As promised, this past week I visited the Hawaii Okinawa Center to get a look at their museum and library. The center is run by the Hawaii United Okinawan Association (HUOA), which was established in 1951 by immigrants from Okinawa and its outlying islands, and now numbers 40,000 members in the Hawaiian islands.
Since I am still waiting on my contacts for the Micronesian children’s book project, I want to try to at least storyboard a few ideas for children’s books based on Okinawan culture. Luckily I am half Okinawan and so there is far less ethical concerns with me taking on this type of project, i.e. no cultural appropriation.
In any case, the HOC is comprised of two main buildings and a Japanese-style garden. The larger of the two buildings is rented out for banquets and events, while the other building houses administrative offices and basically everything else. As such, the museum is fairly small. There are a few shelves of books on Okinawa — all in Japanese, — a decent array of shisa (pictured below), Ryuukyuuan glassware, a karate photo gallery, and tools and artifacts from issei (first-generation) immigrants.
I was mainly interested in the shisa, which are a sort of lion-dog hybrid in Okinawan mythology (filtered from Chinese guardian lions). These statues are found at most entryways in Okinawa, usually as pairs: one with mouth open, the other closed, representing the retention of good spirits and the warding away of evil from the household or building. I would love to do some sort of trilogy of children’s books focusing on the shisa: 1) its origin myth, 2) an explanation of the traditional pairing and the open/closed aesthetics, and 3) a modern-day adventure story in Hawaii.
The origin of the shisa has several different versions, but the one I like best is about a village by the sea that is plagued by a vicious sea dragon. When a visiting king learns of the village’s troubles, he entrusts a small stone shisa to one of the local children. The next time the dragon returns, the stone shisa begins to vibrate and shake, a loud roaring ripping apart the sky. From the tiny statue, a giant shisa appears and his next roar is so powerful that it knocks loose a massive boulder from heaven, which crushes the dragon in one fatal blow. The shisa disappears but the small stone statue remains, entirely in tact. From then on, to keep the village safe from harm shisa statues are erected around the city as guardians against evil.
What a rad story. (I think the hardest part will be explaining that random boulder falling.)
I’ll try to post more as the storyboarding progresses. It is hard to fit in all the research and work around the novel I’m working on (which is my priority), but this might be a good way to get my work out in the local lit scene, and much more quickly than a novel manuscript. I have a meeting with the Executive Director of HUOA for after the annual Okinawan festival in August, so hopefully things will start picking up from there!
I’ll go back to more general posts about writing next week, mostly because I’m in the midst of a very frustrating chapter (and swamped in these side projects). Everything seems a bit random on this blog right now but as things progress I’m hoping it will all come together. And, if not, meh.