Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Gentle Okinawans

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Last night as my friends and I were enjoying our evening meal outdoors behind our hotel, we began reflecting on the people of Okinawa and how different their culture is from the one which we left behind in America.  The Okinawans go out of their way to be patient and understanding, a trait that has not necessarily served them well in the course of their history  - having been overrun by three dominant cultures in the last couple of thousand years (the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Americans) - but that is who they are.

The first place that I noticed the difference was on the roads.,  When an Okinawan puts on his turn signal, it means that he needs to turn or change lanes, and he does.  Americans spend much of their first year on the island going ballistic over the way the locals drive, because we are used to hogging the road and seeing every other driver as a personal challenge.  Driving for Okinawans is more of a community affair.  If someone needs to change lanes, they slow up and let them in.  Americans, on the other hand, tend to automatically speed up and block the other driver.  They let the next driver worry about it.

Okinawan children seem to be instinctively sweet.  Tantrums just don't happen, at least not in public.  They grow up with the realization that any bad behavior reflects poorly on the whole family, so it just does not occur.  Last night as I was walking back into the hotel, two very little boys and their older sister, who was about five, walked through the door just as I did.  I smiled at the playful youngsters, and the little girl smiled back and said in a cheerful voice, "It's very nice to meet you."  I greeted her similarly, amazed that she probably already had a much better grasp of my language than I will ever have of hers.

And the adult Okinawans are polite and well mannered.  I have never encountered an Okinawan who was obviously angry or out of control.  Again, that is just who they are.

Okinawa was literally razed by the Japanese and Americans as World War II was ending, but its people have come back - not with a vengeance, but with a warm and accepting attitude toward all who tread their lush green hills and sandy beaches.  The Japanese have come in with their resort hotels, the Koreans have brought in Pachinko Parlors, and the Americans have built many military bases - and the Okinawans have welcomed them all - all the while maintaining their simple and sincere identity.

It has been my privilege to have lived here twice.  I have benefited from the experience.

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