September 5, 2006

Okinawa Trip

Posted in Genealogy at 1:00 pm by Transmuter

Recently my wife, daughter and I returned from a 9-day stay in Okinawa, where we had gone to find and visit her distant relatives. I was pretty jet-lagged, but it was a good trip.

We were sent to Okinawa by my wife’s parents. My wife’s mother is a third-generation Japanese-American. Her parents were both born in Hawaii of Okinawan parents. My wife’s parents are big into geneology and they have a lot of information about the dad’s side, but hardly anything on the mom’s side. They wanted to find more about their Okinawan relatives, but they have 9 kids in the house and couldn’t go themselves – not to mention I am the only one in the family who speaks Japanese – so they sent us instead.

The flight to Okinawa was long, something around 14 hours. I passed the time by sleeping (though the seats were not very ergonomic for my neck, even with a pillow), studying Wheelock’s Latin, and playing the New Super Mario Bros. game on a Nintendo DS I had borrowed from my aunt. We took Canada Airlines from LAX to Vancouver to Osaka. From there it was a 2-hour flight to Naha Airport in Okinawa.

We had reserved a rental car, so we were shuttled to the rental car place where we picked up the car. We quickly learned that driving a car is not a fun thing to do in Japan. It wasn’t so bad that we were driving on the opposite side of the road or that I kept hitting the windshield wipers instead of the blinkers because the levers were switched. It wasn’t the traffic either. The real problems were that Kyla was unhappy and screaming in her car seat, that my wife was tired and very cranky, and that Japanese neightborhoods are very complex and difficult to navagate. Only the very largest streets in a Japanese city have names, so you need a good detailed map to get anywhere. Unfortunately we only had some average maps meant for tourists, so we got lost a couple times and had to ask for directions. It took us 2 hours to get to our guest house when it should have taken 30 minutes. Needless to say, we returned the car the next day and walked around the rest of the time we were in Okinawa.

We arrived Friday night and spent Saturday shopping and sightseeing. We had non idea what to do, so we had planned to ask some of the members of one of the wards of our church in Naha. On Sunday morning we got ready for church, but when I called the building to confirm what time the meeting started, we found out it was at 10, not 11 like I thought it was. So instead of attending the Naha ward, we ended up attending the Naha East ward, which met a couple hours later. My wife was upset about the mixup, but she tends to get a little upset whenever anything doesn’t go according to plan. We got to the church without incident (if you don’t count heavy rain as an incident), and I was introduced to a man named Brother Makiya, who was the teacher of a family history class. We spent the entire hour of class talking about my wife’s ancestors. The people in the class figured out where the ancestors were from (Nago city, in northern Okinawa) and Brother Makiya offered to ask around about them, since his family was from that area and he was going up there the next day for the Obon holiday.

On Monday we did more shopping and sightseeing, since we were just waiting for Brother Makiya to find out anything he could. On Tuesday morning I called him and he said some people he asked knew about my wife’s ancestors and that he would drive us up to Nago the next day to check it out.

On Wednesday morning Brother Makiya and his wife picked us up from our apartment and drove us the two hours to Nago. We went to the city office building and the Makiyas asked about our family. They were able to find records for my wife’s great-grandfather’s siblings and parents, which was great! Unfortunately, my wife only had her mother’s birth certificate, which showed her relation to her grandfather, but didn’t show her grandfather’s (who was born in Hawaii) relation to his father (who was from Okinawa and whose records the city office had), so we couldn’t get the records. Undeterred, the Makiyas suggested we go to the neighborhood where my wife’s family, the Shimabukuro family, was from. The village had been absorbed into Nago, but we knew both the original villlage name and the name of the neighborhood of Nago that the village had become. We drove to the neighborhood and Brother Makiya stopped at a local store to ask if anyone knew where the Shimabukuro family lived. Never having lived in a little town where everyone knows everyone else, this was somewhat surprising to me. Even more surprising was that the shopkeeper knew the answer! A block or two away was a little shop owned by the Shimabukuros. We went there and met some of my wife’s grandpa’s cousins. We explained who we were and what we were doing, found out more information about the family, and got one of them to request the records that my wife wasn’t able to get. They showed us the land that was the ancestral home of the Shimabukuro family – they said it went back at least 300 years! Unfortunately, since something like 80-90% of Okinawa had been destroyed in WWII, all the records preceding that had been annihilated, so the official records only went back to Chiemi’s grandpa’s great-grandfather, and only only his name, at that. Still, we were able to discover half a dozen new family members we didn’t know about before, and we made a lot of contacts if we ever have the opportunity to go again to do more research.