Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Okinawa puts out
welcome mat

Okinawans from Hawaii will
be among thousands going to
the country this fall

By Pat Gee

Dexter Teruya will be taking his children to the 3rd Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival on Okinawa this November whether they like it or not.

"They HAVE to go, even if they're not interested," he said, laughing. "I'm hoping they will be glad later," said Teruya, a past president of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association.

More than a half-million people of Okinawan ancestry, called "Uchinanchu," are expected to attend the festival, about 4,500 of them from overseas. Cultural, artistic, educational and athletic events will be offered.

Teruya said he was not interested in learning about his ancestral roots until he was in his late 30s. But he realized he would lose all connection with his Okinawan relatives if his parents, the second generation of immigrants, died. His parents could speak Okinawan, but Teruya could not.

In 1995 he went to the 2nd Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival in Okinawa, along with more than 500 others from Hawaii, and established relationships with relatives he had known nothing about.

In November more than 600 people from Hawaii will attend the third festival, mainly to reconnect with their relatives. Government officials from Okinawa joined leaders of the Hawaii Okinawan community at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii yesterday to promote the event, commonly referred to as "the Taikai."

James Iha, current president of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, said Okinawa is "trying to broaden its horizons and reach out towards a larger community, namely, the world."

The festival, he added, is an example of "how they are trying to bridge nations together in the interest of peace and harmony."

Four tour groups are already booked, but there are still plenty of hotel rooms available in Okinawa Nov. 1 to 4 for festival go-ers, who can also book independent flights, Teruya said. Japan Airlines will fly 470 people direct from Honolulu to Naha City, as it did for the last festival in 1995.

Teruya said the Hawaii United Okinawa Association consists of 51 clubs which are based on the different cities, towns, villages or communities from which Hawaii Okinawans can trace their roots. "Some of the people who are going to the festival have gone before. A lot of us have been waiting for this," said Teruya, who has returned to Okinawa every year since 1995 and visited with relatives.

He said the goodwill between Hawaii and Okinawa has been strong since the 1950s when many Okinawans were given the opportunity to study at the East-West Center, then returned to Japan to become influential "elder statesman."

The Okinawans "appreciated the hospitality of the Hawaii-Okinawan community, and they have generated help for us" to assist Hawaii people in getting to know their overseas relatives in spite of the language barrier, he said.

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