800 people attended the Hawai‘i United Okinawa Association’s “Uchinanchu of the Year” and installation banquet earlier this year at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. The festivities saw the installation of the HUOA’s youngest president to date, 31-year-old Courtney Takara. She succeeds Vince Watabu as president of the organization made up of nearly 10,000 households.
In his outgoing president’s message, Watabu shared a few special memories that he would take from his year leading HUOA, including the start of construction of the Hawaii Okinawa Plaza commercial venture across the street from the Hawaii Okinawa Center to provide a steady revenue stream to the HUOA. One of his more moving memories was the assistance HUOA provided to two former World War II prisoners of war from Okinawa. They were sent to Hawai‘i and incarcerated at the Sand Island internment camp. A group of HUOA volunteers helped the two former POWs who came to Hawai‘i along with members of the Okinawa-Hawaii Kyokai, locate the former gravesites of 12 fellow Okinawan POWs who died while in Hawai‘i at Schofield Barracks. They were remembered in a memorial service at Jikoen Hongwanji Mission. Although the final resting place of their remains is still unknown, the two men found some amount of closure by retracing their steps in Hawai‘i.
Watabu spoke highly of his successor, yonsei Courtney Takara, noting that her installation as president is in keeping with one of the guiding principles of the HUOA — to support and encourage young people to get in touch with their Okinawan heritage, as they are HUOA’s future.
“Courtney has been active [with HUOA] for a long time. Don’t judge her by her age. Embrace her theme. Let’s all roll up our sleeves and work with Courtney,” Watabu said.
Watabu concluded by thanking his fellow officers and “all of you, because you make up the HUOA. I could not do this by myself.”
Takara, who leads an already busy life as a compliance officer with Central Pacific Bank and a student of Okinawan koto and sanshin, selected “Hiyamikasa: Rallying Together for Everyone’s Success” as her 2018 theme. Takara is a member of Nakagusuku Sonjin Kai, Shinka and Oroku Azajin Club.
She explained that “Hiyamikasa” is a reminder to everyone that “by working together, anything is possible.” She said she was inspired by the lively, uplifting Okinawan song, “Hiyamikachi Bushi,” that is intended to lift people’s spirits, even during difficult times.
She said HUOA’s 50 member-clubs are ”the heart of our organization.” She thanked Watabu, HUOA’s executive council and the organization’s members for their support.
Serving with Takara will be president-elect Jocelyn Ige (Kin Chojin Kai, Hui O Laulima and Ishikawa Shijin Kai); vice presidents Valerie Kato (Hui Makaala and Kitanakagusuku Sonjin Kai); Lynn Miyahira Krupa (Gaza Yonagusuku Doshi Kai and Shinka) and Gregg Kuwazaki (Hawaii Shuri-Naha Club); executive secretary Sandra Yanagi (Chatan-Kadena Chojin Kai); assistant executive secretary Terry Goya (Nishihara Chojin Kai and Urasoe Shijin Kai); Japanese language secretary Hanae Gushiken Higa (Shinka, Hawaii Shuri-Naha Club and Nago Club); treasurer Stephanie Katayama (Nakagusuku Sonjin Kai and Okinawan Genealogical Society of Hawaii); assistant treasurer Norman Nakasone (Wahiawa Okinawa Kyoyu Kai and Aza Yogi Doshi Kai); and immediate past president Vince Watabu (Ginoza Sonjin Kai). Serving as Takara’s advisors are: David Arakawa, Scott Arakaki, Ford Chinen, Mark Higa, David Jones, Paul Komeiji, Gainor Miyashiro and Cyrus Tamashiro. The new officers were installed by Circuit Judge Karen Nakasone, a member of Yagaji Club.
Gov. David Ige, Consul General of Japan Koichi Ito, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and United Japanese Society of Hawaii president Sheree Tamura all shared messages of support and congratulations.
Karii toasts were offered by HUOA past president Jon Itomura and Takara’s brother, Kelsey.
A full program of entertainment by young performers followed the formal program, with a festive kachashi to close off the event.