Geography

Land area

The islands of Okinawa Prefecture are part of the Ryukyu Archipelago which spans approximately 1287.2 km (almost 800 miles) between Kyushu and Taiwan and Okinawa Prefecture has a land area of approximately 2276 square km (about 878.8 square miles).

Climate

Okinawa Prefecture, made up of islands composed of coral rocks, is in a subtropical zone with average temperatures about 72° F. May through June is considered its rainy season. Okinawa’s typhoon season runs from July through October and because it is right in what is called “Typhoon Alley,” the people of Okinawa are used to dealing with typhoons.

People & Lifestyle

Population: 1.3 million people

Major Observances

New Year (January 1)

National holiday and is now observed much like the rest of Japan.

Chinese New Year (1st day of the 1st month on the lunar calendar)

Not observed as widely as it once was, but still observed mostly by fishing towns.

Shiimii (Qing Ming, auspicious day in the 3rd month on the lunar calendar)

It is a day when families go to the graveyards to have a feast with the ancestors. Many bring offerings and might even make a picnic of it. Some families even entertain the ancestors with song and dance.

Irei no Hi (June 23)

Memorial day that marks the end of the Battle of Okinawa. People go to the Peace Memorial Park and leave offerings and pray for the spirits of those who died during the war

Obon (July 13-16 on the lunar calendar)

Buddhist observance when the ancestors return to visit the homes of descendents. Offerings are made at the family altar for three days (or four, in some places). It is usually a time for many family members living outside of Okinawa to return home to pay their respects as well. There is usually a performance of eisaa (Okinawan bon dance) on the last day to send the spirits back to the other world.

Okinawans in Hawaii

The First Laborers

The first group of Okinawan contract laborers, led by Kyūzō Tōyama (当山久三), arrived in Hawaii on January 8, 1900. There were twenty-six men who were recorded as the first Okinawan contract laborers in Hawaii.

First Generation

Many Okinawans followed and Okinawa ranked in the top five prefectures with the most immigrants to Hawaii. Many of the first generation (issei (一世)), like the immigrants of other ethnic groups, worked on sugar and pineapple plantations under very harsh conditions and for very little wages. Many came to Hawaii with dreams and hopes of earning riches and eventually going back home to Okinawa. However, for many that was not possible. Instead, they put down roots and raised their families, contributing to Hawaii’s multicultural heritage.

Second Generation

The issei and second generation (nisei (二世)) endured many hardships along the way, including the painful experiences of World War II. Some lost sons and brothers who served their country, America, while some families were even interned in the internment camps scattered across the country. However, they endured and persevered. At the end of World War II, when Okinawa was devastated and lacked even the most basic essentials for daily living, many Okinawans in Hawaii sent clothes, food, even livestock, and other materials to help their relatives in Okinawa rebuild their lives.

Third and Fourth Generations

Today, there are many prominent third (sansei (三世)) and fourth (yonsei (四世)) generation Okinawans in every field of work in Hawaii. There are estimated to be at least 45,000-50,000 Okinawans in Hawaii. The Okinawans in Hawaii are now into the fifth (gosei (五世)) and sixth (rokusei (六世)) generations.