"Uchinanchu" Okinawa Homecoming!

By Bartruff, Dave | The World and I, November 2012 | Go to article overview

"Uchinanchu" Okinawa Homecoming!


Bartruff, Dave, The World and I


As Americans, we are aware and proud of our familial roots, which were first planted abroad long ago, but have come to full fruition here in good American sod.

It was out of economic adversity and natural disaster that brought many of our ancestors here to America's shores. Most memorable of these travails was the Irish Potato Famine of the mid 1800s that landed more than a million Irish immigrants here from across the Atlantic. The most famous among this progeny rose to become a US president: John F. Kennedy.

Then, half a century after the Irish arrival, another series of migrations came ashore from the opposite direction: across the Pacific reaching Hawaii, the US West Coast and down even to South America. This influx originated from the shores of Okinawa, a tropical island chain of 140 islands of which only 47 are populated. The archipelago stretches from Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu 800 miles southward in the East China Sea.

Set amid luminous coral waters with white pristine beaches and lush tropical foliage, Okinawa is heralded as, "The Hawaii of Japan." Blessed with a natural beauty and climate beyond that of the main Japanese islands, Okinawa has its own unique language, customs and culture that render it unique and especially fascinating to vacationing Japanese from modern cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

But the Okinawans, like the Irish before them, left their island homeland for precisely the same reason: to better their lives in times of trouble.

Today, four generations after their initial AD 1900 migration, nearly four in ten of Okinawan descent permanently reside overseas. But no matter where they live or what their nationality, according to Matt Matayoshi, past president of the San Francisco Okinawan Friendship Association, they proudly call themselves "Uchinanchu" or "Okinawans."

Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, today has a population of 1.4 million. But now after multiple migrations, overseas Okinawans live on five continents and number nearly 400,000.

Brazil claims 190,000, Hawaii and the US mainland 100,000 and Peru 70,000. "Uchinanchu" are also dispersed around the globe from the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, throughout Europe and Africa to Australia and Southeast Asia.

Over the past several decades Okinawans from around the world are reunited every four years during colorful "Uchinanchu" Homecoming ceremonies held in the Okinawan capital city of Naha. The week-long calendar of events include sporting competitions, parades, cultural activities, and touring the islands of their ancestors.

I was able to attend the latest homecoming celebration held in September, 2011 with my wife, herself an "Uchinanchu." As with the majority of the overseas attendees, we stayed well beyond the formal festival to visit relatives and tour both the main island of Okinawa as well as several other exotic neighbor islands of the archipelago.

In fact, my wife and I were able to celebrate our Golden Wedding Anniversary at a festive banquet hosted by our talented family who provided all the dancing and musical entertainment by themselves.

The festival itself kicked off at dusk down Naha's main street "Kokusai-dori" (meaning "International Boulevard") with a massive homecoming parade featuring "Uchinanchu" marchers and dancers from more than 30 nations. All were dressed in the garb of their native lands and bore their national flags to the accompaniment of marching bands and folk musicians. …

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