History of Okinawan Studies

Historically, given the presence of a well established Okinawan community in Hawaii and the presence of scholars at UH who dedicated their studies on Okinawa, UH has been a site where many Okinawan scholars have shared and enhanced their knowledge in Okinawan Studies. In addition, many Okinawans studied and conducted research at UH while residing at East West Center, especially in the 1960’s. Three renowned Okinawan scholars, Ifa Fuyu, Nakahara Zenchu, and Higa Shuncho, were among the many who had visited Hawaii in the early years. In 1928, Ifa was invited by the Okinawan Association of Hawaii to give a talk titled “Okinawa yo Doko e (Where is Okinawa Heading)” in Honolulu, Maui, Big Island, and Kauai. He then travelled to LA, San Francisco, and Mexico, and concluded his six-month speaking engagement in North America. Nakahara and Higa were visiting scholars at EWC in the early 60’s and along with Dr. Sakamaki, worked on coordinating and studying the Ryukyu-related resources which are currently known at Hamilton Library as the “Sakamaki-Hawley Collection.” These two scholars were also instrumental in the production of George Kerr’s “Okinawa, the History of an Island People.” They gave Kerr advice on bibliographies and about some disputed historical points.

A Unique Center

The Center for Okinawan Studies is unique in two ways. One, it is the first center of its kind outside of Japan that focuses on Okinawa/Ryukyus as an area of study. COS aspires to contribute in broadening people’s knowledge of Okinawa/Ryukyuan culture and other important Okinawa-related topics and issues. In addition, the Center aims to look at Okinawa within the context of Japanese history in order to understand Okinawa/Ryukyu’s role during Japan’s period of isolation, and to understand the complex relationship between the U.S.–Japan Security Treaty and U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

Second is its focus on the Okinawan diaspora, which is relevant to Hawaii. It would shed light on the Okinawan experience of the diaspora, relationships between Okinawans at home and abroad, and Okinawans’ identity politics. The Center hopes to connect scholars, students, cultural practitioners, and various communities, both locally and abroad.

7/1/08—The Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony for the Center for Okinawan Studies was held at the Center for Korean Studies Auditorium at UH Manoa on July 1, 2008. Along with many from the local Okinawan community, dignitaries including Governor Linda Lingle and guests from University of the Ryukyus, helped celebrate the opening of the Center.

The ceremony opened with “Kajadifu,” a classical Ryukyuan court dance, and it was performed by Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone Sensei. The music was performed by Norman Kaneshiro Sensei. Both Nakasone and Kaneshiro Senseis teach Okinawan dance and music, respectively, at UH.




Influential People in COS/UH History

Ruth Adaniya

(1936-2001), Professor of History at Leeward Community College, promoted the study of Okinawa in the local community.  She taught courses in Asian History, co-chaired Japanese Studies at LCC, was an active member of the Hawaii United Okinawan Association, and authored and edited publications on Okinawa. Of special note is “Uchinaa: Okinawan History and Culture” (a booklet commemorating the 1990 Okinawan Celebration) which she co-edited with Joyce Chinen.  Adaniya also served as Co-chair of the 1990 Okinawan International Scholars Forum in Honolulu and compiled the forum’s proceedings along with Mitsugu Sakihara and Shigeko Asato.  In addition, Adaniya was a co-editor for the publication “Of Andagi and Sanshin: Okinawan Culture in Hawaii” (1988) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of Hui O Laulima. In honor of her contributions to the college and the community, LCC created the Ruth Adaniya History-Writing Contest prize.

Frank Hawley

(1906-1961) had amassed the most complete collection of Ryukyuan materials.
He, unlike the others honored in this section, was never employed at UH. Instead his contribution can be found in the UH Library. The Sakamaki/Hawley Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the U.S. Hawley, British journalist and independent scholar, collected these materials during his stay in Japan only to lose them when he was repatriated to England during World War II. After the war, he returned to Japan and through great effort managed to regain most of his collection. When Hawley passed away, Shunzo Sakamaki contacted his family and negotiated the acquisition of his collection for UH.

