One of the first things we should consider when meeting anyone from Okinawa is even though Okinawa is Japan's 47th prefecture (as of 1879); the Japanese and Okinawan cultures are very different. The Japanese name for the largest island of the Ryukyu archipelago is Okinawa, but in their native hogen (dialect), they pronounce it Uchina and people are Uchinanachu. The actual translation of Okinawa is "Rope in the open water." Because of their natural sea-fairing abilities and the trade agreements with other countries, the Okinawans became used to foreign visitors.
Okinawans are a very warm hearted, kind, honest, and respectful people. But in order for one to bridge the language barrier, patience is required.

For starters, one must work on effective communication. This means being a good speaker as well as an exceptional listener. When speaking, try to remember the listener's age, their background, and position in the community. Also take into account the listener's knowledge, feelings, and their response to your communication. It's important to listen more and speak less so there is no misunderstanding. When listening, give your undivided attention; As in western society, it is considered rude to rush or interrupt the speaker. Give a positive reaction if you agree and if you don't, try to say something positive. Yawning indicates that you are bored and is not a good display of humility, so in public and in class, stifle your yawns. When in public, talk to others with a natural smile and cheerful voice. Remain calm and try not to be assertive or loud.

Ojigi (bowing) is a very important gesture that shows both politeness and respect. The lower or deeper the bow, the greater the respect. "Koshi ga hiku" means "Your waist is low" and is considered a compliment. Remember the three different ojigi; the 15-degree bow is for passing someone on the street or could be the equivalent of "Hello" or "Yes sir". The 30-degree bow is lower and indicates more respect for the person. The 45-degree bow indicates the greatest respect, appreciation, or apology.


When sitting, you can sit in seiza (formal sitting) or anza (cross leg sitting). Do not sit with your feet out and toward the teacher or anyone else. This is considered very rude.
When eating, it is polite to say "Itadakimasu" (which is like saying "Bon appetite") and when finished, you can add "Oishiikata" (It was delicious). If you eat somewhere with hashi (chopsticks), there are also rules to follow. Do no spear your food. Never use them to point or gesture. Don't stick them straight up in a bowl of rice, because this turns the food into an offering for the dead. Do not hold the hashi and a bowl in the same hand. Do not use the used end of them to pick up food, just reverse them. Don't pass food with hashi; it is how they pass the bones of the dead. Also, do not blow your nose or chew gum during conversations or at meals. When drinking at the beginning of the meal, you may say "Kampai" (Cheers).

When receiving a compliment, you may respond in one of two ways. The traditional "Arigato gozaimashita", which we know means "Thank you very much", or you can respond more modestly by saying "Iie, heta desu", which means, "No, I'm poor at it", or you can even respond in English like you would normally do. Try to avoid excessive compliments, which may be embarrassing.
Please understand that this is just a small amount of information about the Okinawan culture and it would take a long time to truly understand these extremely kind and generous people. A common expression on Okinawa is "I chare muru chode" (Once we meet, we are all siblings).

Dr. Joyce Trafton, University of Maryland, Asian Division.
Tim Richardson, Richardson Karate-Kobudo Dojo


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