Okinawa Kai of Washington DC
July 24-30, 2012
The Uchina (Okinawa) Junior Study Tour 2012 (Study Tour) was an experience that changed me and the way I see myself. At first, I was very unsure and nervous about meeting people from different countries and having to live with them for a week. When I first stepped into the briefing room, I tried my best not to look at anyone as if I wasn’t there. I sat down in my assigned seat; next to a guy from Chicago named Robby Uehara. I began to talk to him for a bit while waiting for the last participants to arrive, and we immediately became friends. A participant from Okinawa named Towa Miyazato began to talk to me too, and we became friends in an instant. I proceeded to talk to other participants and within the first hour, I was already a friend with more than half of the participants! By the end of the first day, through playing games to learn basic vocabulary terms in different languages and by making presentations about our homeland, all of us were talking as if we’ve been friends forever. This feeling of friendship is one that I have never felt so quickly in my life. When most people would usually go to sleep early to get prepared for an early day ahead, most of the participants decided to meet in one of the hotel rooms and we conversed until midnight. The bonds that we created amongst ourselves on the first day got me even more excited for the rest of the Study Tour.
During the Study Tour, we visited many historical places in Okinawa. The first place we went to was Shuri Castle. I’ve been there before, but it was definitely more fun with all of my newly made friends. We took so many pictures that my camera was half full by the time we left. By visiting Shuri Castle, I learned how unique the Okinawan culture was by people taking parts of Chinese and Japanese culture to make their own. We also learned about the history of Okinawa by going to the Okinawa Archives building. There, we studied articles and documents to learn how different countries and people affected Okinawa. While visiting the Peace Park, we watched a video on wars and conflicts on Okinawa. We entered an exhibit that gave a realistic perspective of how being a citizen on Okinawa was during World War II. Although the exhibit pretty much killed the happy mood that everybody was in, it helped me understand what the people of Okinawa suffered through and gave me a different view of Okinawa. While traveling on Okinawa, I always viewed it as a happy land where it didn’t change much throughout history. After attending the Peace Park, I realized how much Okinawa was affected in every possible way including its terrain, culture, and people. Like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., there was a memorial with all of the names of those who were lost during World War II. One of the participants found her relatives’ names and outlined the name with a pencil and paper. It was very touching how she could finally connect with her relative over 60 years later. During the Study Tour, I learned an enormous amount of historical and cultural facts about Okinawa, changing my perspective of the small island located in the middle of the ocean.
The Study Tour also went to many popular places such as the Churaumi Aquarium, Emerald Beach, and Kokusai Street. At the Churaumi Aquarium, I was fascinated by all of the varieties of fish that were living around Okinawa. There were so many species of different fish that I lost count by the second exhibit! I was extremely happy to know that I’ve been to one of the most prestigious aquariums in the world. The main exhibit that contained 3 whale sharks was
my favorite. I could never imagine one fish that big could fit and live in an aquarium, let alone 3! After going through the aquarium, we watched a dolphin show just outside. Near the end, all of the participants went down by the tank and the dolphins splashed us all. I still remember the moment when we all jumped close to the tank so we would get wet by the dolphin. We all laughed at each other when only one side of our shirts got wet! After going to the aquarium, we got back on our bus and went to Emerald Beach. At the beach, we played soccer, beach volleyball, and swam in the beautiful crystal clear water. There was a floating dock where everyone would try to get on, but the dock kept tipping over from too much weight on one side. We took many pictures of us jumping off the dock and playing in the water. When we went to Kokusai Street in the capital of Okinawa, we got to see many different shops and pottery mills. Walking around Naha was very interesting because, unlike America, the roads were so narrow. I couldn’t believe that cars actually drove on the narrow roads. The memory of these places and experiences are so strong that I can relive each moment when I close my eyes.
We also participated in many activities during the Study Tour, such as Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko, trekking, long bus rides, and making traditional crafts. All of the participants learned Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko, or eisa, during the Study Tour. Everybody was given a paranku and an outfit. We practiced everyday and performed in front of an audience twice, once on Kokusai Street with T.V. stations and once during the closing ceremonies. Learning eisa was fun because we practiced team building and learned Okinawan traditional dancing simultaneously. We also went trekking at Higashi no Sawa for half a day. I think that this was the biggest uniting activity amongst the participants because we helped and encouraged each other out during the hard trekking. The water was deep and there were many rocks so we all worked together to make sure that everyone safely made it to the end. It was a very exciting trek and I would love to do it again. Between each location, we would have to endure long bus rides. To pass the time, we would sing karaoke on the bus. Even though there were only two microphones, everybody would sing along together. We would sing classic songs such as Begin’s “Shimanchu nu Takara”, and pop culture songs such as “Best Friend” by Kiroro. Singing karaoke together helped make the shy people speak up and feel more comfortable about talking. Lastly, we made traditional crafts. The choices were bingata, Shuri ori, and Ryukyu glass. Most of the participants chose Ryukyu glass but I decided to choose Shuri ori with my friend from Brazil, Yudi Chinen. Only 4 people were allowed to do Shuri ori so we decided to try it. The other two people were Caro Nakasone from Argentina and Marina Meiko from Brazil. The four of us became very close friends while making Shuri Ori. During dinner, I used my Shuri ori because they’re supposed to be used as glass mats. The activities during the UJS helped bring the participants closer together, making everybody very good friends with each other.
Overall, the Uchina Junior Study Tour 2012 was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful program. Thanks to the Study Tour, I was able to learn about the history of Okinawa and bring out the Uchinanchu from within myself. Soon after the Study Tour, I downloaded Okinawan songs on my iPod and listen to them everyday; and I’ve been teaching eisa to my friends in America. Not only did the UJS ignite the Uchinan blood that runs through my veins, but also it helped me to make life-long friends with people from different countries around the world. The staff and volunteers who helped make the UJS possible and run smoothly were fantastic. I am looking forward to participating as a student leader or volunteer in the upcoming Uchina Junior Study Tours. As a Junior Ambassador of Okinawa, I plan on keeping the Uchina culture alive and showcasing it for the world to see.