Rediscovering my "Roots" in Hawaii
Happy New Year!! I hope everyone's 2017 is off to a fabulous start. :)
As I shared on my social media, I recently visited Hawaii to film for a New Year's Special TV documentary that was focused on my upbringing and "roots." The last time I went to Hawaii was when I just turned three years old with my mother, father, brother, and grandmother. (Never did I think I would revisit for TV filming!) When you think of Hawaii, the first thing that comes to mind would probably be the beach, delicious food, etc. (which I was looking forward to very much), however, that wasn't the main reason why I visited. I flew to the island to rediscover my "roots" by interacting with Japanese Americans living in Hawaii.
If you missed the TV airing, you can watch the full episode ➡︎ HERE!
First off, getting to Hawaii was quite a journey. My original flight had aircraft issues they couldn't solve after boarding us all, so I ended up having to take off 15 hours later than planned. I was worried this entire filming wasn't going to happen, but thankfully, I was able to get to Hawaii in the end. *phew* Everything we had planned had to be entirely rescheduled, but I was very thankful that everyone I encountered during this journey and the crew was incredibly understanding and kind enough to make last minute adjustments in order to film for this. My body was extremely exhausted after the long delay/flight + jetlag, but once I landed, I got ready and went straight into filming at Waikiki Beach. Luckily, the sun was shining bright this day (even though the forecast said it was going to rain all week!), and I instantly felt energized. I felt very grateful to be welcomed by wonderful people and weather, and today, I'd like to share my experiences through this blog post.
I was expecting Hawaii to be very warm, but it was quite cold and VERY windy!!
I had the wonderful opportunity of learning hula from Kumu Blaine Kamalani Kia and the Women of Halau Ka Waikahe Lani Malie! It was my very first time doing hula, so they showed me the moves and taught me the meaning behind each movement. I strongly felt that dance (in all forms and genres) is truly a language of its own with no words necessary. After this, I continued filming by visiting several shops (such as International Marketplace and ABC Stores) to find the perfect souvenirs and a beauty mask that you can only get in Hawaii. :D
The next day, I met Mr. Lloyd Kawakami of the famous (and oldest) family-owned Hawaiian aloha wear, 'IOLANI. Lloyd-san's grandfather immigrated to Hawaii back in the day as an issei (first generation Japanese), and Lloyd-san's father began the 'IOLANI brand. I was so surprised to find out that the famous aloha shirt was first created from a Japanese kimono and that it was created by Japanese people! The photo above was taken on day two when we returned to Waikiki Beach to film around sunset hour. I never get to really experience the calming sound of waves and relaxation in New York City, so I instantly felt my mind and body feel so refreshed.
Living in a very busy, fast-paced environment in NYC doesn't really allow me enough time to sit down and think about my identity and roots... However, I got to visit the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii for the first time. I must say I was in absolute shock when I read the heartbreaking words and saw countless photos of Hawaii's history. (I will refrain from posting too many photos here because I would truly like every person who visits Hawaii to experience it themselves in person.) It was an extremely eye-opening experience to discover the unimaginable hardships the isseis and niseis went through (first and second generation Japanese), and they are the reason why the people of Hawaii and Japanese Americans can live proudly today.
After having the tour with Lloyd-san, we sat down and spoke for nearly an entire hour regarding the history of Japanese Americans and our dreams. Hearing Lloyd-san's heartfelt words really made me realize that we cannot take it for granted and must never forget the true heroes that fought for our generation and on.
I also met the most adorable local girls in Hawaii. They mentioned that they have never been to Japan but cherish Japan and the culture very much. I was so touched by how pure their hearts were and how connected they were with their own culture despite being so far away.
On my last day in Hawaii, I woke up at 3:00am so we could go see the sunrise at the beach in Hawaii. (It is a Japanese tradition to see the sunrise for New Year's, so it was perfect for this.) Unfortunately, the forecast said it was going to rain, so it was very dark, gloomy, and windy as ever when we were heading there. I was unable to see the beautiful sunrise in Hawaii, however, after I finished speaking about my feelings looking back on this journey, the sunshine miraculously peaked through the clouds! It was only for a short moment, but I felt like the sun came out to show me the beauty of Hawaii one last time. I could not be more thankful to each and every person I encountered in Hawaii, and for treating me like we have been friends since long ago. Although it was a very short and sweet trip, it was one I'll never forget. I was gifted with lots of love, kindness, and inspiration.... and the glimpse of sunshine I saw on the very last morning was the perfect way to end this journey in Hawaii. :)
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope that your 2017 will be the best year yet!