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Editor’s Page: Rolling with Change

Learning from lions.


Robbie Dingeman

Black-clad teams of two roll across the green space within Kalihi’s Jikoen Hongwanji Mission hall—again and again—striving for the synchronized rhythm that will allow them to perform as one in shishimai, or Okinawa-style lion dance.


When they tumble together, the maneuver seems simple enough. Hang on to your partner, tumble to the same side at the same speed, then come back up in unison. Step into the lion and everything gets more complicated, and more intriguing. You have to remain in a crouch as you move and remember the proper hand positioning, which changes depending on whether you’re the head or the tail of the pair. In the head, you’re holding up the heaviest part of the lion, which in this case resembles a mischievous and lovable dog. In the head, you see through the eyes and the mouth but need to remember to clap the mouth at the proper time and height, without standing up. When you’re the tail, you hold tightly to your partner’s belt, and keep the costume wrapped around you as you roll.


I stepped into the lion costume as a guest of Hawai‘i Okinawa Creative Arts and at the invitation of director Jon Itomura. So did freelance photographer Leah Friel, who was remarkably game to jump in, even though she hadn’t spoken to any of us before that Sunday afternoon. Itomura helped explain the techniques, training, history and joy of the dance. And that’s one of the best things about being a journalist: On any given day, we delve into our community, talk with people, learn about their lives. I’m fortunate to work with a team of dedicated and creative colleagues who contribute to our magazine in myriad ways. And I’m so grateful to those outstanding colleagues who always jump in, help each other and make every day better.


Lion dance drummer

Jon Itomura and shisaa statues
Photos: leah friel, david croxford


Each month, I’m thankful for the opportunity to help tell the stories of our community, to do meaningful, rewarding and creative work in journalism. For more than 25 years, in daily newspapers, television and this magazine, I’ve been able to write about a wide variety of topics: crime, health, politics, tourism and more. On good days, we help people understand complex issues, shine a light on some things that should change, and meet people on their good and bad days as they persevere and triumph.        


Here at the magazine, the structure of the editorial team of HONOLULU Magazine is being realigned to reflect the changing needs of our magazine and the current realities of the publishing industry. For me, that means I’ve moved to a newly created position of editor at large, where I will focus on timely journalism: writing for both the print and online editions, assisting with editing, collaborating with the rest of the team and getting out in the community more.


Writing about the team from Hawai‘i Okinawa Creative Arts was one of my first stories in the new gig, which already seemed fortunate. When I thanked Itomura for his group’s help, he gave me a pair of small shisaa statues. He tells me they represent guardians from Okinawa: a male with his mouth open, traditionally seated at the right as they face you, warding off evil with the female on the left keeping goodness in. The tiny guardians now gaze up near my computer keyboard. Seems like a good omen.


Got a good story? Reach me at robbied@honolulumagazine.com.




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Honolulu Magazine May 2018
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