An elementary school in Shuri, Naha City, receives books from Hawaii during the post-World War II relief effort. The postwar humanitarian effort was initiated by a U.S. service member from Hawaii who was a second generation Okinawan. (Photo provided by Dan Nakasone)
An elementary school in Shuri, Naha City, receives books from Hawaii during the post-World War II relief effort. The postwar humanitarian effort was initiated by a U.S. service member from Hawaii who was a second generation Okinawan. (Photo provided by Dan Nakasone)

Okinawa, Hawaii reflect on postwar relief efforts, reaffirming spirit of Yuimaaru

by Nika Nashiro
Marine Corps Installations Pacific

Okinawa was a heavy porcine cultured island before World War II.

The Battle of Okinawa changed that. 

Prewar Okinawa had more than 100,000 pigs. However, after the Battle of Okinawa, hog population decreased immensely bringing the number to about 2,000, according to government data. With the postwar relief effort from Hawaii, Okinawa was able to rebuild its domestic pig population.

Okinawan food revolves around pork, making pig their cultural delicacy. Every part of this staple meat is used in Okinawan cuisine. 

To commemorate the postwar humanitarian effort that took place 70 years ago, David Y. Ige, the governor of Hawaii, proclaimed Sept. 27 as the Pigs from the Sea Day at the state capitol building in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa hosted a reception at White Beach Naval Facility in Uruma City Nov. 17 to pay tribute to the memorable event that took place on the same military facility seven decades ago.

“We would like to pay respect to those U.S. military personnel who took part in providing the transportation of the pigs from Hawaii,” said Toshio Shimabuku, mayor of Uruma City, who attended the reception. “On behalf of Uruma City, we would like to convey our appreciation for providing the opportunity to commemorate the historical event.” 

The relief effort was initiated by Thomas Taro Higa, who served with the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Battalion during World War II. Higa, who was a second-generation Okinawan from Hawaii, spoke Okinawan dialect. Because of this, he volunteered as an interpreter in the Battle of Okinawa after serving in the European theater. Through interpreting and interacting with the local Okinawan civilians, he understood that Okinawa was in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Upon returning to Hawaii in September 1945, he relayed Okinawa’s status to those of Okinawan descent in Hawaii which led them to send aid. This was the beginning of the relief effort, according to Yoshimitsu Hamabata, the producer who rebooted a musical theater performance called “Pigs from the Sea,” based on a 2003 production that premiered in 2016.

The Okinawan community on Hawaii confronted two problems as they started moving forward with the plan. First, the lack of Japanese support threatened to hinder the much-needed assistance. Secondly, they needed for the U.S. Navy’s support to ship the goods to Okinawa. The Okinawans on Hawaii decided to seek help from religious organizations which were supportive to postwar humanitarian efforts. With their assistance, a clothing drive was organized. With several religious leaders and Higa, they were able to secure transportation assistance from the Navy, according to Daniel Nakasone, a producer and researcher for Public Broadcasting Service’s Emmy Award-winning food and culture series, “Family Ingredients,” in which the history of Okinawan pork was examined in an episode.

In February 1946, more than 150 tons of clothing was sent to Okinawa via the Honolulu Council of Churches. This was the first wave of the relief effort, stated Nakasone

“Although I was the youngest sibling of eight, I did not have hand-me-downs,” said John Tasato, former president of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association while recalling his childhood memory during the proclamation. “The clothes went out to the clothing drive. Our mother told us we had to send our clothes to our family in Okinawa.” 

The U.S. military provided warehouses near White Beach where the goods were received and inventoried, then distributed to neighboring islands. Starting from 1946 until its disbandment in 1949, Reputa Kai, a group formed mostly by Okinawan housewives, sent three shipments of supplies including books, school supplies, sewing machines, oil lanterns, bicycles and other miscellaneous supplies through the United Association of Christian Churches. In 1948, shipments of $10,000 worth of the medical supplies, approximately $105,000 today, were sent from the Okinawa Medical League which was established by Okinawan descent doctors in Hawaii. In 1949, 750 milking goats were shipped from members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to aid children and malnourished mothers who could not feed their infants, according to Nakasone, who is a third-generation Okinawan from Hawaii.

“Not only do these represent the bridge of immigrants becoming the arm of salvation for many devastated by war," according to Chisako Oshiro who was the liaison between Okinawa and Hawaii for the musical “Pigs from the Sea”. “It is also a great symbol of the local residents, the immigrants abroad, American missionaries and the U.S. military all working together for the greater good and becoming true citizens of the world together. I don't know if we will truly ever know all the unsung heroes it took to bring the pigs, goats, clothes and medical supplies, etc. to Okinawa after the war, but it truly represents the epitome of goodwill toward men.”

In 1948, despite the harsh economic environment, a group of Okinawans in Hawaii raised more than $50,000 within six months, which is approximately $526,000 in today’s economy, and bought 550 pigs from Omaha, Nebraska to be shipped from Portland, Oregon to Okinawa. This alleviated severe food shortages from the war, according to Nakasone.

With the help of the U.S. military, seven Okinawan men and the pigs sailed across the Pacific aboard the USS John Owen with their crew members, according to Hamabata, the director of the Uruma City Lifelong Learning and Cultural Promotion Center.

“I am thankful that the U.S. military provided assistance bringing the pigs to Okinawa,” said Hamabata. “It was a wonderful present.”

After surviving ruthless storms and losing several pigs overboard, on Sept. 27, 1948, 537 hogs arrived at White Beach Naval Facility, added Hamabata, who found out that he was related to one of the seven men that brought the pigs over to Okinawa.

“I was greatly impressed when I first heard about the action taken by these brave men,” said Hiroshi Ikemiyagi, whose father received one of the original pigs seven decades ago.

Kamesuke Kakazu was the one who came up with the initial idea of sending live pigs to Okinawa to create a sustainable livelihood, according to Hamabata. 

“Give a man fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime,” read the words on a memo given to Hamabata by Kakazu’s daughter, May Oshiro, who mentioned that those words were her father’s motives.

“Food, medical supplies, and other goods will not last once they’re used or consumed,” explained Hamabata. “But Kakazu realized that if he can send live pigs with the intent to breed a population, Okinawa can rebuild its pig farm.”

Okinawan pork culture is flourishing today because of actions taken by seven courageous Okinawan immigrants from Hawaii 70 years ago, according to Ikemiyagi who is raising approximately 900 pigs at his hog farms in Uruma City, which his father started almost 60 years ago.

“Because of efforts including the pigs crossing over the seas, Okinawa was able to recover,” said Ikemiyagi who has been contributing his pork to community gatherings. “And with that history, we should take the opportunity to develop our bilateral friendship.” 

“Yuimaaru” is a phrase in Okinawan dialect which roughly translates to the act of helping others in times of need. The shipment of hogs has demonstrated the unyielding relationship between Okinawa and Hawaii, according to Govenor Ige.

“I pray that this anecdote which portrays the bond between Japan and U.S., ‘the yuimaaru spirit,’ will be handed down from generation to generation,” said Shimabuku.

The spirit of yuimaaru was the foundation of this historic humanitarian effort, mentioned Governor Ige.

“The relief effort that took place 70 years ago is a perfect example of the spirit of yuimaaru,” said Lt. Gen. Eric M. Smith, Okinawa Area Coordinator and the Commanding General of the III Marine Expeditionary Force. “As residents of this beautiful island, we strive to be good neighbors and good guests, and to learn about the local culture both to enrich our time here and to honor our guests.”

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