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One Man's Dream - Aloha from Hawaii to Okinawa

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-10-30

In the year 1900, the first Okinawans arrived in Hawaii to work as laborers on pineapple and sugar plantations, hoping to find a better life to replace the one they left behind. Those early Okinawan immigrants took with them a custom known as yuimaru, which helped them to stick together and work as a community. Because of their cooperative efforts, many descendants of those early immigrants were able to escape the hard life of Hawaii's plantations. Some went on to receive an education and later became influential politicians and businessmen. As success unfolded for the Okinawan community in Hawaii, relatives of those first immigrants who were left behind in Okinawa faced their own hardships - the ravages of war had taken its toll on the entire island. Many uchinanchu found it difficult to try and piece back together their lives; but for one Okinawan the success of his ancestors in Hawaii became a source of inspiration for him in his desire to succeed at home.

Sitting in the living room of his new house in Yomitan Village, overlooking the Aloha Golf Course, Eitoku Ikehara explained to Japan Update how he came to build one of the first off-base golf courses in Okinawa.

Born in 1930, Ikehara experienced much of traditional rural life in Okinawa. Thirty years earlier his ancestors were among the first to have left Okinawa for Hawaii. He remembers wanting to go to Hawaii as a child. "My relatives would send wrapped candy chocolates when I was in elementary school. Back then that was something big," recalled Ikehara. "I used to scrub and clean the house just so that I could get one! Hawaii was a place that I always admired."

At the impressionable age of fifteen, Ikehara saw, with his own eyes, the devastation and destruction of war. He managed to survive, and like many Okinawans he worked hard to forget the memories of those early years. He learned English and eventually earned a job as translator on one of the US Military Bases. Ikehara also became an entrepreneur and started his own propane gas business. As a young adult, however, he still dreamt of one day visiting Hawaii.

In 1970 his dream came true when he, his wife, and other family members joined a tour to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first Okinawans to arrive in Hawaii - an event that was directly related to his own ancestors' history. During that tour Ikehara met his Okinawan relatives in Hawaii for the first time. As fate would have it, he was taken to play golf at several different golf courses during that stay. Listening carefullly to his relatives advice about business, Ikehara decided that a golf course in Okinawa would be a good business venture.

"I was so impressed by the palm trees and the greenery all around. I wanted to create something similar in Okinawa," Ikehara recalled.

Upon returning to Okinawa, Ikehara was able to purchase a large piece of land from his father-in-law. He credited his late wife for giving him the courage to sell his propane gas business and take out a bank loan, enabling him to buy the land. "If it wasn't for my wife, I would have never done that. She gave me the support I needed," said Ikehara.

At first the location was only large enough to use as a golf practice area, but Ikehara still held on to his dream of owning his own golf course. A few years later Ikehara was able to buy another adjoining piece of land that brought the total area to 25,000 tsubo - something unheard of during that time. He sat down, drew a blueprint, and rented a bulldozer. The former propane gas man designed and landscaped an entire nine-hole golf course on his own. He appropriately named it the "Aloha" Golf Course.

"Everyone laughed at me when they first learned that I was making a golf course. No one thought that I could succeed," said Ikehara.

In 1975, Ikehara made a second trip back to Hawaii to thank his relatives for the support and encouragement they gave him. For several years he struggled, but eventually the Aloha Golf Course became a symbol of Okinawan determination and ingenuity. Since that first opening day, thousands of Americans and Okinawans have walked the fairways of Ikehara's dream. He has also re-designed the course several times, making it one of the favorite short courses on Okinawa.

Today, like his first impressions of the golf courses he saw in Hawaii, the Aloha Golf Course is green and filled with beautiful palm trees. Ikehara knows the name of each type of tree he has on his land. He checks the grounds every morning and plays nine holes about three times a week.

Ikehara plans on returning to Hawaii next year for the 100th anniversary of the first arrival of Okinawan immigrants. This time around, however, it may be Ikehara giving away the wrapped chocolate candies.

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