Genealogy art


Colin Sewake
Special for the Hawai’i Herald

Knowledge is power,” goes the saying attributed to Francis Bacon in his published work, “Meditationes Sacrae” (1597). But how do we acquire knowledge? Reading books is one way, and these books can be found at your local library.

For those of Okinawan descent visiting the homeland, the Okinawa Kenritsu Toshokan or Okinawa Prefectural Library is an excellent resource on Okinawan history and culture. Previously located next to Yogi Park near Highway 330, the new OPL reopened in 2018 at its current location on the third floor of the same building as Naha Bus Terminal near Asahibashi Eki (monorail station) near the highway 58. Three times bigger. that the old, the new library, with a capacity of 1.4 million publications, contains more than 800,000, of which about 300,000 deal with Okinawan subjects. A Daiso, cafe and other shops are conveniently located on the second floor.

Librarians at the Hawai’i State Library present their genealogical resources to OPL staff members in 2017. (Photos courtesy Colin Sewake)

This repository of information is also especially valuable to those doing genealogical research because it contains records from every municipality here as well as diaries of those who emigrated overseas to places like Hawai’i.

I didn’t know about the Okinawan community in Hawai’i or the Hawaii United Okinawa Association when I lived in Hawai’i or when I came to Okinawa in 1994. It wasn’t until I contacted the Yomitan Club to introduce myself in January 2016 that I became involved in the Hawai’i-Okinawa community. As I connected more dots between the people of Hawaii and Okinawa over the following months, excitement grew in the international Uchinänchu (Okinawa) community about the sixth World Uchinänchu Festival scheduled for May 26 to October 30 later that year. Nearly 8,000 people from 29 countries and regions, including Japan, traveled to their homelands to witness the taikai (festival) which takes place once every five years.

I briefly volunteered at an event during the taikai held 10 years prior, and expressed my desire and availability to help at the 2016 one. Okinawa Hawai’i Kyokai Officers , the support organization for HUOA, introduced me to the OPL director and staff that summer so that I could assist them as a translator for their genealogy research booth they were setting up for the first time.

It was then that I met and befriended librarian Hiroaki Hara, better known as “Hiro”. A week before the start of the taikai, the president of HUOA 2007, David Z. Arakawa and current president of Nishihara Chojin Kai, joined my network of friends Hawai’i Uchinänchu. Even though the Arakawa family had a lot of information about their grandparents, I encouraged him to send me their names and any basic information he had, such as birth dates and addresses in Okinawa before leaving. emigrate to Hawai’i, because the OPL wanted to work on test cases in front of the taikai. I immediately relayed the information to Hiro.

A few days later, he replied with new information that David and the family had not known for all those years. They knew that before World War II, their grandfather, Zenpan, owned a hotel and a store in Waipahü and that he would take care of the immigrants who arrived from his hometown of Nishihara to work in the cane plantations in sugar. They always wondered what he did to support the motherland after the Battle of Okinawa. The mystery was solved through communication and teamwork between David, myself, Hiro and the OPL. They learned that their grandfather was part of a group of businessmen who sent 600 goats from Hawai’i to Okinawa in 1949 to support the post-war relief effort.

Additionally, former Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa was also looking for his relatives in Okinawa and always mentioned that the Maui Arakawas were related to the Waipahü Arakawas. BPO research revealed that David’s great-grandfather, Taru, had four children. After the death of his first wife, he remarried and had four more children, who were from Maui Arakawa families. David and Mayor Arakawa were indeed related to each other through the same great-grandfather. Another important family history point has been uncovered and more connections made through the efforts of the OPL!

During the five days of taikai, Hiro and the OPL handled 273 requests for visits to Uchinänchu, with Hawai’i Uchinänchu accounting for 143 of them.

OPL Director Tadashi Arakaki presented University of Hawai’i Hamilton Library Director in 2017 with a map of Okinawa created in the 18th century from the Ryukyu Kingdom.

After the taikai ended, I coordinated a virtual session aisatsu (introduction) meeting between OPL and HUOA’s Okinawa Genealogical Society of Hawaii in January 2017 so that the two parties can meet and further coordinate genealogical research efforts. The OPL director and some staff, including Hiro, flew to Hawai’i later that year to attend HUOA’s Okinawa Festival in September 2017. They held a genealogy research booth, who helped process around 170 requests during the two-day event. After the festival ended, Hiro, who became my little brother after our work together, stayed with me at my parents’ house in Wahiawä for a few days to enjoy more of Hawai’i.

