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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Many Okinawan immigrants left Okinawa for Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, Hawaii, North America, South America, etc. Before the ship would depart from the port in Naha, families came to see them off for a teary farewell all with similar words:
 “Mōkitikūyō. Jingasachidō, tegemiatodō”
 (Go get money. Send it first, you can write us later)
 Those words symbolized Okinawa back then, and have been told and retold as a story of how poverty forced the ancestors to leave for overseas as immigrants, full of hope. Having overcome many hardships, the immigrants kept their word and sent a fortune to their parents. It is no exaggeration to say that today’s Okinawa exists thanks to those immigrants.

Today we hear that there are more than 300,000 Okinawans living overseas. Some left to study or for business, nevertheless, most of them are immigrants. They are the ones who left Okinawa dreaming of  “Kaigai Yūhi1“, an obsolete phrase nowadays.
 Before World War II, immigration was due to poverty; following World War II, many felt forced to leave Okinawa because they lost their livelihood as their lands were deprived by the U.S. military’s requisition. Others sought opportunities abroad since it was unknown when Okinawa would be returned to Japan. Before the war, there were at most as many as 4,500 immigrants a year. Post-war, there were still 2,000 immigrants annually. It is a considerable number.
 We often come across Okinawans out of the country, especially in Hawaii and South America. Census counts indicate that Okinawans account for 15% of the Japanese population in Hawaii, 60% in Bolivia, and 70% in Argentina. Okinawa is definitely a substantial prefecture when it comes to immigration.

Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Few people know that the name “Okinawa” is used abroad. In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, there is an area called Colonia Okinawa. Do not doubt it, it is clearly written on the map. Most of the immigrants from Okinawa live in Colonia Okinawa, whereas immigrants from other prefectures live in its neighborhood, San Juan. If you wish to study/compare the society of Okinawa and of mainland Japan, Colonia Okinawa and San Juan is the right place to go. Things that cannot be seen anymore in their motherlands still remain there in their original form. It will allow you to have some interesting insights.

There was an American movie named The Karate Kid. Three movies were made of the same name, and all became big hits in the United States. The protagonist of the film is a boy called Daniel. The other main character, an old man, was named “Miyagi”; a common name in Okinawa, he was an expert in karate. The second or third film was set in Okinawa, and Miyagi was apparently a character who immigrated to the U.S. from Okinawa. Although the number of Okinawan immigrants in the U.S. population is rather small, it seemed to me, while watching the film, that the aspects of  “Okinawa” and “Karate” exist somewhere in the minds of Americans.

Editor’s Note:

  1. To immigrate with a dream of becoming successful overseas.