Earlier this year, the Hawai‘i United Okinawa Association installed its 2017 officers and advisors and honored its Uchinanchu of the Year (see Hawai‘i Herald, April 7, 2017). Tom Yamamoto, 2016 president, passed the gavel to his successor, Vince Watabu, at a gathering attended by more than 800 on Jan. 21 at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. Yamamoto is the vice principal of ‘Iliahi Elementary School in Wahiawä and has been leading the Hawai‘i-Okinawa student exchange program for several years.

Yamamoto has long been a dedicated student of both Okinawan and Hawaiian culture — he earned his shinjinsho (first level certificate) in Afuso Ryu sanshin, plays ‘ukulele and dances hula. Thus, his theme as president incorporated both Okinawan and Hawaiian language, “Itsi Madin (Okinawan) . . . Laulima (Hawaiian),” meaning “Forever Working Together.”

Yamamoto said 2016 was “an eventful year” and one he will remember forever because “so many people offered their hearts and hands.” He had a chance to experience that firsthand when the threat of a major hurricane forced the cancellation of the Okinawan Festival. In the days leading up to Hurricane Lester’s anticipated arrival on Labor Day weekend, all of the festival preparations at Kapi‘olani Park had to be broken down and packed up — all of which was done with Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart volunteer labor. “This laulima (lending a helping hand) — Uchinaaguchi (Okinawan language) for yuimaaruu (helping each other) — was truly an amazing sight to see,” he said.

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