Okinawa Kai of Washington DC
July 24-30, 2012
In seven days, 28 junior high and high school students, 13 from Okinawa and 14 from countries overseas, were united and made into family by the Uchina (Okinawa) culture at the Uchina Junior Study Tour 2012 (Study Tour). We juniors built friendships and continue them even after the Study Tour. We communicated and interacted with each other despite our language and cultural differences. It was then when I realized how powerful the Uchina culture is and how much it brings people together.
Not only did I become family with 27 other Uchinanchu, but I also learned about the Okinawa culture and how our ancestors preserved and spread it. We visited the Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum and reflected on those who lives were lost during WWII. At Shuri Castle and the Okinawa Prefectural History Museum, we studied Okinawa from the time it was only a part of the Ryukyu Kingdom all the way to the present day. Our group saw many shops and local people during its Study Tour of Kokusai Street. We saw many sea creatures that are native to the Okinawan waters at Churaumi Aquarium. Every member created traditional Okinawan crafts at the Naha Traditional Crafts Center. I made a blue Ryukyu glass cup. One of my favorite parts of the Study Tour was visiting the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), a newly made university in Okinawa that focuses on high-tech investigations and scientific experiments. I liked its modern campus, interesting technological gadgets, and system for collaboration amongst students and faculty. Going outdoors was another enjoyable experience, especially swimming at Emerald Beach, and going on a three-hour trek in northern Okinawa called Higashi no Sawa Trekking. It was amazing that the group was able to go to so many places on Okinawa in such a short period of time. I saw all these great places on Okinawa that I never knew were there.
Every day after dinner, the Study Tour members practiced for our scheduled eisa performance on Kokusai Street. We would practice as a group, learning the eisa dance to Mirukumunari. At first, it took me awhile to learn the complex eisa dance movements. But soon, everybody picked it up and was playing as one spirit. Learning the dance was so fun and performing it felt great. We had much energy and the Uchina spirit was on fire in the hearts of each member.
The events that occurred in between the Welcoming and Closing ceremonies were surreal because of the great fun I had developing bonds with the UJST members, staff, and Uchina culture. I couldn’t have had a better seven days this entire summer. The staff was very supportive and helpful to every member. The friendships I made with every UJST member were precious and personal. The end of the Study Tour was difficult because I would no longer see the Study Tour staff and members every day. However, participating on the Study Tour, learning the Uchina culture, interacting with Uchinanchu, and connecting with second generation Uchinanchus around the world was invaluable. The Uchina Junior Study Tour was such a meaningful experience that it makes me want to become more involved with the local Okinawa Kenjinkai. I want to learn more about the Uchina culture, spread it, and preserve it just like our ancestors so that it will be available for future generations.