Nonprofit shows strong Hawai‘i and Okinawa connection

THE HAWAI‘I-OKINAWA BOND CONTINUES — Jon Itomura outside of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association (L), of which he is executive director. The association is housed inside the Hawaii Okinawa Center.

WAIPAHU, Hawai’i — Jon Itomura, the Hawaii United Okinawa Association executive director, said his organization is a result of the Battle of Okinawa, in the Pacific War, “which devastated all of Okinawa.” The nonprofit was established in 1951 to assist in the relief effort.

“In Hawai‘i, we learned about the devastation in Okinawa, all of the uchinanchus, the uchinanchus at heart all banded together, raised money to the tune of probably half a million dollars in today’s money to the first effort of bringing 550 pigs to Okinawa,” Itomura said. He added that his grandfather was one of seven men to take pigs to Okinawa. An uchinanchu is an Okinawa native and their descendants.

The nonprofit created a “bond between Hawai‘i and Okinawa, to show Okinawa even today that we have this connection and uchinanchus around the world of this connection,” Itomura said.

HUOA is housed in the Hawai‘i Okinawa Center. In front of the building, the nonprofit has shisa, guardian lions of Okinawa. Itomura said the lions are made from clay of both Hawai‘i and Okinawa.

Every Labor Day weekend, the association brings people together for their Okinawan festival, which began in 1981.

“Through the Okinawan festival, all the clubs and even beyond, are brought together in a volunteer effort. On an annual basis, we have over 4,000 volunteers working at our two-day Okinawan festival every Labor Day weekend,” he said.

He added that visitors from Okinawa attend the festival. Performances take place for two full days, and include a Bon dance.

“It’s overwhelming, just the amount of culture that you see in those two days,” Itomura said.

The Hawaii United Okinawa Association is located at 94-587 Uke‘e St., Waipahu, HI and is open Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (808) 676-5400,

Greg Viloria contributed to the article.

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