6 Reasons Why I Loved Chiburu, Lee A. Tonouchi’s New Book About the Hawai‘i-Okinawan Experience

Joyful, hilarious, thoughtful and heartbreaking all at once, the multi-genre collection is a love letter to Okinawan culture.


As a mixed Uchinanchu myself, I was thrilled to dive into Chiburu: Anthology of Hawai‘i Okinawan Literature. Beyond the occasional andagi, visit to Sunrise Restaurant and bon dance, I’ve admittedly been fairly lax in my exploration of the Okinawan culture. It did not disappoint. Read on for a few of the elements that make it a can’t-miss:


Chiburu book cover

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


1. It’s a Passion Project

Spurred by the lack of literary works by Hawai‘i-based Okinawans, local author and playwright Lee A. Tonouchi set about compiling a modern collection. The book opens with Tonouchi, a longtime Frolic Hawai‘i contributor known as “da Pidgin Guerilla,” examining his own experiences growing up as a yonsei or fourth-generation Chiburu (a plantation-era Pidgin term for local Okinawans) and delving into what makes “Okinawan and Naichi (Japanese) diff’rent” beyond stereotypes of country versus high-class attitudes.


2. It’s Not Your Average Anthology

Tonouchi goes far beyond just poetry and prose, including more than 30 contributors who explore Okinawan identity through a wide array of artistic genres. The mix includes everything from a blended Hawaiian-Okinawan chant to play excerpts and song lyrics calling Okinawans back home.


Chiburu food illustrations

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


3. It’s Got Awesome Visuals

Sprinkled among the written pieces, you’ll find fun, often funny, works of graphic art. Keep an eye out for Erica Kunihisa’s comic strip recalling the teasing she received during her hanabata days because of the hairy Uchinanchu stereotype, Mistee N. Uyehara’s (of the Mistprint stationery line) illustrated “no recipie” ashitibichi pig’s feet soup recipe inspired by her grandmother and Okinawan-themed T-shirt designs from Grant Kagimoto of Cane Haul Road.


4. It Reminds Us That We Have to Look Back to Look Forward

The Hawai‘i-Okinawan identity is shaped by a rich, sometimes painful history. Tonouchi gently offers a window to the past with the inclusion of works that reflect on the American military’s occupation of Okinawa, internment camps, political protests and more.


SEE ALSO: Megan Kamalei Kakimoto’s Debut Book Has the Literary World Buzzing


Chiburu comic strip

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


5. It’s Got All the Feels

Reading Chiburu was such a complete experience for me in that its works hit all of the different emotions—joy, wistful nostalgia, pain and pride.


6. It’s So Relatable, No Matter Your Ethnicity

Living in Hawai‘i is such a unique experience that binds all of its immigrant cultures together in a really special way. And no matter what your ethnic background, you’ll likely find some of your own story reflected in the works assembled here. Chiburu is as much a celebration of the Okinawan culture as it is a reminder to celebrate and wholeheartedly dive into yours.


Chiburu: Anthology of Hawai‘i Okinawan Literature, $24.95, available at besspress.com and at Da Shop: Books and Curiosities, 3565 Harding Ave., (808) 421-9460.


Follow Lee A. Tonouchi at @pidginguerilla.


SEE ALSO: Mindy Eun Soo Pennybacker’s “Surfing Sisterhood Hawai‘i” Is a Literary Tidal Wave