William Lebra

(1922-1986) taught the first class at UH exclusively on Okinawan Culture in the Department of Anthropology. He was invited to the East-West Center in 1961 to participate in a Scholars Program working with Okinawan scholars. At the same time, he also joined the Anthropology Department and was appointed the Director of the newly created Social Science Research Institute at UH. Much of his research focused on Okinawa, specifically religion and shamans as demonstrated in his monograph, Okinawan Religion:  Belief, Ritual, and Social Structure (1966).

Henry Nakasone

(1920-1995), Professor and Horticulturist at UH, conducted research on tropical plants both in Hawai‘i and Okinawa. Starting at UH in 1948, he taught courses and published his research on tropical fruits, which included Asian varieties. At the invitation of the U.S. Civil Administration and the Government of the Ryukyu Islands in 1959, he conducted a survey of the horticulture industry and made recommendations for improving crops. In subsequent years, he continued his research in Okinawa and published articles on plant propagation and cultivation methods.

Robert Sakai

(1919-2004), Historian, was a dedicated educator who specialized in the Tokugawa-era domain of Satsuma (Kagoshima). It was Shunzo Sakamaki who lured Sakai to UH in 1966 away from the University of Nebraska where he had taught for over a decade. At UH Sakai continued his research interest in southern Japan and Okinawa, resulting in publications such as the article, “The Satsuma-Ryukyu Trade and the Tokugawa Seclusion Policy” in The Journal of Asian Studies (May 1964). He worked with his colleagues to build upon Ryukyuan resources and mentor students. The History Department offers a graduate student scholarship in his name.

Shunzo Sakamaki

(1906-1973) is the “father” of Ryukyuan Studies at UH.  In 1936 he joined the Department of History at UH where he worked until 1971 as Professor of Japanese History and later as Dean of Summer Session.  It was his vision to build a research center on Ryukyuan Studies at UH. Fascinated with the history of Okinawa, he collected books and documents on the subject. While on a trip to Tokyo in 1961, he heard about the death of Frank Hawley who owned the most comprehensive collection on Ryukyuan resources.  He quickly made an overture to the Hawley family and successfully negotiated its purchase for $20,000. Funding came from UH and the Okinawan community in Hawai‘i. Sakamaki also arranged for visiting scholars on Ryukyuan Studies at the East-West Center, recruited graduate students (Mitsugu Sakihara and Mitsugu Matsuda) and scholars (William Lebra, Thomas Maretzki, and Robert Sakai), and compiled with his team of researchers bibliographies on the resources in Ryukyuan Studies at UH. Although the library collection was a true gem to scholars of Ryukyuan Studies, this was a small, select group.  Before being moved to its present location in Hamilton Library, the collection was housed in a room in Crawford Hall, and the door to this room bore a modest, hand-painted wooden sign with the words “Ryukyuan Research Institute.”* Sakamaki donated his private collection to the University Library, and together with the Hawley materials, these resources are known as the Sakamaki-Hawley Collection. To acknowledge his contributions to the University, a building and a lecture series both bear his name.

*Chance Gusukuma, “Nisei Daimyo:  The Life of Shunzo Sakamaki”
(Master’s thesis, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1998), 97-102.

Mitsugu Sakihara

(1928–2001) was UH’s Okinawan Historian.  A native of Okinawa who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Oregon, he possessed the rare quality of being trilingual in Japanese, Okinawan and English.  He first came to Hawai‘i in 1962 for a training program on the microfilming of rare, old documents so that he could return to Okinawa and microfilm the Hawley Collection before it came to UH.  He returned to UH to pursue a doctorate in history under Shunzo Sakamaki, completing his dissertation, “The Significance of Ryukyu in Satsuma Finances during the Tokugawa Period,” in 1971.  He became a Professor at UH teaching Okinawan history and producing a number of scholarly works including a book on the history of Okinawa based on the Omoro sōshi (compilation of ancient poems and songs from Okinawa and the Amami Islands).  When he passed away in 2001, he left behind his life’s work—an Okinawan language dictionary.  His manuscript was edited by scholars from UH and the University of the Ryukyus and was published in 2006 as the Okinawan-English Wordbook.



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