Shiimi: A Time To Reconnect and Remember Our Roots


Okinawan family enjoying Shiimi at their family tomb.

The season of Shiimi begins on April 5th this year.  Usually lasting from a week or two, families gather at gravesites or tombs to pay respects to the ancestors by offering food, incense, and burning paper money.  For many in Okinawa, it takes up almost the whole day, and looks like a family picnic at the family’s tomb.  Man also play sanshin and dance.  Its like a small party with the departed relatives, and is observed around the beginning of spring.

This practice of Shiimi comes from the Chinese ChingMing, and is observed on the dame time according to the lunar calendar.

Tin Yau Yee honors his ancestors by spelling whiskey on the ancestral grave, April 1994. Photo: Doug S.Y. Young , Library of Congress,American Folklife Center

Tin Yau Yee honors his ancestors by spelling whiskey on the ancestral grave, April 1994. Photo: Doug S.Y. Young , Library of Congress,American Folklife Center

As many cultural practices that reflect the Chinese influence on Okinawa, Shiimi still one of the main observances that date back centuries, and still widely practiced today.  Family members go early to clean and prepare the gravesite.  Many have become elaborate, with tents, mats, tables for food, and even catered traditional foods.

Here in Hawai`i, we don’t see Shiimi practiced too much in our Okinawan community, partially due to the issei not passing this tradition down.  many of the Okinawan traditions and language was lost or not practiced due to the prejudice the Okinawan immigrants faced after arriving in Hawai`i.  They tried hard to assimilate in the already bad conditions of the plantations.  Hopefully, we can revive and pass on this practice in Hawai`i, as a way to instill respect and honor those who set the foundation of where we are today.

Kohala Okinawa Club Celebrates Shinenenkai and Relief After Tsunami All Clear

It was an eventful day, beginning with stress, worry and unsettling anticipation as all hawai`i awaited the arrival of the predicted Tsunami which was created from the 9.0 earthquake in Chile.  Almost everyone in Hawai`i was alerted and shaken from sleep at 6am, with sirens that was the first real alert of the pending danger to come.  Luckily, the Tsunami turned out to be only a few feet with non significant strength to do damage across the island chain.

With that out of the way, Kohala Okinawans went forth with their annual New Years gathering at the Hawi Jodo Shu Hall.  The only set back and missing attendance was the Hilo group who had to cancel.  However, Young Okinawans of Hawai`i members from Honolulu, Aaron Hoo and Lawson Kita brought smiles and excitement with the Shisa Mo-i.  This was a rare treat for the Kohala members.  Ukwanshin leaders, Norman Kaneshiro and Eric Wada provided music and jikata for the local dancers, Lois and Tah Ajimine.  “We were so overwhelmed and thankful” said Mrs. Nakamura(91) of Kohala.  “Its been almost 20 years since we really had live Traditional Okinawan music.”  Many older members commented that they were happy to see live Okinawan entertainment that they had not been able to experience since their issei were there.  The songs and dances brought back nostalgic memories and many talked to about the plantation days and started to remember the “old days”  “I never thought I would hear those songs again” said one older member.

Could This Be the Future of Okinawans?

Ancient Tribe Goes Extinct as Last Member Dies

Updated: 21 hours 38 minutes ago
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(Feb. 5) – Marking the end of a language and an entire people, the last member of the Bo, an ancient tribe that lived in the Andaman Islands, has died.

When Boa Sr, as she was known, died last week, she was believed to be about 85 years old. Her husband had died years beforehand, and Boa, whose name means “land” or “earth” in the Bo language, had no children.

Boa Sr

When Boa Sr, the last member of the Bo tribe of the Andaman Islands, died last week, the Bo language died along with her.
“She was the only person who spoke Bo,” Anvita Abbi, a professor of linguistics at India’s Jawaharlal National University, told The Times of London. “At times, she felt very isolated and lonely as she had no one to talk to in her own language.”
The Bos’ Downfall

In 1858, when the British decided to colonize the Andaman Islands and use them as a penal colony, they estimated that 5,000 Great Andamanese lived there.

