By Rodney Inefuku
Electrical and Computer Engineer, retired
Last updated 9/11/14
In Okinawa: History of an Island People,1 George Kerr writes about the feud between the Taira Clan and the Minamoto family in Japan during the 9th century (pages 47-49). To make a long story short, the Minamoto defeated the Taira in 1186.
The defeated Taira fled into remote mountain retreats or to distant offshore islands to escape ruthless Minamoto vengeance. There is some reason to believe that many Taira adherents fled southward from Kyushu into the Ryukyu Islands…. The villagers on Yonaguni who lived nearby have always claimed descent from Taira refugees and have kept themselves somewhat aloof from other natives on the island. (49)
Yonaguni island is the “southernmost” island in Okinawa. From Yonaguni, you can see Taiwan. It’s that close. I guess to flee the Minamotos, the Tairas went as far south as they could — without going to China (Taiwan). Take a look at the map below.
In Hawaii, there are many people with the “Taira” surname. Most came from Haneji ken in Okinawa. (See the ken map below.) The founder of Kings Bakery, famous for its Hawaiian sweetbread, Robert Taira2, was from Haneji. In the photo below, he looks true blue Uchinanchu, stocky with large eyes. He doesn’t look Naichi at all.
In To Our Issei: Our Heartfelt Gratitude (2000), I foud 41 Issei Tairas in the Okinawan clubs: 16 from Haneji, 7 from Oroku, which is in Naha city close to the airport, 4 from Nishihara, which is very close to Shuri castle, and others, here and there.
In my Haneji club book3, there are 4 Tairas. Investigating further, I found that they all came from villages close to the coast. It would be interesting to talk to them to see if they know their Taira family history.
The following is a map of the kens in Okinawa. I got this from Uchinanchu: A History of Okinawans in Hawai‘i (1984).
1 I’ve read Kerr’s book quite a few times as questions about Okinawa and Okinawans keep popping up in my head. My copy is underlined and tabbed all over — and dog-eared. What’s amazing is that every time I re-read a section, it’s like I’m reading it for the first time. Back during the ’80s, my office at Pearl Harbor was next to the Navy library. I found Kerr’s book lying on the floor amongst a bunch of books that the library was going to give away or get rid of. The librarian told me I could have it, so I took it home and stuck it in my library. I didn’t read it for about 25 years, thinking it would be boring. When I finally did, I found it to be fascinating, thorough, and very informative. It is my source for Okinawan history.
2 Robert Taira is a Nisei. His parents came from Haneji and settled in Hilo where Robert was born. See his bio.
3 This is a book that my Haneji club handed out at our annual dinner. It contained the names of all the club members and what village they came from. That was an interesting book.
My dad is from Okinawa & his mom’s family’s mon is the Taira butterfly… don’t know a lot about that side of the family, a lot of relatives died in WWII. Very interested in this topic, thank you.
I’ve been trying to trace Taira family in Okinawa. My grandparents migrated in late 1800 or early 1900 to Hawaii, settling first in Kaneohe than in Kalihi. If you have any info, I’d appreciate. Growing up in Kalihi, I now live in California. We used to attend the Haneji picnics.
This was interesting to read! My dad said his great-grandmother was a Taira from Naha, or somewhere close, but she married and changed her name. Then, her daughter (my dad’s grandmother) married and changed her name to Nakamura. We’ve gone by Nakamura ever since, though I know my grandpa married a Takara woman.
My family is from Nago/Haneji. My grandmother’s maiden was Yonamine. My grandfather, Taira, had 3 or 4 brothers. 2 landed in Hawaii, I believe on in WA DC. I’m still investigating my lineage, but sporadically. By the way, my uncle’s names is Robert S. Taira. Not the same Taira.
From my Okage Sama De 2000 book… list of Tairas, Haneji noted, year born & year arrived: Taira Gashin 1903 1919, Taira Hatsue Ishikawa 1893 1913, Taira Kakusuke (Haneji) 1870 1905, Taira Kama 1873 1917, Taira Kamado Uehara 1896 1914, Taira Kamado Miyashiro 1898 1914, 3 Taira Kame 1891-1907 1891-1907 1894-1911, Taira Kame (Haneji) 1892 1915, Taira Kana Ashimine 1865 1917, Taira Kinsuke (Haneji) b 1881, Taira Kisuke (Haneji) 1889 1906, Taira Koryo 1886 1907, Taira Kosuke (Haneji) 1866 1906, Taira Maka Unten (Haneji), Taira Makato b 1899, Taira Matsu 1883 1910, Taira Matsunosuke (Haneji) 1886 1906, Taira Moichi 1884 1907, Taira Moriyoshi (Haneji) 1876 1905, Taira Nabe 1893 1914, Taira Oto 1898 1917, Taira Shingyu b 1886, Taira Shinsuke 1890 1907, Taira Shuichi 1912 1924, Taira Taro 1896 1907, Taira Taru 1866 1900, Taira Toyoshi (Haneji) 1898 1915, Taira Tsuru Ishikawa b 1907, Taira Ushi Miyahira b 1884, Taira Ushisuke (Haneji) 1883 1907, Taira Uta Miyahira 1883 1910, Taira Uto Yonamine (Haneji) 1890 1917, Taira Uto 1887 1919, Taira Yoshi Uechi (Haneji) 1889 1914, Taira Zendo (Haneji) 1899 1918, Taira Zenpo (Haneji) b 1906, Taira Zensho (Haneji) 1866 1906, Taira Zentoku (Haneji) b 1902.
I am from the direct line of Sho Joken, but none in my family mentioned Taira blood being tied to us. Yes, people can be from the Village and the area, but those tied with Sho Joken and his family usually kept their pride in saying we are the Direct line and the Haneji write the last name a certain way. So now I am curious and will ask my father.
Apologies for the late “approval” and response, Anonymous. Please share what you learned from your father. I’m curious, too. Niffee debiru for your comment.