Last week, Norman, Keith, and I went to Vegas to visit and talk with some Shimanchu there. Our connection actually began a while ago on past trips as we had found a really good and reasonable Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in the Bally’s Hotel on the strip. “Ichiban” is owned by Akemi Yabu who is originally from Nago, who then moved to San Fransisco, and finally to Vegas where she now owns and operates this restaurant and a Hawaiian jewelry boutique “Lono”. Our little vacation didn’t begin so well, as all of us only deposited to Vegas’ income, but Norman and I found time away from the casinos at Las Vegas Ski and Resort, which was only 40 minutes away at Lee Canyon. This was Norman’s first time in snow. We found a partially broken, abandoned sled roadside and did a little sledding. The snow was very dry and powdery so we couldn’t even make a snowman. Getting back to the bustling city, we met Keith for dinner at Lawry’s, and then went to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka”. The finale of the trip was meeting and having a “mou ashibi” with shimanchu who have moved to “Sin City” from other parts of the U.S. and Hawai`i, or direct from Okinawa. They were mostly Okinawa-born, and had not heard live sanshin music in decades. Norman and Keith opened with Kajadifu. It was evident that the nostalgic sound of the sanshin live touched the hearts and souls of these shimanchu, as tears rolled down everyone’s faces. Their happiness was clearly shown as they participated in non-stop dancing and singing. More tears were shared as we got into the warabi uta section and also in the end with Norman singing “Natsukashiki Furusato” and me singing “Uya nu Uchina”. You could see in the faces and reactions, the true love for their identity and culture. One lady said it was like bringing Okinawa to them. It really makes us realize that we have things pretty good here in Hawai`i. For these shimanchu who have been separated from their homeland for so long, it brings back pride in who they are. Sometimes, we take alot of things for granted, and don’t realize how lucky we are to be able to be around our culture so easily. More and more, Ukwanshin’s mission is expanding its routes to take the culture of LooChoo to the many places that the winds of our ancestors blow us to. Its hard to explain but it seems like our path is being chosen by them. I guess like the song “Miitubuni,” we must not fight against, but work together through the seas as we carry the message and treasures of our ancestors so that LooChoo/Okinawa will be better understood and shared, not only with the Okinawan community, but with the rest of the world. We would like to send out our heartfelt Aloha and Mahalo to Akemi, for her support of Ukwanshin, and we look forward to meeting again. On your next visit to Vegas, be sure to visit Restaurant Ichiban in the Bally’s Hotel on the Pool level right across from the sports bar. Tell them that we sent you.