“At first, the British didn’t notice any difference between the tribes,” said Sophie Grig, senior campaigner at Survival International.

But in 1879, a British officer named M.V. Portman was appointed officer in charge of the Andamanese, and after years of attempting to acclimate them to life as British subjects, Portman wrote “A Manual of the Andamanese Languages,” which distinguished the differences among tribal languages.

Portman’s own obituary, which appeared in The Times on Feb. 22, 1935, reads:

In many parts of the islands the natives were still either ferocious enemies or at best half-tamed; and his work consisted in making contact with them and very gradually bringing them to recognize the value of British rule.
But colonization proved ruinous for the tribes of the Andamans, including the Bo, with large numbers decimated by measles and syphilis brought to the islands by foreigners. Many of those who were left gravitated to alcohol, another import to the islands, as a way of seeking solace.

“When people are dispossessed from their land and their way of life, they often turn to alcohol,” Grig said. “It’s not surprising, and it was very much true in the case of the Bo.”

In 1970 the Indian government began relocating the Bo to a settlement of concrete row houses on Strait Island. Boa Sr was moved in 1978, and Abbi said she often said that she missed her old life in the jungle.

“A language contains the memories and experiences, everything that explains and encapsulates a way of life,” Grig said.

Happy New Year 2010!

img_0187 Haisai Gusuyoo! Happy New Year and may you have a healthy and prosperous 2010!
Although we don’t actually welcome in the year of the Tiger till February 14th, many of us have , or are celebrating the start of a new decade. What will it have in store for us? Looking back at this past year for Ukwanshin, there has been so much to be thankful for and so many blessings on our work and the many people who have gotten involved with project Ukwanshin. It seems that there is a hunger for the culture and identity, and also for the reconnection to the ancestors who came before us and practiced our culture. Hope fully this will continue and grow stronger through this year.

One observation I did see though, that is a sign of the times in many families is the loss of families spending time, especially in the new year and also young ones staying with close family and friends to help make food and enjoy together. The sharing of food was very essential before to share whawts going on with each other, learn cooking and also to just spend time together. I’ve heard many Okinawans say that they don’t make the food that their grandparents or great grandparents did, because they don’t know how, or that the families don’t get together…or worse…”it’s too humbug”. Home made food..especially for this kind of time, is actually nourishment for our bodies, and also…for our soul. Okinawans beleive that something made by others has the spirit of that person, and is actually a gift that we take into ourselves when we eat. It ties into the belief of the weavers who made the cloth for their loved ones and beleived that the cloth was a sort of protection. I can see how valuable it was in the many songs that talk about food and how the elders made it for the children. References to the different foods and nostagia in being able to eat something that grandma made is very prevolent in many folk songs. This should not end there, but should live in our families and homes.

We look forward to being able to continue our workshops and programs, and wish you a safe and happy new year!

Ryukyu Classical Music: The Voice of Our Ancestors and Our Identity

"Yanaji" A lesson for life

"Yanaji" A lesson for life

“Yanajiwa miduri, Hana wa kurinayi, fwitu wa tada nasaki, nmi wa niwui”

Such simple words form the classical song “Yanaji”, but as many “ufu bushi”, classical music pieces, this Ryukyu poem expresses deep meaning that is so simple to understand if we look at the symbols it envokes.  In these words, we can basically find so many answers to our problems and misunderstandings.  Our ancestors understood this and have passed this down to us through the songs and dances, but due to the modern and technical interference, our sublime senses have been shut down and our human pride has taken over.

