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Building an Okinawa - French Connection

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-09

Delicious wine and great food are some of the images we conjure up when thinking of France. The French language is always portrayed as romantic, and Paris is often the setting of many novels. Lovers of the French culture might think being in Okinawa has cut off any possible access to the European country, but one dedicated individual has created an opportunity to discover France here in Okinawa.

Miguel DeJesus is the founder and President of the Okinawa French Association. Miguel began the project in July of 1997 after having taught French here on the island for a few years. Their first official meeting was held on November 3 of 1997. The group now has over 50 members, most of whom are Okinawan. There are also members from New Zealand, the United States, Korea, and of course, France. Miguel explained how he first came upon the idea to start the association, "I met a lot of people in Okinawa interested in France and the French language, so I thought it would be good to have everyone in the same association for cultural activities to promote French culture in Okinawa, and Okinawan culture in France."

The 27 year old Frenchman was born in Quimper, a small city located in the northern part of France. Miguel was no stranger to foreign places even at a young age. His father, who was born in Portugal, was a member of the French Foreign Legion, and his job took young Miguel and his mother to French Guyana in South America for five years. They returned to France, where Miguel spent the rest of his young years mostly in his home town of Quimper.

It was through karate that Miguel became interested in Okinawa. Studying Goju Ryuu for many years in France, his sensei suggested he visit Okinawa. He first arrived on the island in 1992. Miguel was able to attain a cultural visa, and he studied and trained at the "Higashionna Karate Dojo" for two years. He then met his future Okinawan wife, Ayako, who is now an English teacher at Yorimiya Junior High School in Naha City. He considers Okinawa his "home", and thanks his karate instructor for giving him the "passion for Okinawa". "I like the personal relations here the best. Okinawa has a warm climate and warm people."

The Okinawa French Association's main goal is to bring together people who are interested in French culture and in meeting other people. "It is not an association to speak French. You do not have to learn French to join the organization. It is a chance to meet good people and have fun," said Miguel. The association is also a hub for information exchange between Okinawa and France. "If you are going to France and are willing to promote Okinawa, we will give you the help. We can supply information about tourism, study and culture," he further explained. They also have contact with the Okinawa Association in France, the French Consulate in Tokyo, and with consulates in other countries around the world. The cost for membership is 3,000 a year, which includes a quarterly newsletter and free events.

Miguel's association has already hosted a few big events, including a reception party for French painter Michel Henry in November of 1997. "He was very happy to come to Okinawa and discover Okinawan culture. He was very impressed by Okinawan bingata," added Miguel. They will be hosting another famous French artist, when Georges Monin comes to Okinawa from April 28 until May 4. The artist's work will also be on exhibit at Ryubo Department store in Naha, on the fourth floor at the "Bijutsu Salon".

The Okinawa French Association is also planning many other cultural activities and exchanges in the future. "We would like to do a French Festival here in Okinawa with art, music, and food. There are many different cultures within France, and it would be nice to bring those groups from the different areas," explained Miguel. The association was recently contacted by a French art teacher to do an exchange of art work between Okinawan Junior High School students and French Junior High school Students. "Maybe in the future we can do an exchange of people," said Miguel. His organization is also supplying helpful information, and providing important contacts for a Taiko drum group that will be going to France in July.

Anyone interested in joining the Okinawa French Association, or simply wishes to seek more information can contact Miguel at 010-940-2734.

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