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Bon dance bridges Kaua‘i to Suo Oshima

HANAPEPE — Former Kaua‘i Mayor Maryanne Kusaka said Monday that whenever you have six mayors in one place at one time, that is “historic.”

Kusaka was joined by Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami, former Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Suo Oshima City Mayor Kiyotaka Fujimoto and other prominent dignitaries to celebrate nearly 60 years of friendship through the sister city agreement between the County of Kaua‘i and Suo Oshima, Japan, at the Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji luncheon.

The luncheon followed a morning when 61 students, teachers and administrators from Suo Oshima were greeted by their counterparts from Kaua‘i, primarily Key Club students from Kaua‘i High School and their advisors and toured Waimea Canyon and other areas of Koke‘e before joining the dignitaries at the lunch.

“You teach us something and we teach you something,” said Gerald Hirata of the Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji, who along with Kiyoko Ikeda-Chun of Kaua‘i Community College emceed the luncheon that Hirata likened to a celebration similar to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, where peoples separated by miles of ocean come together to better understand each other’s culture.

On this trip, the group included the Suo Oshima High School students, staff, as well as administrators Shinichi Ota, the principal of Suo Oshima High School, and the Suo Oshima equivalent to the Hawai‘i state Board of Education.

They were met by state Department of Education Kaua‘i Complex Area Superintendent Daniel Hamada, Kaua‘i Community College Interim Chancellor Margaret Sanchez, and high school principals from Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i and Waimea high schools, in addition to student hosts and their accompanying teachers.

The goal of the students and schools’ administrators and staffs meeting is to eventually formalize a sister school relationship similar to the current sister city agreement.

Culture is the bridge that connects the Hawai‘i descendants from Suo Oshima, the Yamaguchi Prefecture, and other parts of Japan, as the students explained the origins of their aloha shirts that were worn in either blue or green.

“The blue is for the sea,” one of the students said. “The green represents the mountains.”

“And, the flower is ‘mikan hana,’ or orange flowers,” said Brian Yamamoto, a Kaua‘i Community College instructor. “They grow good oranges in Suo Oshima.”

Ikeda-Chun said this aloha shirt connection is strengthened during the summer when office workers are able to doff the coat and tie in favor of an aloha shirt. Suo Oshima school students, too, are able to enjoy wearing aloha shirts during the summer.

Further evidence of the educational connection is in exchange student Amy Noguchi, who is currently studying at Kaua‘i Community College with a Hawaiian studies major. The Hawaiian studies aspect was reinforced historically during the visit of the Hokule‘a during its worldwide visit.

Nearly 4,000 emigrants left Oshima island more than a century ago to arrive in Hawai‘i to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations. The life they endured created a new culture, as the current Hawai‘i residents are carriers of the legacy they created through practices like the bon dance.

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 808-245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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