I stared at the fifty-person and steadily increasing line for fried green tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market near Diamond Head Saturday morning in complete disbelief. I had never seen so many people – mostly Japanese tourists – in a farmers’ market, let alone waiting patiently before the stands officially opened for commerce before. And for fried green tomatoes?! At our farm, green tomatoes were sold when one accidentally fell off the vine or at the end of the season when it was necessary to harvest all of the remaining fruits before the frost came. So to me, green, unripe tomatoes were certainly not a delicacy, so I found it odd that these Japanese tourists thought they were.
I had woken up at 5:30 in the morning to take a quick shower and get in the car with Mimi, Professor Sharma’s mother, to drive down to the Farmer’s Market. Mimi wanted to buy some orchid plants before they were sold out, so though the market officially opened at 7:30, we got there an hour early. I took off on my own to walk around and found the market to be taking up abour the same size area as our Evanston one back home, but with two times as many vendors selling specialty goods like local honey, coffee and macadamia nuts, and prepared foods such as pizza, strawberry mochi and organic natto. To my dismay, I could only find one vendor that was selling organic, local vegetables and fruits, but they had only a limited variety. I also was saddened by the fact that most of these farms seemed to be owned by local Japanese, not Native Hawaiians or other local groups that are towards the bottom of the social and economic ladder. The vendors were obviously making a significant profit by hiking up their prices for these Japanese tourists who flooded the place. As the sun rose, I found it more and more difficult to navigate through the growing crowds and when I spotted little Japanese children unpacking boxes, I felt nostalgic of the days when Asa, Kazami and I used to help Daddy sell veggies at the Market. I realized that as much as the seafood was fresh and the cuisine tasty here in Hawai’i, I missed the rich taste of Daddy’s veggies immensely. I wished that someday, more of the produce grown in Hawaii would be local and organic…
Exhausted to the point of feeling dizzy, I took a short nap when we returned home. A few hours later, Professor Sharma and I headed down to a local coffee shop to meet and interview a beautiful mixed-Black woman who was studying the correlations between Trinidad and Hawai’i, as well as the connections between the popularity of reggae in Hawai’i and the acceptance of Black people. Our hour-long conversation fascinated me and I loved how open she was about her experiences here. Then we drove to another coffee shop further away from home to interview a mixed-Black young man. I found there to be correlations between these two individuals and when we said our goodbyes and thank yous, I felt a surge of happiness rise within me. These interviews – these life histories and thoughts and interesting takes on life – were so important to relay to the rest of the world. I loved that doing this research made me feel like my professor and I were uncovering secrets of life that no one else had thought before to do.
With this feeling of contentment, I got dropped off at Kapiolani Park to explore the Okinawan Festival being held there. It was gigantic, filled with people, games for children, food and culture stands, and a big stage where Okinawan singers were strumming the sanshin and singing folk songs. After filling my empty stomach with a plate of chumpuru, I gravitated toward the sound of music and found myself by the stage, moving, smiling and closing my eyes to the singer’s voice. It was a voice full of love, purity and protection, but there was a growing sadness and loneliness there, too. I enveloped myself in those emotions and swayed, in a conflicted state of feeling content in family love but missing something – something that I could not pinpoint exactly, a sort of amplified want to just be everything to someone.
Since I was young, I have always had a fascination for Okinawan music, culture, dance and food, and it made me so happy that I was listening to live Okinawan music with an audience full of captivated people, sitting in rows and rows of benches and filling the grass behind them. The woman sitting beside me was clapping her hands, her eyes closed, lips smiling. I looked past her to the stage and beyond that to see a few people dancing, doing the traditional Okinawan dance of waving your hands gracefully above your head. I smiled while moving my way towards them and joined into their group, copying their movements in the empty area in front of the stage. At first I felt self-conscious that the 500 or so people watching were thinking to themselves, this girl obviously does not know how to Okinawan dance, but when I sat down after a few dances, a Japanese local woman who had been filming came up to me, complimented my dancing and asked me if I was Okinawan. I shook my head no, but felt incredibly joyous and accepted into a group that I have always wanted to be part of. When the last song came on, a greater group of people came out from the benches and danced with us. A Japanese, local, middle-aged man in a yukata laughed and made eye contact with me as he threw his hands up into the air to the strums of the sanshin, and all of the dancing people around me were smiling with so much joy. I wanted to capture all of this love and feeling of acceptance inside of me, to feed on it at times of darkness.
