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Manoa - Summer 2009

  • Issue Number: Volume 21 Number 1
  • Published Date: Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

Voices from Okinawa comes in a study jacket with an ornate, colorful illustration depicting a procession of gaily clad musicians that covers the entire bottom half of the cover. The upper half is in a bold crimson featuring a small insert with a man in a splendid robe riding a horse; the title is printed all across the cover in large green letters. The overall appearance is very Japanese. Running through the literature is the theme concerning the connection between Okinawa and Japan. Japan took over the sovereign country of Okinawa that actually had a connection to China in the nineteenth century, making its people second-class citizens in their own homeland. The struggle runs through every piece in this journal.

Three plays by the award-winning author Jon Shirota are feature inside: Lucky Come Hawai'i, Leilani's Hibiscus, and Voices from Okinawa. Lucky Come Hawai'i is adapted for stage from the novel of the same name by the author. It deals with a small group of Okinawans in Hawai'i going through upheaval at the event of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. Some of their responses to the disaster are comical, some poignant, some stretch the imagination, but all the characters are well-drawn and easy to love. A few of these same characters are in the play Leilani's Hibiscus, which deals with changes World War II brings to Japan and Hawai'i, and the lives of the Okinawan people there forever. Voices from Okinawa focuses on a teacher, one-fourth Okinawan, teaching English in Hawai'i, with his own method, getting the locals to tell their own stories, and he unleashes more than he bargained for.

Other material in the journal includes powerful memoirs: that of Philip Ige, a soldier who was Okinawan-American and guarded Okinawan-Japanese prisoners of war during WWII, and those of Mitsugu Sakihara, an Okinawan-Japanese who was held prisoner in the USA during and after WWII. Another memoir relates to an Okinawan who learned over his lifetime to become proud of his heritage – a major achievement, rising from the dust of second-class citizenship.

These memoirs and plays are sincere, emotional, touching, and a poetic tribute to the culture that made their authors who they were. They are not simply Okinawan, they are human. Anyone who has ever felt inferior can relate to the material in these pages. That they have been written is a triumph. Here is part of a poem, translated from the Japanese, included inside the cover of this journal that conveys a sense of the powerful beauty of their stories:

Dye the tips of your fingernails
With the petals of the
tinsagu blossom
Dye the teachings of your parents onto your heart
If you tried, you could
Count the stars in the sky
But you cannot count
What your parents teach you.


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Review Posted on May 25, 2009

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