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.