As the sun started to set, I explored other parts of the festival. I went to the cultural tent and met a few very nice and helpful University of Hawaii professors that knew Mimi, who also taught there. As I discussed with them my interest in Okinawa and Hawaii, I started to realize that I really loved researching with Professor Sharma and the lifestyle that she leads. She can go after what interests her and interview very interesting people, while also balancing being a wonderful mother to her 2 year old daughter. During my stay in Hawaii, I have been contemplating a future in becoming a professor. I would still be able to write books, but I would also be able to travel and go searching for answers across the world. I always thought that I would need to travel the world alone, before I got married and had children, but observing Professor Sharma has made me realize that it is possible travel the world with my children while still being a great mother. My love and interest in Okinawa is steadily growing, so perhaps the future holds a research project or oral history project on the Okinawan islands.
After exiting the cultural tent, I danced around the yagura and followed the bon dancing to the beat of the taiko drums. By this point, I was exhausted from walking, talking and experiencing and my purse weighed me down as I tried to follow along. The dancing was similar to that of when I went Bon dancing in Tokyo a two years ago and I loved that this crowd of people was so diverse – there were mixed Japanese kids running around, White (haole) adults showing off their dancing skill and even a few Blacks there, who I observed closely for the research project.
I then went on a search for a bathroom and finally found an open public restroom near the beach. On my way back, I came across a gigantic, ancient-looking tree. It was nearing dusk and the sun was setting, a fiery red sky floating on rippling ocean water. I was captivated by this tree that reminded me of the trees I saw on Japanese television that were said to have ancient spirits living within them. As I neared it, I noticed that a grey bird was perched by the base of it. I crept up quietly as to not disturb him and he peered back at me, eyes black and bright. I got so close that if I wanted to, I could reach out and touch his disheveled wings. He looked tired and I could see that his little head was trembling. I wondered if he was hurt and whispered softly that I would not hurt him. Still, he continued to look back at me with eyes full of wisdom. I wondered if he was the spirit of the tree disguised as a bird, and as we looked at each other, I felt as if his eyes held the secrets of the world. I listened, but I could not hear. We sat for a while, in silence, pensive, but then I moved slightly and he squawked and flew away. I was thankful that he had trusted me for so long and thought perhaps that was the lesson – to have more trust in others, and in myself.
As I walked back, I passed a tent full of taiko dancers from Okinawa and Hawai’i. A middle-aged Japanese local man approached me as I looked at the poster and told me that they would be performing the next day with Suguru Ikeda, a well-known singer and songwriter from the islands off the coast of Japan. I had observed them earlier, practicing, and was blown away by the power of his voice and the beauty of the taiko dancing. I learned from the man that he had become involved in learning this art through his daughter. I thought it was very interesting and important that local Japanese who perhaps are not as exposed to Japanese culture were now learning these cultural practices and are performing them in the community. He was an incredibly kind man and told me that I should come out to learn as well. Unfortunately, the next practice would not be until after I left Hawaii, so I cannot, but I vowed to come back and learn someday. As we were talking, a middle-school aged boy came up to us and offered us andagi, an Okinawan donut, and as I thanked him profusely and enjoyed the fried, sugary goodness of this delicious dessert, I was filled with love for the open and accepting people of Hawai’i.
Exhausted, I waited for Professor Sharma, Mimi and Maya to pick me up in the car to go to a restaurant by a pond behind the large stage building where I had danced before a few hours ago. I lay down and watched the ducks pass through the reflected light coming from the back of the stage building – silent and peaceful forms.
Then I got picked up by the road and we went to watch one of the men that we interviewed perform blues. Mimi and I instantly loved the music. He had been a street musician for a long while and had once played with John Hooker, and his voice was deep and full of play, not a voice of perfection, but one that was beautiful because of its imperfections. I thought of Daddy as he turned “No Woman, No Cry” into a blues song, strumming his electric guitar with expertise, hitting the bass with his foot and a tambourine with the other. I turned around in my seat to watch and tapped my feet on the ground, wanting to get up and dance. The fact that I was in a crowded restaurant was the only deterrent to this wish of mine.
Maya was dancing happily too, until she slipped and hit her chin on the table. She started to cry so Professor Sharma took her out of the restaurant for a bit. When she came back, she was in Professor Sharma’s arms, asleep. I felt the exhaustion fill me then, from this busy but very fun day and I looked up at the blues-playing musician, with his guitar that was chipping paint and graying dreads, and I remembered that old, disheveled looking gray bird I saw in that ancient tree. Their eyes were both so full of wisdom and I knew then that I had found what I wanted to do with my life: I wished to collect the secrets of the world through old, worn down but still bright, wise eyes.