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OAA Hosts ‘Bringing Okinawa Home’

A family gathers at their ancestral tomb for an annual observance called Shiimii. (Photo by Joseph Kamiya)

GARDENA — The Okinawa Association of America (OAA) in Gardena will host a cultural lecture and traditional music performance on Saturday, May 19, at 1 p.m.

The event will be led by two dynamic guest speakers/musicians from Hawaii, Eric Wada and Norman Kaneshiro.

Titled “Bringing Okinawa Home,” the goal of this event is to promote a deeper appreciation of Okinawa. Wada and Kaneshiro will explore Okinawan identity and values through the traditional customs, native languages, and music. For attendees who are of Okinawan descent, the aim is to consider ways to embrace cultural heritage in daily life so that it can be passed to the next generation.

Eric Wada and Norman Kaneshiro

Wada’s lecture will examine the annual customs that are observed in Okinawa. These include Shiimii and Obon, two family gatherings that take place at the family tomb (ohaka) and ancestral home (muutuya), respectively. His presentation will include explanations of each tradition, the lunar calendar dates of observation, and ways to normalize them.

Kaneshiro’s performance will be a mix of traditional Ryūkyūan songs and storytelling. Titled “Mimi-gusui: Life Sustenance Through the Ears,” the performance will emphasize Okinawan values and language, and how the ancestors used music to teach these things to the following generations. Kaneshiro will be playing the sanshin, a traditional three-stringed lute that is recognized for its snakeskin covering and rustic sound.

Kaneshiro and Wada’s presentation will feature a musical performance with a traditional Ryūkyūan instrument called the sanshin. (Photo by Joseph Kamiya)

“Wada and Kaneshiro are fantastic lecturers who are not only knowledgeable on a vast range of Okinawan topics, but they also inspire audiences to dig deeper and learn more,” event chairperson Joseph Kamiya remarked. “And as musicians, they contextualize the traditional songs in a way that helps you to really connect with the music, even if you don’t understand the language.”

Wada and Kaneshiro are Hawaii-born, third-generation Okinawans and have studied extensively in Okinawa. They organize yearly lectures, classes, performances, and Okinawa study tours through their Hawaii-based nonprofit organization, Ukwanshin Kabudan.

In 2015, they founded the annual LooChoo (Ryūkyū) Identity Summit, a three-day conference focusing on language revitalization and sustaining cultural heritage. They were panelists for a Ryūkyūan languages symposium at the 2016 Worldwide Uchinaanchu Festival/Taikai in Okinawa and will be featured in an upcoming documentary on the same topic.

The presentations will be in English. Explanations and subtitles will be provided for the traditional songs. Due to limited space and parking, register by May 18 to be guaranteed a seat. Admission is free for children (10 and under), $5 for middle/high school students (I.D. required at event check-in), $7 for adult OAA members, and $12 for the general public. Register online ( or through the OAA office (weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.;, 310-532-1929).

The OAA is located at 16500 S. Western Ave. in Gardena. The event will take place in the Yamauchi Building. The OAA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and promoting Okinawan culture. It hosts numerous events throughout the year, including cultural lectures, performances, social gatherings, and international exchanges.

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