In March 2018, over 25 OGSH members visited OPL to learn more about their genealogy research resources. A few months later, Hiro returned to Hawai’i, this time with his wife and children, as a student in the library science program at the University of Hawai’i East-West Center. During his two years there, relationships with many Hawai’i Uchinänchu and OGSH grew stronger. He attended the Shinnen Enkai (New Year’s Banquet) of several HUOA clubs with old photos in an effort to have Hawai’i Nisei (second generation) identify their Issei (first generation) immigrant parents from Okinawa and connect them with their families from the Mother land. Hiro completed his master’s degree in 2020 before returning to work at the OPL.

This relationship with Hawai’i Uchinänchu continues today. Last November, Hiro helped Nishihara Chojin Kai member Gail Shon research information about her Yonamine family. I went to the OPL a bit early to meet the director Takeshi Miyagi before Gail and her husband Philip arrived. We discussed how Hiro and I emphasized the importance for overseas Uchinänchu to do genealogy research and connect with relatives before people die and families and generations fail. are separated from each other. I further highlighted how Hiro is a great asset in helping people with their genealogy research and hope he sticks around for many years to come. Before Hiro and I left to meet Gail and Philip at the entrance of the library, we took a photo with Director Miyagi under the photo of Fuyü Iha, nicknamed the “father of Okinawan studies”, hanging in his office.

After meeting Gail and Philip, we went to a study room so Hiro could explain the records he found on the Yonamine family based on the information, such as name, date of birth, and date of death, which Gail had previously provided about her. Grand parents. The OPL shared with OGSH a few years ago a database that contains diaries of immigrants who went to Hawai’i. Standard information includes name, date of birth, passport number, company that issued the passport, and date of departure from Japan.

Hiro shared information from another book, which contains residence diaries from the 1940s around the wartime period. The Green Book is organized by yago Japanese for the family house name. I later learned from OHK Vice President Masaji Matsuda that the Uchinaguchi (Okinawa language) the word is yännä. If you know your relative’s yagö/yännä, it is more accurate than first and last name in identifying the exact house where they lived. If the OPL can identify the location of your relative’s home in the past, they can overlay a current residential map and show the approximate location. A map book of all houses and buildings and its owner is recorded and updated annually and made available to the public at the OPL.

When we finished, Hiro showed Gail and Philip the immigration corner which has posts from all the countries Okinawans have emigrated to. There are quite a few books for places like Hawaii and Brazil that were destinations for more immigrants. There are also publications for municipalities, the various Shi (town), Cho (city), and son (village), in Okinawa. Naha-shi has a larger population and therefore has more books than areas with a much smaller population.

Hiro also escorted them to the exhibit about the more than 3,100 Okinawan POWs who were sent to internment camps at Hono’uli’uli and Sand Island in Hawai’i for a year and half after the Battle of Okinawa. Twelve of them died of natural causes while there, and former POW Hikoshin Toguchi’s desire was to hold at least one iresai memorial ceremony for them in Hawai’i although the remains could not be located. A former POW Memorial Service Committee co-chaired by Toguchi and former OHK President Chökö Takayama led a group including fellow former POW Saneyoshi Furugen and Vice Governor Isho Urasaki in Hawaii ‘i in June 2017 to visit headstones (no remains) on Schofield Barracks, Hono’uli’uli and Sand Island where Toguchi and Furugen were interned 72 years prior before going to Jikoen Hongwanji for the ireisai. The exhibit contains black and white photos of Hono’uli’uli that were obtained by the Japanese Cultural Center in Hawai’i and articles from the Okinawa Times on ireisai.

OPL staff member Eiji Yokoyama assists a Hawaiian Uchinänchu with his genealogy research at the Worldwide Uchinänchu Festival in Naha, Okinawa in 2016.

Although most publications are in Japanese, you can spend hours browsing books looking for not only information and documents, but also photos. The OPL is an incredible wealth of information for those who want to devote time to genealogical research and cultural studies in order to unleash the power it holds.

For more information on 1st Generation Immigration Genealogy Reference Services, visit

Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, who was posted to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his USAF ROTC commitment. There he met his future wife, Keiko, and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin is now retired from the Air Force and Air Force Reserve. He and Keiko have two children and live in Yomitan.