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