Columnist’s 46th Birthday Sparks a Reality Check
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
“Okinawa is such a beautiful place, not just the ocean and scenery and culture, but the people. I’ve been treated well and taken care of by many people here in what has become ‘My Hawai‘i.’” — Colin Sewake
I don’t know why it is, but I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to remembering certain dates. And I don’t mean just birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but other dates as well — dates marking certain milestones in my life. For example, I’ll never forget Monday, Dec. 12, 1994, the day I arrived in Okinawa. Last month marked 23 years of uninterrupted residence in Okinawa for me. I have now spent more of my 46 years of life here than I have in the sands of my birth: Hawai‘i.
When I graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa on May 15, 1994, I was simultaneously commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. I was ordered to report to the 18th Contracting Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
I immediately went next door to inform my Wahiawä neighbors, the Teruyas, who were originally from Okinawa. In my mind, I can still hear Mrs. Teruya’s voice from that conversation, telling me that I was going to come back home married. I doubted her, because marriage was not even in my vocabulary at the time.
Keiko and I began dating a month after I arrived and we got married in August 1996, less than two years after I began my tour of duty in Okinawa. I ended up making Okinawa my home.
Mrs. Teruya had also told me to look up Jimmy Inamine. I later learned that Jimmy founded and owned the largest bakery chain in Okinawa. Jimmy had close ties to Mr. Teruya and had taught him about baking — and he wasn’t haole (Caucasian), as his first name implied.
When I had filled out my “dream sheet” several months before graduating and requested assignment at a base in Japan, I had mainland Japan in mind — you know, sakura cherry blossoms, trains and women walking around in kimono. My Air Force ROTC friend who was several years ahead of me and already working at Kadena AB got wind of my assignment and spoke to the captain in the squadron to which I had been assigned. That captain had been designated as my sponsor. A short time later, he sent me a welcome package. When I opened the welcome booklet to Kadena AB and Okinawa, the pictures of hibiscus, people on jet skis, and funny-looking kimono and women hairdos confused me. Okinawa was supposed to be in Japan, but, somehow, it didn’t match my image of what Japan was supposed to be.
Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, O‘ahu, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment. He met his future wife, Keiko, within a month and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin retired from the Air Force and, recently from the Air Force Reserves. He now works as a customer service representative for Hotel Sun Palace Kyuyokan in Naha. Colin and Keiko have two teenaged children and make their home in Yomitan.
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