Marvin Uehara

Marvin Uehara is a current participant of the 2009 – 2010 Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) at the East-West Center. He has experience and education in tourism and development. Marvin is part of the Generation Nine of the APLP (also known as G9), where 21 countries are being represented.


by Marvin Uehara

Halfway between Kyushu – Japan’s main island – and Taiwan, Okinawa is the most populated island of the Ryukyu Archipelago. There are around 1 million and 300 thousand people living in Okinawa and 700 thousand in Naha, the capital.

Okinawa’s history is peculiar. Due to its geography Okinawa became an important trade center for the Japanese, the Chinese, and many other South-East peoples. It was a kingdom until 1879, the year that marks the creation of Okinawa Prefecture by the Japanese. After the Second World War, Okinawa went under the United States administration for 27 years. In 1972, the Ryukyu Islands were returned to Japan. There is still, nevertheless, a large US military presence in Okinawa owing to its strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region.

Okinawa has its own culture. “Uchinaaguchi” is the native language; however, only the elderly are able to speak it today. Sanshin, a three-stringent instrument, and eisa, a traditional drumming dance, are both typical elements of Okinawa’s rich cultural heritage. The world famous martial art – karate – is originally from here. The Okinawa diet is largely based on vegetables and fish, besides pork. It is believed that this healthy diet is one of the reasons for Okinawans’ longevity. The others are lifestyle and spirituality.

In terms of religion, Okinawans pay special attention and respect for their ancestors. Centennial family graves are found all over cities and villages. The woman in this spiritual context plays an important role as Okinawans believe they come back to mothers’ womb when passing away.

The Okinawans are largely known by their laid-back lifestyle and heart-warming friendliness. The Okinawan people, it is said, is not as much concerned as the Japanese from the mainland about punctuality, for instance. Also, dark skin and men hairiness are special physical features of Okinawans. Diversity which comes from mixed-races are also easily spotted here.

Marvin in Okinawa with his grandfather's younger brother, Shigueo Uehara, and his oldest son, Shiguemitsu Uehara.

An example of Okinawa’s friendliness is what happened to me. I have been to Okinawa this year for the first time and a little sick by the time I arrived there. People quickly noticed and asked if I needed any help. One the second day, two persons I met the day before for the first time drove me to hospital and spent the whole morning with me. Other examples abounded and I was always struck by receiving such a warm attention. The people I came across keep sending emails asking how I am.

My grandfather and my grandmother’s parents are from Itoman and Tomigusuku. They emigrated early twentieth century in search for better economic opportunities overseas. They chose to ship up to South America. Working as farmers in Brazil’s countryside they believed they would be able to save enough money to return to Okinawa better off. Most of them could not make it, but never let the dream of coming back fade away. Now I understand why.