Voices from Okinawa
Featuring Three Plays by Jon Shirota

Series Editor Frank Stewart
Guest editor Katsunori Yamazato

Lucky Come Hawaii
by Jon Shirota

Editor Frank Stewart

Voices from Okinawa features through literature the rich and remarkable culture of Japan’s southernmost islands. In this landmark publication—the first literary anthology showcasing Okinawan Americans—Okinawan voices are heard in plays, essays, and interviews. Through the beauty, humor, and heartbreak in Jon Shirota’s award-winning plays, readers will discover the exuberance and excellence of Okinawan American literature. And in personal essays and interviews, the compelling life stories are told of June Hiroko Arakawa, Philip K. Ige, Mitsugu Sakihara, and Seiyei Wakukawa. The distinctive cultural perspectives and literary excellence of Voices from Okinawa show that American literature is more inclusive, complex, and multilayered than we have imagined.

Guest editor Katsunori Yamazato is professor of American literature and culture at the University of the Ryukyus. He is also director of the American Studies Center of the University of the Ryukyus and director of the Pacific and North/South American Research Project “Human Migration and the Twenty-first Century Global Society.”

Artist Ozaki Seiji created the woodblock prints in this volume. The prints depict Okinawan dolls and toys and are reproduced from his book Ryukyu gangu zufu (Kasahara Shoni Hoken Kenkyujo, 1936), which is in the Sakamaki / Hawley Collection. Housed in Hamilton Library, of the University of Hawai‘i, this collection of Ryukyu/Okinawa materials contains numerous one-of-a kind items.

More information: Okinawan blog


“Mr. Yuen, I can talk to you?”
    He took his cigarette out of his mouth. “Sure,” he said, looking at me with a smile. His forehead was wet with sweat.
    “You think my father Japanese?” I said, suddenly feeling foolish for asking because the answer seemed so obvious. I thought he might laugh at me for asking such a stupid question, but he didn’t, and his answer surprised me.
    “No. Your papa not Japanee. Him Okinawa. Japanee and Okinawa different,” he said. “Long time before, Okinawa no belong to Japan. Okinawa had king. King boss of Okinawa. Okinawa not called Okinawa long time before. Chinese call Okinawa Loo Choo. Chinese and Okinawa good friends for long time. They make business. Some Chinese stay in Okinawa, near castle town where king stay. And some Okinawan people stay in China.”
    “Yeah? This true?” I said, amazed and delighted.
    “Yeah. All this true,” he said. “Okinawa and China friends for long, long time. Maybe your papa get little bit Chinese blood. Him no more hair. Just like Chinese. Just like me. How come you get plenty hair?” he said, taking hold of my arm, rubbing it, and gently pulling the hair on it. “I think so your papa Chinese and you Okinawan,” he said, laughing and letting go of my arm.

"An Okinawan Nisei in Hawaii" by Philip K. Ige

For Kama Gusuda—the main character in Jon Shirota's classic novel—the morning starts like any other on his Maui pig farm. By the time the sun has set, however, Japanese fighter planes have filled the skies over Pearl Harbor, bringing war to the Pacific and trouble to the lives of immigrants in Hawai'i. The attack causes conflict among neighbors and within families, whose honor, loyalty and sense of tradition are tested as never before.

Lucky Come Hawaii skillfully weaves together stories of lovers kept apart by their parents, an elder son faced with betraying his kin, and a wayward boy who struggles to have respect for his heritage. At the heart of Lucky Come Hawaii is the moving story of an immigrant father and mother who strive to create a better future for their Hawai'i-born children. For older readers, this ground-breaking novel of Hawai'i at the beginning of World War II will evoke a time and place nearly forgotten. For younger readers, the novel will bring the experiences of Hawai'i's first Okinawans vividly to life.

Jon Shirota was born in 1928 in Peahi, Maui, the sixth child of immigrant Okinawan parents. A graduate of Brigham Young University, he published Lucky Come Hawaii in 1965. Though it quickly became a national bestseller and was reprinted by Bess Press in 1985, the work has long been out of print. This newly revised edition makes Shirota’s memorable novel available again.

Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam, said of the book:

The treatment of the Japanese-American community during World War II is a well-known national disgrace. Yet the characters in Shirota’s novel break both the initial, enabling stereotype of an entire community of insidious fifth-columnists and the subsequent stereotype of an entire community of faultlessly patriotic and noble victims. Instead, he shows us a more complex reality in his portrait of Okinawan-Americans in Hawaii during and after Pearl Harbor. We see racism, and injustices, but also elders rooting for a Japanese invasion and victory. Meanwhile, their American-raised offspring are eager to prove their loyalty to the new country, in spite of the exploitation and persecution of their people—or simply, in a very American way, trying to ignore history and get on with their lives and loves. Shirota gifts us with an insider’s view of people struggling to define their identities in the crucible of the coming war, men and women sometimes flawed and sometimes virtuous—which is to simply say, human beings—who experienced world-changing events through the particular prism of their own emigrant history. In doing so, Shirota enriches and broadens our sense of the American experience and the many strands of which its tapestry is woven.

224 pp., summer 2009 (21:1), $20
ISBN 978-0-8248-3391-6
Project Muse

192 pp., winter 2009 (21:2), $20
ISBN 978-0-8248-3448-7
Project Muse