As we enter the new year of 2010, “Yanaji” holds answers to facing the new year, and to reconnect to our identity.  It shows us our path and helps in making decisions.  The words use nature to symbolize and remind us that we are part of a natural cycle.  “The deep green of the willow as it bends and sways shows values of humility and beauty.  The deep red of the peony shows the aesthetic beauty which extends to our identity.  As people, we must show compassion as a vital virtue, and the subtle but sweet smell of the plum blossom extends an invitation to be humble”

If we look around, nature responds to its natural cycle everyday.  Even the smallest blade of grass, with the morning dew shining with the reflection of the sun, shows joy in the return of the morning and gives thanks to another day.  We are not machines, but a being of nature that has a connection to our ancestors.  I compare it to the 200 year old “matsu” or pine tree that stands strong on the cliff and grows greener every year as it endures winds, rain , heat and cold. It drops its seeds to create new generations which in turn become other pine that have the same identity of its parent.  Its only when the identity through tampering from the outside is introduced , that the identity changes and sometimes leads to the demise.  Each part of nature has its own identity and treasure to contribute to the world.  If we can understand to keep connected and always refer to our roots, we may find it easier to cope, although we may find it hard at times since this is not the act of the majority.  However, this is our contribution, and our natural obligation.  “Wakamatsi ya miduri, kugani hana sachuru, tani kara nmariti, yugafu churasa”  The young pine is so green, the beautiful flower(child) blooms, from the seed we are born, how beautiful it makes the world.

Donate and Get Gifts For The Holidays

poinsettia1 Happy Holidays! We have 2 offers for those of you who would like to get something for your donation to Ukwanshin. The first is Poinsettia plants that will be available December 5&6th at Kamemoto Nursery in Manoa, or we can deliver too. Each plant is in a 6-8″ pot and stands about 2ft tall with multiple blooms. Decorate your house or give to someone for a $10 donation. The second is a preset dinner for a donation of $50. This is the same as we had before. Prepared by Chef Russel Siu of 3660 on the Rise, you’l start with a salad, choice of selected entre, and dessert duet. Tax, tip and soft drink included.
Let us know if you want to take advantage of these holiday offers. The 3660 Dinners will be available from January through March, but tickets will be on sale till end of December.
Email us at ukwanshinkabudan@gmail

Kenmin Taikai, Okinawans Surprise Government With Overwhelming Turnout To Protest Bases

This Sunday, November 8th, Okinawans showed their opposition by surprising the government with over 21,000 citizens gathering at Ginowan to protest the Henoko plans, as well as show their dissatisfaction at the way the Futenma Base resolution is being handled.  The expected crowd was 3000.  Mayor Iha of Ginowan said that the closing of Futenma should not mean that the dangers and burden from Futenma be transferred over to the people of Henoko.  Currently, the government has been trying to pit Okinawans against each other by saying that the Henoko residents are being selfish in not relieving the dangers of Futenma and allowing the airstrip to be built offshore at the mouth of Oura bay.  The waters there are home for endagered and indigenous sealife, including the Okinawan manatee.  The residents of Henoko and Oura depend on the sea for their livelihood by gathering muzuku seaweed, fish, and shellfish.  Organizers to the event considered this a success and hope that it will send a message to US President Obama’s visit this month.  In the meantime, Okinawans are upset and have criticized Okinawa Governor Nakaima’s absence and trip abroad to the US during this event.  Nakaima will be arriving in Hawaii on Sunday for a few days.

Over 21,000 strong turn out for rally against US base expansion

Over 21,000 strong turn out for rally against US base expansion

“Voices From Okinawa” By Jon Shirota, Presented by Kumu Kahua Theater

Kumu Kahua’s production of the play “Voices From Okinawa”, by Jon Shirota, brings to the forefront, the many problems Okinawans are facing and with the reality of hardships, decisions and the continued treatment of them as second class citizens in the Japanese society .

The story takes place in modern day Naha Okinawa and Ginoza village.  A young part Okinawan-American sansei is teaching at an English school in Naha and decides to  have his students tell a story to practice their conversational English.  At the apprehension of the school principal, the students relate personal experiences one by one as real life experiences that are connected to political and social problems unfold.  The thorn in the Okinawan’s side though seems to be the continued US military presence and the problems the Okinawans have been facing for the past 60 years.  American military arrogance, occupation, public disturbance, lack of adherence to the local laws, and also rape issues are brought up through the students’ stories.  The most emotional is the personal story of a female student being raped by an American serviceman, and also the land issues with military bases in Okinawa.

