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  • Voices from Okinawa
  • Jon Shirota (bio)


Thousands of Okinawan immigrants arrived in Hawaii during the early 1900s. They came as contract laborers for the sugarcane plantations. Some of them returned home after fulfilling their contract. Most, however, chose to stay. Kamata and Uto Gusuda were among them. They hoped to return home wealthy someday. That day never came. The elusive rainbow, neither kind nor cruel, was indifferent to them. This is their legacy.

Cast of Characters

Takeshi Arakaki, aged nineteen. Okinawan man. Chauffeur.

Yasunobu Hokama, aged twenty-five. Okinawan man. Barber.

Kama Hutchins, aged twenty-seven. Okinawan-white American man.

Harue Kaneshiro, aged twenty-five. Okinawan woman. Musician.

Hitoshi Kaneshiro, aged twenty-five. Okinawan man. Musician, Harue's husband.

Namiye Matsuda, aged nineteen. Okinawan woman.

Obaa-san, aged ninety-six. Okinawan great-aunt of Kama Hutchins. Yuta (shaman).

Keiko Oshiro, aged twenty-seven. Okinawan woman. Principal of Naha English School.

Act One

Scene One

Stage is dark. Kama Hutchins steps Downstage Center, and spotlight focuses on him. He is in casual Levis, untucked shirt, and sandals.

KAMA          [Waving.] Hai sai! [Bowing low.] Irasshai! Welcome! Okinawan, Japanese, American. Me? I'm one-quarter Okinawan, three-quarters American. The Okinawan is from my great-grandpa, who migrated to Hawaii during the opening of the twentieth century. The American? My grandmother married an American, and her daughter, my mother, married an American. Then I came, Kama Hutchins.

              I'm an English teacher here in Naha, learning more from my students than they from me. Did you know that millions of [End Page 94] American military have come and gone through Okinawa since 1945, sixty years ago, leaving behind offspring with tall noses and round eyes? The influence of Americans is everywhere today: music, language, clothing… On Kokusai Dori, the Broadway of Naha, every other boy and girl is a blonde. Bottle blonde. Even the dogs and cats are blondes.

YASUNOBU       [Offstage.] Kama! Hey, Kama!

KAMA          Be right there, Yasunobu! [To audience.] The primary language of my students is, of course, Japanese. But they can all read, write, and speak English. How many of us can read, write, and speak Japanese? [Gesturing.] Mensooree. C'mon. Meet the future Okinawan ambassadors to America!

              Spotlight fades, and stage lights come on. Spring 2005, Monday evening. Small classroom. On the blackboard Upstage Left are the names of students enrolled in the class: Harue Kaneshiro, Hitoshi Kaneshiro, Namiye Matsuda, Takeshi Arakaki, and Yasunobu Hokama. Above the blackboard is a sign: Naha English School. Entrance is Upstage Right. Downstage Center is a desk with a telephone and a book. Kama is speaking to Yasunobu, who is in Okinawan kariyushi wear (Okinawan aloha shirt), khakis, and zoris. Two other students, dressed casually, have come in and are settled in their chairs.

KAMA          You're sure it's her, my great-aunt?

YASUNOBU       Gal in Ginoza office say she "Gusuda Nabe" before she marry.

KAMA          That was her maiden name! "Gusuda Nabe."

YASUNOBU       She ninety-six years old.

KAMA          Ninety-six?! Is she …? You know. Alert?

YASUNOBU       Still very young; not yet one hundred.

KAMA          I'd sure like to meet her.

YASUNOBU       We go up tomorrow. Gal in Ginoza office say Obaa-san speak English.

KAMA          She speaks English?!

YASUNOBU       GI English. One time, she work in GI kitchen. Y'know, maybe hard time for her believe you family.

KAMA          It's all here in this book. [Shows book on desk.] Sunrise; Sunset. By my grandma. The photos of all of us are in here. Me, my mom and dad, my grandma and grandpa, and my great-grandpa and great-grandma. [End Page 95]

YASUNOBU       I tink, maybe, first time she meet family with blue eyes and tall 'Merican nose.

KAMA          I may be only one-quarter Okinawan, but here [touches chest] one hundred percent.

YASUNOBU       How come?

KAMA          I'm one-quarter Okinawan?

YASUNOBU       Here one hundred percent [touches chest].

KAMA          Well… I've always heard about Great-grandpa and Great-grandma. Their hard life in Okinawa and their long journey to Hawaii. I decided to write my thesis about them. What village did they come from? What made them leave their homeland? What happened to their families...


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pp. 94-133
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