Our short trip to Okinawa for Toshi’s wedding was filled to the seams with visits to places we are going to next month and also unexpected emergence of places that we should try to get to. Our talks with the leaders and coordinators of some of the locations we’ll be visiting turned into hours of discussion on the importance of cultural preservation and the lack of interest by Okinawan natives. Our connections with the residents and our explination of what our purpose will be for the tour and conference brought out concern for the preservation and continuation of certain traditions and language.
As we visited many places, such as the museums, I was hit by the fact that there were no native Okinawans in the building, and only a few other visitors. Outside however, the tourist areas were full and souvenier shops packed. I asked the curators if local Okinawans had much interest in the historical and traditional exhibits, and their answer was a strong “no”. They were concerned also that college students had no interest in the exhibits. The curators did express interest and approval in our tour and its purpose. They hoped that it would be able to at least start some sort of movement before more becomes lost.
As I walked and drove around, I noticed so much change from the past 2 years since visiting. One thing that was good though is that the roads were becoming wider in some areas, but traditioanl place names were becoming lost, as many have been incorporated into a larger city. The locals also told us that the seinenkai, or youth groups that do traditional eisaa have become smaller, and outsiders are moving in. Thay also said that things like the kajimaya (97yrs old) parade and community celebration has just about disappeared. They did express interest in reviving it though. Many historical places have been changed also. UNESCO has helped to designate many areas to World Historical Sites, but at the same time, local religious practices and traditions are prohibited at these places.
We were visiting Okinawa during the “Silver Week” holiday, and the hotels, streets and tourist areas were jam packed with people. In a way its very good for Okinawa’s economy, but it seems they face the same problems as Hawai`i. More and more hotels and resorts are being built. What has become popular is condo hotels and time shares. As soon as you walk off the plane you see posters advertising these places and new condo hotels. Like Hawai`i…how much more can Okinawa take as far as developments like this? The main island is half the width as O`ahu. At the same time however, locals are looking at ways for self sustainability.
It will be nice to see that happen one day, but the movement for this is also very slow, as many see quick cash in the tourist industry. I asked if they realize that its a dangerous dependence, since tourism is dependent on the weather, politics and economics. Our friend in Okinawa said they haven’t thought about that part yet.
Walking on the main street in Naha, it was very lonely not to see any locals. This is a big change from at least 10 years ago. How much more will things change?
Change is innevitable, and in many cases good. Whats hard is finding the balance to this, and how to keep a people’s identity and traditions intact.
As I looked at our schedule for the tour, and lisened to the curators and locals, I realized that our tour will be very heavy, unlike the stuff the tourists were experiencing. It will be fun, but at the same time, if the Ukwanshin Tour participants realize that the are directly connected to what we will be seeing and experiencing, it will surely be a life changing experience that hopefully brings about more involvement. Norman and I didn’t think we would run out of so much time, but at the same time our discoveries there were good ones. It seems that in going back to our “homeland” of our ancestors, many messages and gifts are revealed. You just have to be patient and go with the flow. Windows will open for things that are meant to be, and others will close untill the time is right. We as descendants of Okinawan blood, have the obligation. Its just deciding what you are going to do with that obligation or even realizing that you have it.