The topics which were brought out in “Voices” are real issues that need to be talked about today, especially in the local Okinawan community.  The Hawaii United Okinawa Association has lacked in providing information or even supporting Okinawa on these issues, which in turn has left most of the community ignorant of the importance of the education about Okinawa’s continued struggles even to this day.  As we were told time and again in Okinawa last month while we were on tour there..”the Battle of Okinawa has not ended”.

With the current situation of Futenma and Henoko coming to head right now, this play comes at a great time to help understand what is going on, and the Okinawans’ struggles to try and balance everything while still trying to retain their land.  The disturbing helplessness by the Okinawans to apply local punishment to US military that have broken laws, such as robbery and rape, are still a reality till today…everyday.

Despite minor glitches and transitions in the scenes that seem out of place to the seriousness and weight of the stories, the message and “voices” are there and well represented.  I was struck however, upon talking withthe main character “Kama” after the show, that he had no idea that these things were still happening in Okinawa.  I think if the cast had some time to be exposed to information of what is really going on in Okinawa and see that the stories they are portraying are a reality everyday to this day, it would make the play even more strong and have more of an impact on the audience.

The play runs for five weeks from now through December.  Call the Kumu kahua Theater for information on show times etc.  It is a play worth seeing, especially for Okinawans.

Ukwanshin Gakumun Tour 2009: We Are Loochoo Nu Kwa

The Ukwanshin Gakumun Tour was an amazing experience.  Signs and happenings throughour our tour showed us that our ancestors are still closely connecte to us and want us to continue their legacy.  The kinds of emotions the flowed through and brought together not only the tour members, but also the people we met, was great.  I believe it hit everyone in the gut.  It gave a stronger foundation of who we are as shimanchu, and also a purpose for continuing the legacy.

The weather held up when it needed to.  The typhoon changed its path away from us. Reltaives were found for some, and connections re established.  Unexpected information on family trees being brought out and shared to make the connections even stronger.  Also, a possible voice from the past that called Okinawa relatives to foretell the arrival of the first grandson of the family’s first Okinawa visit.  The laughter and tears were all a part of the energy that actually strung all of us together, as words didn’t have to be spoken, but we could understand what everyone was going through and thinking.  The meeting with the two living treasures, Matayoshi, and Taira, was a priceless experience which gave us a glimpse into the past as well as a tangible symbol of the real Okinawan heart.  However, it was kind of sad to think thay they will not be with us forever, and within a decade or so they may be gone.  It is now our obligation to continue their “chimugukuru” and do what we can to pass on our real identity.  The time of shame and prejudice on our Okinawan identity is passed.  It is now time for us to realize our inborn obligation and to remember who and where we are connected to that makes us shimanchu.  For most of the members on our tour, I think they have made a commitment to continue the journey.  We are the rocks that will come together to make our identity and culture strong again.  One rock at a time, one person at a time.  Being Okinawan is in us.


Waga Umui, Uya nu Uchinaa, As We Think Of Our Ancestors’ Okinawa

Matayoshi kanjeeku, National Living Treasure, inspirational and humble.

Matayoshi kanjeeku, National Living Treasure, inspirational and humble.

Great connections have been made so far, as we were privileged to meet with Matayoshi kanjeeku in Shuri.  He is the 7th generation of silversmiths who made hairpins for the royalty and aristocrats in Shuri.  His humble words to us about him not wanting to sell his “jifwa” or women’s hairpins, because lack of understanding about it and that many people use it just as decoration.  He said that when he makes any now, he just wants to give it to people or places that knokw the spiritual value of it so that his legacy can be left in those areas or with those people.

