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Tourism, culture and history: What Okinawa and Hawaii share

Okinawa and Hawaii tourism and cultural issues have a lot in common. Okinawa sits over 1500km from Tokyo, halfway between mainland Japan and China.  Both islands are tropical, have a similar climate. Hawaii is 2,600 miles from the U.S. mainland and both islands are important for the U.S. military. having large bases.

Both island groups love visitors from Japan, but it’s more cost-effective for a visitor from Tokyo to enjoy the Aloha State than traveling to Okinawa.

Hawaii natives often claim the United States military stole their land and in Okinawa, more than perhaps anywhere else in Japan, history frames the present. Distant memories of independence, followed by an invasion by Satsuma (a feudal domain of Japan) in 1609 and its annexation by Japan in 1872 and the accompanying assimilation policies have resulted in an uneasy relationship between the Okinawan islands and mainland Japan. Events such as the Battle of Okinawa, which saw more than 30 per cent of the population perish and resulted in US rule until 1972, shapes Okinawan identity and its relationship with Tokyo.

The Okinawa prefectural government has no negotiating power over foreign policy and little sway over Tokyo’s strategy. Nevertheless, Okinawan politicians and civil society groups need to demonstrate they can be part of the solution.

In Okinawa 30,000+ U.S. soldiers stationed on the island are often the focus of uneasiness and reports about sexual assaults by US serviceman on Okinawa woman doesn’t make this triangle relationship between native Okinawans, Japanese and Americans easier.

According to insiders, the Japanese government has been providing housing and tax advantages to move Japanese citizens from Tokyo to Okinawa only for the purpose to vote and support Japanese government interests in local elections.

Hawaii has its hula, and Okinawa loves its festivals

Every year on May 4 of the lunar calendar (around late May to June) a ‘Hari’ takes place in fishing ports throughout Okinawa. This is an event where fishermen compete in boat races using traditional Okinawan boats, such as the big dragon boats and the smaller ‘Sabini’. The Hari is a festival that prays for the safety of the fishermen and bountiful harvests, and although there are various opinions as to its origin, it is said that the festival originated in Tomigusuku in the south of Okinawa’s main island after being introduced from China roughly 600 years ago. In recent years, some areas have become increasingly popular and the Naha Hari in Naha city is Okinawa’s most famous tourism event, welcoming many tourists every year. Meanwhile, a traditional Hari which remains sacred to this day can be witnessed at the Itoman Hare in Itoman city, a place which has been known as a fisherman’s town since long ago.

With more than 200,000 visitors each year, the Naha Hari is the largest in Okinawa Prefecture. Unlike other areas in the prefecture, the Naha Hari uses large dragon boats known as ‘Haryusen’. These are special types of racing boats which reach 14.5m in length and are colorfully decorated, with a dragon’s head carved at the bow and a tail at the stern. While the smaller Sabani can fit up to 12 people made up of rowers, a gong beater and a helmsman, the dragon boats can fit up to 32 rowers alone, with a total of 42 people including the gong beaters, helmsmen and flag bearers. Also, the Naha Hari does not follow the lunar calendar but instead takes place every year from May 3-5 at the same time as the consecutive national holidays in early summer. As well as boat races, visitors can also enjoy song and dance performances on stage, local cuisine and organized events such as fireworks. It is also possible to experience boarding a dragon boat throughout the day.

Okinawa is the portal between Japan and the tropics.  Also known as ryukyu it was semi-independent of Japan, being a tributary state of China and pledging loyalty to individual daimyo in Japan. After 1873, Japan totally annexed the Ryukyu Islands and regrouped it into a Japanese prefecture. Ethnicity: Okinawa (or the Ryukyu Islands, versus “mainland” Japan).

Okinawa is so Japanese. Here are some rules shared with Okinawa tourism, Hawaii could learn from:

  • In Okinawa, litter should not be dropped on the street. It should be separated into cans, bottles, burnable and non-burnable garbage.
  • Do not spit on the road, or drop used chewing gum.
  • Okinawans generally talk quietly in public places, on buses and the monorail.
  • Smoking is prohibited in many places. Please smoke in designated smoking areas. Smoking on the street is prohibited in the Kokusui Street and Okiei Street in Naha City.Violation may lead to fines.
  • It’s unusual to go shirtless in Okinawa. Wearing swimwear and going shirtless except at the beach is frowned on.
  • When eating buffet-style, avoid leaving food uneaten. You may be charged extra if you leave food uneaten. Also, do not take drinks and so on away with you.
  • Please do not bring your own food and beverages. The table is strictly reserved for orders from the menu. Fruit peelings, fish bones and other waste should be left on your plate and not dropped on the floor.
  • Some restaurants serve water and provide small towels for cleaning your hands. They’re free of charge and you can ask for more. However, you can’t take them away with you.
  • Many izakaya restaurants serve a small dish of food that you haven’t ordered. This is an appetizer, and it’s included in the table charge. About 200 to 500 yen is added to the bill for this. This depends on the restaurant. If it bothers you, ask when you enter a restaurant
  • You may be asked to take off your shoes before entering the building or change into indoor slippers.
  • There is no need to pay tips when shopping, at bars and restaurants, in hotels or taxis. Just saying “Arigato” is enough.
  • Japanese toilettes consist largely of western-style toilettes and Japanese style toilettes. Bear in mind the next person to use the toilet, and use it properly.

Okinawa is a Japanese prefecture comprising more than 150 islands in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Japan’s mainland. It’s known for its tropical climate, broad beaches, and coral reefs, as well as World War II sites. On the largest island (also named Okinawa) is Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, commemorating a massive 1945 Allied invasion, and Churaumi Aquarium, home to whale sharks and manta rays.

Okinawa can be reached through Japanese gateways like Tokyo or Osaka, or through Taipei.
More information on Okinawa: www.visitokinawa.jp  Questions on Hawaii: www.hawaiitourismassociation.com 

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