This year, the governors of Hawai‘i and Okinawa Prefecture in Japan are set to make diplomatic visits to each other’s islands, a first for each governor. Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga will visit Hawai‘i this summer to participate in the 30th anniversary sister-partnership ceremonies that will be held from July 9-12. Hawai‘i Governor David Ige will also attend the events, and is planning to visit Okinawa in October. Hawai‘i and Okinawa have been sister states since 1985.
Governor Ige, when newly elected last November, became the first Okinawan American to serve as a US Governor. He is a third-generation Okinawan, his grandparents hailing from Nishihara Town, Okinawa. The governor’s Okinawan heritage was celebrated following his inauguration ceremony in December with an Okinawan drum blessing and a traditional lion dance that is special to the region. Today, around 40,000 Okinawan-Americans live in Hawai‘i, making up approximately 20% of Hawai‘i’s Japanese population.
While Hawai‘i also has sister relationships with other regions in Japan and Asia, the Okinawa partnership has been amongst the most fruitful and active of its ties. Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, is made up of over 150 islands, 50 of which are inhabited. This creates a sense of geographical resonance with the island state of Hawai‘i. Cultural exchanges between Hawai‘i and Okinawa have been fostered largely by active Okinawan cultural associations. In March, one of these groups, the Hawai‘i United Okinawa Association, coordinated the visit of 25 Okinawan high school students to Hawai‘i. Their itinerary included a two-week homestay, high school class visits, and a trip to the Hawaiian Capitol Building, where the students met with Governor Ige. Their trip marked the 25th anniversary of the student exchange program, which has run continuously since 1989. In June, Hawaiian students will travel to Okinawa, completing the exchange. Hawai‘i and Okinawa also share a cooperative relationship on issues of renewable energy through their joint Clean Energy Initiative.
Chad Westra is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at Calvin College.