Connecting and sharing at the conference in Gushikawa

Connecting and sharing at the conference in Gushikawa

The conference in Gushikawa brought discussion and people from different parts of Okinawa.  The majority of ideas and feelings expressed was that it is a dangerous and vital time in Okinawa right now to preserve and pass on the culture and history.  There was also some expression that Okinawans are comfortable with the language clubs, and events they have, and the boom in popularity of the performing arts.  However, they are not realizing that those things are just providing a shell right now and not the spirit or soul of the language and arts.img_0081 The evening ended with a koryu kai or fellowship dinner with the Gushikawa people.  It was a night of unexplainable connections, music, laughter, and aloha.

The next day we started with a historical journey which connects us to the legend of Morikawa no Shi.  This legend says that an angel came down to this spring to bathe.  Before going into the waters she took her wings off and went down.  As she was bathing, Morikawa comes by and sees her in the river.  He falls in love with her and finds her wings.  He hides it and disables her from going back to heaven.

Mori no Kawa no Kawa

Mori no Kawa no Kawa

The story goes on to explain that the two eventually got married and had two children.  The son was beleived to become the first king of Ryukyu.

From Morikawa, we left with a special  guest on board the bus.  Professor Satto is from the Okinawa Kokusai University.  He lead us to and explained the terrible US helicopterimg_0096

crash in which the US military broke international laws when they occupied the university property for 2 weeks and removed vital evidence.  They never even reprted what happened to the pilots of the helicopter.  This was to show the dangers and also the continued stress and problems Okinawans are dealing with, and how the two powers, Japan and US are still abusing the Okinawans without the respect they would be olbiged to give in their own laws and land.


Can you see military presence in this katachiki pattern? Airples, parachutes, etc

We conntinued by bus to the Sakima Art Museum, which is on the boundries of Futenma  US Marine Air Base.  It was very interesting to see the art there that depicted Okinawa’s war struggles, bothe now and in the Battle of Okinawa.  The Sakima Art Museum is funded by the Sakima family who have decided to use their income from family land on base, to send a message about the importance of Okinawa’s preservation and to not forget the war.  Also, to educate on the current situations in Okinawa pertaining the the bases and the effects they are having on the local people.

img_0097Mr. Sakima has connections to Hawaii through the late Akira Sakima.  He has been continuously working to bring in art from various artists, which depict Okinawa’s strive for peace and the understanding of the war and base issues.  We were very lucky to have him be our guide through the museum, as he explained the varoius art pieces and their symbolism and meanings.

img_0101The last room of huge murals depicted the life and suffereing during the battle of Okianwa and the life people experienced in the caves.  As you look close into the depth of each work, you can clearly see that every kind of suffering and age was depicted in the dark ghostly images that told the story of the long days and nights of uncertainlty and pain.  It gave everyone a time to think and reflect about how much our ancestors went through and agian reminds us of why we are doing what we are and why we went on this tour.img_0102

After a day of heavy and thought provoking places, we relaxed with the /gushhikawa kasshin Daiko group’s advisors at a minyo club in Kita Nakagusuku.  The well known singer, Mr. Tsuha, was our host, along with his wife, who cooked up a great pread of Okinawan food.  We were told that it was just going to be pupus, but it was actually dinner….including…of course…”shima” or awamori.

img_0103The next morning we left central Okinawa to go north.  Our first stop was to the village of Kijoka at Ogimi son. Here we met with Toshiko Tiara sensei, who is the National Living Treasure for the preservation of the “basa/ bashofu” banana fiber art.  We watched as this spry 90 year old ladt gave us a tour of the facilities and process of the basa.  She walked just as fast and wasy as some of our group members!  The intricate and time consuming work left everyone in awe.  At the beginning of our tour, the


Exquisite rolls of banana fiber from Taira's Kijoka workshop

Haebaru kasuri amazed everyone on the work involved, but this process was more intense as they make everything from growing the fiber trees, to the threads, and finall y weaving the cloth.  It was very hopeful news that she has 20 apprentices weaving with her at this time to keep up the art.

img_0107AFter the walk thorugh tour of the workshop, we were given a chance to watch the video of the banana fiber process. While watching Taira sensei asked me why some of our members had pictures of older people on their bags and stuff.  I explained to her that it was because we were returning in place of our issei who could never make it back to Okinawa after dreaming that they could make money and return back one day to continue their living.  I told her that our tour focused on making connections to what our ancestors left behind, and a connection to our identity.


