New Yorkers Lead Parade in Okinawa

Every five years since 1990 the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, a sub-tropical chain of about a dozen islands, welcomes back members of a vast diaspora that scattered descendants across the globe. This year a record 5,200 people from Argentina to Zambia made long journeys to attend the 5th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival.

OAANY members line up

Among them are sixty members – including yours truly – of the Okinawa American Association of New York (OAANY). While the group representing New York in Okinawa this week may be much smaller than Brazil or Hawaii, each with a headcount reaching more than one thousand, the OAANY had the honor of leading 25 countries and regions in the Festival Eve Parade on October 12.

Donning recognizable Statue of Liberty crowns, the New York group gathered at Tsuboya Elementary School in Okinawa’s capital of Naha, joining 4,500 other Uchinanchu to march in the parade.

Uchinanchu is Okinawan dialect meaning “people from Okinawa.” In addition to hosting a huge party for Uchinanchu from around the world, the festival is a celebration of Okinawa’s distinct culture and a movement toward expanding the “Uchina network” into future generations.

Shaking hands in crowd

OAANY president Teiko Tursi is one of 13 emigrants or emigrant descendants to receive a commendation from the executive committee of the Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival. Recognized for “expanding the development of emigration society,” Tursi and her counterparts were praised by Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who said, “Uchinanchu immigrants who have been active worldwide in many fields are the pride of Okinawa.”

OAANY president Teiko Tursi

Tursi also had the distinction of addressing the crowd at the starting line of the parade. In an exuberant welcome speech in which Tursi gave greetings in four different languages, she urged everyone to keep the Okinawan spirit alive.

Teiko Tursi speaks before parade

Members of the New York Okinawa Kenjin Kai march in the parade in Naha

For more pictures of the parade, go to shrinecastle.com.