The city of Uruma in Okinawa is planning to build a stone monument of pigs to memorialize a key event in Hawai‘i-Okinawa history. After World War II, Okinawa, like many other places in Japan, experienced severe food shortages. In order to help their former homeland, many Okinawan immigrants in Hawai‘i organized a shipment of white pigs back to Okinawa, with the intent that the pigs would breed and become a reliable food source. In September 1948, 550 white pigs were shipped to Okinawa from Hawai‘i. Now, funds are being raised through public donations to build the monument to symbolize Okinawa-Hawai‘i friendship. The two established a sister state relationship in 1985.
Pork played a big role in US contributions to Japanese development in the early post-war period. Hogs were sent by US farmers from places like Iowa as disaster relief aid. During the US occupation from 1945 to 1952, the US and Japanese governments developed a school lunch program, through which a diet that is high in animal protein was introduced to the school children. At the end of US occupation, the school children that participated in that school lunch program numbered around eight million. Meat, and particularly pork, also gradually represented a greater share of the Japanese diet, which was once dominated by vegetables and fish. In Okinawa, for example, where the local diet was heavy on potatoes and vegetables before 1945, now “pork is king,” as Anthony Bourdain said in the recent Okinawa episode of his CNN series, “Parts Unknown.”
The greater preference for meat in the Japanese diet supports a strong import demand for products like American pork. Currently, Japan is the No.1 importer of US pork by value, worth nearly $1.9 billion in 2011. Thick-cut US pork is gaining popularity among Japanese, for instance, and the demand shows no signs of slowing.
Zhonghe Zhu is a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.