A true living treasure: Toshiko Taira

We then presented her with something very traditional in our identity as Okinawans.  Besides some omiyage from Hawaii, Norman sang “natsukashiki Furusato”, which expressed our aloha to her and through the words expressed that we are always worrying or thinking of the okinawa people , as they may be of us.  Taira sensei broke down in tears and so did everyone else.  The connection of the heart and true “chimugukuru” was experienced then.  It was unexplainable.

Taira sensei then said, “Theres many problems Okinawa people face right now.” She worries about Futenma, and sees that everyhting is becoming focused on money, as people are forgetting the values. She said that the music brought memories of when she returned to Okinawa after the war and how people connected and helped each other.  There was a strong sense of caring….especially for the elderly, and she felt that with us.  She is an amazing lady.  Despite being a National Living Treasure, her humbleness, love and wisdom outweighs that title, and makes her much more valuable than any title can give her.  We thank her from our hearts and wish her many more healthy years to come.img_0118


Barbed wire stretched across the beach to keep local Okinawans out of their own places to gather seaweed and fish.

After leaving Taira Sensei’s place we headed to the east side of Nago to visit the sit in area of Henoko.  For over 10 years, the locals…led by the elders of the area, have been fighting for the presrvation of the ocean there as well as the wildilife and their land.  The plans to build a reef runway offshore and to expand Camp Schwab into the waters there, will have a great effect on the wildlife, especially the Dugong, or Okinawan Manatee.  It is here again that we saw the laws that the US fights for outside, img_0115

being broken, by the US itself.  The ocean and land here is the life of the people, as they still farm of the land and the sea for their survival.  They can go the the stores and department vendors, but they have chosen to keep the life that was passed down to them.  For the elders, this is the only life they know, and they don’t care about the money. They are happy just the way they are now


Norman playing sanshin at Henoko

The last day of the tour together, we left Kanucha to start going back south by way of Nakijin.  The Nakijin Castle has now been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Area.  From just 3 years ago, they have expanded and built new parking area, a bigger museum, and and area of shops and toilet facilities.  Continued archealogical work is being done as many former walls of the castle have been restored.

img_0104In some ways there is alot of good that has been done through the designation by UNESCO. but also the draw back is that many native practices and rituals are prohibited due to the UNESCO regulations.  Locals are restricted from using incense at prayer places in these areas, and rituals etc have to be reported prior to doing it.  There is also an admission fee applicalbe to all…even if you are a local or going for s spiritual purpose.  Maybe Okinawans can try to get the same priviledges as Hawaiians, who are free from admission and ritual prohibitions at places like the National Parks in Hawaii.

img_01111Our luchtime at Drive In Hawai`i.


Yokoi san presenting the katachiki banners to Young Okinawans of Hawai`i

We stopped on the way at the Okashi Goten, or Porsche Sweet Potato Confectionary on our way back to Naha.  Everyon’s mind went to try and finish shopping as we were leaving the next day.

many people came to the hotel to rop off gifts, and talk story for the last time, and the katashiki artist, Yokoi cam by to drop off the katachiki everyone worked on at his place at the beginning of the tour.  The pieces were amazing, as everyone’s artwork took on an identity of the maker.  Everyone did a great job!  He then presented the Yound Okinawan’s Of Hawaii with two banners he had done, that represented the clubs eisa.  That was a great and unexpected gift to the 4 members of YOH.  A great finally to the tour for them.