Voices of Okinawa / To be Okinawan in Hawaii is to be…not Japanese. To be Okinawan-American in Okinawa is…an education. At least that’s the premise in Jon Shirota’s new play, Voices of Okinawa.
In the Kumu Kahua show opening this week, the author of Lucky Come Hawaii explores his personal dramatic territory in a new land. The protagonist, Kama Hutchins, is a young American in Okinawa teaching English as a Second Language to the locals. Part-Okinawan himself, Hutchins becomes student as well as teacher as he discovers his cultural heritage and the political history of the American military presence in the islands. His 96-year-old great aunt–a shaman in the old tradition–has even more to tell him about life and consequences.
Shirota’s vision for the play came from a 2005 visit to his father’s homeland, funded in part by the NEA. During his six-week visit, Shirota heard stories of the cultural divide between the American military personnel and the locals, especially the stories that have made headlines. Obama’s forthcoming visit to Japan in mid-November, Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatayama who favors the removal of bases, and our continuing 60-year presence in those islands bring Shirota’s play into a larger, contemporaneous world context.
Adding personal context to the show will be Shirota himself. Now in his 80s, Shirota isn’t slowing down. He’s been lined up for a series of talks about the play, his life, and the Okinawan experience: “An Okinawan Sense of Place” at the University of Hawaii at Manoa; “Akisamiyo! From a Pig Farmer to a Writer” at UH-West Oahu; and “A Conversation with Jon Shirota” at Kapiolani Community College. All free to the public, details below.