Hawaii-Okinawa Sister State Relationship

Note: The following report on the Hawaii-Okinawa sister state relationship is from State of Hawaii’s Sister States: A Report to the Hawaii State Legislature, January 1, 2008 – December 31, 2008 by the Office of International Affairs, Strategic Marketing & Support Division, Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, May 2009, pages 9-11. -JS

3. Okinawa Prefecture, Japan (1985)

Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost prefecture and the only prefecture with a subtropical climate. Okinawa, consisting of 50 inhabited and 110 uninhabited islands, has a unique culture and language, and a prosperous, growing tourist industry. Okinawa’s economy has lagged behind the rest of the nation, with per capita income below — and unemployment above–the national averages. Also of importance: Okinawa has Japan’s only Special Free Trade Zone, and offers an array of tax and other financial incentives to promote business. In addition, the prefecture boasts the world’s highest longevity rate, with women living an average of 86 years, and men, 78 years.

The House resolution initiating the Sister State-Prefecture relationship in 1984 noted that 16,536 persons (13% of the state’s 1924 residents of Japanese ancestry) came from Okinawa.

Okinawa has enjoyed one of Hawaii’s strongest sister relationships.

Over the years, Okinawa has enjoyed one of Hawaii’s strongest sister relationships, with numerous cultural exchanges. This is due to hard-working and highly-interested Okinawan cultural associations. In recent years, DBEDT has worked closely with Okinawan officials to assess the province’s energy needs and initiate mutually advantageous programs. 

Not surprisingly, Hawaii’s Okinawan community has been one of the State’s most active. In years past, they sponsored numerous cultural and trade events, evolving into a more business development focus.

A seminal event in the history of Hawaii/Okinawan relations was the signing of the “Okinawa-Hawaii Partnership,” officially inaugurated in November 1997 in Yomitan-son, Okinawa, by representatives from Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An Aloha Committee was formed to oversee partnership activities, chaired by the Director of DBEDT; the Consul-General of Japan in Hawaii; and the Director General, Department of Planning & Development, Okinawa Prefectural Government. There were seven specific project development areas:

  • Monitoring and Preservation of Okinawa’s Coral Reefs.
  • Sustainable Tourism.
  • Deep Sea Water Technology applications.
  • Integrated Agricultural Pest Management.
  • Computer Data Processing Technologies for Ecosystem and Natural Resources Management.
  • Telemedicine Technology Cooperation.
  • Educational Exchange.

Due to political prefectural shifts, both locally and nationally, there were funding restrictions for these initiatives, and they have been on hold since 2000.

The 16th annual Okinawa-Hawaii Student Exchange program included visits by over 20 high school students from Okinawa to Hawaii in March 2007. In June, a delegation of 20 Hawaii students traveled to Okinawa to participate in this program.

Also in June, Governor Linda Lingle and a delegation from Hawaii traveled to Okinawa in honor of the Sister-State relationship and met with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima. Other significant activities during the mission included: (1) Hawaii-Okinawa Innovation Seminar; (2) Hawaii-Okinawa Sister-State Reception; and (3) presentation of a wreath at the Cornerstone of Peace Memorial.

The annual Okinawa Festival receives numerous performing groups from Okinawa. In 2007, the Festival welcomed a 300 member delegation from Okinawa led by Vice-Governor Zenki Nakasato. In addition, 100 hula dancers from Okinawa traveled to Hawaii and participated in a parade in Waikiki.

Also in 2007, the 16th Hawaii-Okinawa Student Exchange (50 students from Okinawa and Hawaii participated in this annual program) was successfully held.

The voyaging canoe Hokule’a and her escort boat Kama Hele pulled into the harbor at Itoman in Okinawa on April 24, 2007. 150 people greeted the vessels and crew. A group of people from Hawaii who live in Okinawa hosted a dinner reception for the crew members.

2008 Activities

University of Hawaii President David McClain and a delegation of eight traveled to Okinawa to join University of the Ryukyus President Teruo Iwamasa in celebrating a 20-year educational partnership between the two universities. The two university leaders discussed possibilities for new cooperative projects.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s (UH) Center for Okinawan Studies was established in July 2008 and is the first of its kind in the United States with a specific focus on Okinawa-related issues and research interests.The University of the Ryukyus (UR) announced that it will be opening the Institute for Okinawan Studies at Ryudai in April 2009, which will consist of the Centers for Ryukyuan-Okinawan Studies, American Studies and Immigration Studies. UH will cooperate with UR on its efforts in this area through the UH Center for Okinawan Studies. Both centers hope to collaborate to bring together scholars, students and researchers from around the globe write about and discuss Okinawan language, culture, history, education and religion, as well as other important issues confronting modern Okinawa.

Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro and several council members visited Hilo and Honolulu to attend the 2008 Hui Okinawa, Hilo Okinawa Club’s Haari Boat Race Festival held August 16, 10 2008. Hui Okinawa accepted an invitation to attend Nago City’s Annual Haari Boat Race festival in August of 2009.

The Hawaii United Okinawa Association Study Tour traveled to Okinawa from October 4 – 13, 2008, and included visits to Mayors from Kin (home of the person who initiated Okinawa immigration), Nago (Hilo Sister-city), Naha (Honolulu sister city), and Chatan (home to the largest US airbase).

On November 23, 2008, the Hawaii United Okinawa Association sponsored a performance by 80 students from Uruma City, Okinawa. Over 130 cast, staff and escorts travelled from Uruma City for two show performances at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. The trip to Hawaii celebrated the culmination of the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the historical musical Kimutaka No Amawari.

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