Uchina Columnウチナーコラム

Seishin Ooyama (President of Canada Association of Okinawa, Pan America Association of Okinawa)


Seishin Ooyama


My organization, from around 1946 in Canada, “Immigrant”, to be more specific they used the phrase “overseas repatriate”, and so our start was as the Repatriates Association. But before the 1994 2nd Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival, the Prefecture contacted us saying that in currents times the word “repatriate” was somewhat unbecoming of our organization. Other associations like the “the Okinawa `something or other` Association” have names giving by Okinawa. The word “repatriate” however, that was not something that we decided on, but, But something that its started being called, during the time of Ryukyu Government, the democratic government, the name was given to us. We just ended up using it, but because we were asked to change it, in the same way that Okinawa prefecture gives name now, we left the decision up to them, and so Okinawa prefecture told us to use the name “Canada Association of Okinawa” and that is how we came to having the name we use now. That change happened around 1994 before the aforementioned 2nd Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival in 1995. However, around the time of the first festival in 1990 close to around 3000 1st generation and 2nd generation people of Okinawan decent came to Okinawa. It was of course because it was the 1st Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival, but, I felt the response of those of Okinawa was a little negative. What I mean is, I believe that this event was mistaken as an event for those with Uchinanchu ancestors from abroad, and those from Okinawa to come together over there connection of common blood. It seems like at first it was something that non-Uchinanchu could not participate in, and conversely those from abroad wondered what their relatives even came to do, Suddenly, even if it was called the Uchinanchu world festival, the point of the event, and what they came to do was lost, and on that point, mutual understanding did not flow well, it became just something they did because Okinawa prefecture told them too. This was something very good but, it seems that it was us who had a problem taking others in, at our various organizations, we had the same sort of reflections on the event. One of those one was, with Uchinanchu and immigrants as its base point June 18th was made immigrants day. At JICA they hold an event called overseas day. We are one more time doing what was done during the time of the Ryukyuan government. I heard from my predecessors that, every year on June 18th at Kokusai Street in Naha, as well as in Nago, Okinawa City, and Yonabaru, trucks would bring banners and with a speaker they would share thanks from Okinawa and the Overseas Associations would do the same. The fact that this event had gotten lost became our trigger for planning a new event. Then there as meaning in celebrating the 2nd World Wide Uchinanchu Festival, and there was a changes to look again at the immigrant basepoint, and we started to express thanks, and that all started in June 18th 1994. At that time, it was not called the Okinawa Pan America association but the Okinawa Pan American Liaison Council How it changed to the current Form it is at happened in 1996 or 1997 it when it changed from council to association.

Current activities

As I talked about before, the Canada Association was started in 1946, this year is our 119th year, we are of course doing exchange with Hawaii and the Hawaii association, that group’s origin is in Immigrants as well, as well as the same 119 year history. Within that, the connection between Okinawa and Canada, as I said before it was started by two people, one from Okinawa City and One from Naha. Those two as trailblazers came to Canada. Canada is followed by Russia as the second biggest country in the world, and it is 27 times bigger than Japan. At the time. Canada did not have a railway that crossed over the country, and from Vancouver to Toronto in the east there was the big wall of the Rocky Mountains, to build a railway there, it seems that many people came from many different countries, at the same time. Specifically in 1907, 158 people from Okinawa immigrated to Canada, they were called “Steel Men” and they worked building a cross nation railroad. With the Okinawa Associations I talked about before, there were 4 in total. The oldest of them was in Lethbridge is now a city of 88,000 people, but at that time most of the members of the Okinawa Association who lived in the city worked as Railroad or Coal linesmen. Within Lethbridge a garden called Nikka Yuko Garden was built, there Takamatsu Nomiya and Alberta’s Prime Minister met, this was the first connection between Lethbridge and Okinawa. Because immigration had been cut off due to the war, after it ended in 1945, truly the door should have been opened for immigration. But, immigrants actually started to come to Canada after 1965. At this time those who had immigrated before the war had entered into their 3rd generation, and those who came at 1965 started their 1st generation, the start for the two immigrant histories was 1965.

Future Outlook

To those countries that I mentioned before that took in immigrants. For example in our case Canada. Giving thanks Canadian government and giving thanks to the people of Canada. When Okinawa was ravaged by the war Canada sent support goods, not just things like goat and pork, but penicillin and vitamins and health supplements these kinds of drugs. When there was not enough food in emergency shelters, there were those who died from malnourishment. Due to that, we received support from Canada in the form of Medicine, health supplements, and of course clothes as well, as canned food. This support was not just from first and second generation Japanese-Canadian immigrants, but from non-Japanese Canadian citizens as well. So as a way of expressing thanks, we developed the Prefecture Sponsored Exchange Student Program as a token of goodwill. But more than that there is something else we have to do is, is to invite the world Uchinanchu to Okinawa ken. 1990, those of the 1st and 2nd generation were very active, and so the 1st World Wide Uchinanchu Festival happened. What we need to give thanks to Canada for, what we had good luck with was, the fact that at the time when the Kyushu Okinawa Summit was happening, there was a desire from the municipalities of Okinawa to call upon the leaders of various nations. Sometimes there would be calls from Haebaru for this sort of thing, originally, the first to immigrants to Canada were two people from Naha. But, the reason why there was a desire for this from Haebaru is because they have an Ice-skating rink and an ice skating team and it seems like they had a lot of points of connection. However if that was the only reason it would be too weak, so when we first met, when Macdonald first came to survey, the reason we wanted to all the Prime Minister to come was not the problems that I mentioned before, but in order to express our thanks to the Canadian government and the people of Canada, we wanted to call the Prime Minister to Haebaru and express our gratitude. As the People of Okinawa. That is why I want to express thanks to Canada, who took us in. not just ending with that, but once the summit is over, have one on one exchange, specifically among young people who bear the weight of taking on the future. I asked the Mayor of Haebaru to do this, at the time we would send people to Hawaii, and on home stay, but I wanted Hawaii and Canada to do it reciprocally, 10 Students where sent to Lethbridge, At that time, I spoke to Ambassador Edward, how we should not just end with this but, If we could connect them as Sister cities, or as those with a close friendship, I was hoping in my heard that the bond formed would remain. In order to achieve that, I asked the Lethbridge Okinawa Association, as well as I thought that at the Japanese garden in Though our friendship, out sister city connection, we made that a reality. That was a big dream of mine. Going forward, it became just Haebaru in Okinawa, but since 2007 we have been accepting exchanges with Okinawa Prefecture overseas with a system called the Kaiho Yoshu Network Building Program, but we should not just connect by people to people, but also by things to things, For Example in each other’s countries, for example introducing products from Okinawa in Canada, and introducing Canadian products to Okinawa, doing these various kinds of programs, I want to create a bridge between our nations.

A Message to the Youth

The most important things is what you can and cannot do with language. Language comes later. The most important thing is the feeling of wanting to go somewhere. Whether you have that feeling, or not is huge. In getting into many of these programs there are a lot of selection texts and only the one who is the “best”, and passes all of them will be sent. What I want to do is to create a system not based on that thinking, but off of sending those who truly want to go. Of course being gifted is a very good thing but, even if you are not like that, resolution to achieve a goal is not something that can be gained through studying, as a person, the humanity of one’s personality, that is, infinite. We don’t know whether that is good or bad, however, holding that possibility that “I want to go to that country” that is the most important starting point. As well as, naturally opening up a pathway, that is what I always here from those who do home stay or working holidays, that is the trigger, the language will come later.


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