Typhoon Wipha ravaged coastal towns along Japan’s east coast on October 16, 2013, and the hardest hit place was Ohshima Island, a sister city of Hawai‘i County. Wipha brought torrential rains – a record-breaking 33 inches in 24 hours – that caused flooding and mudslides that destroyed nearly 300 homes. 32 deaths have been reported and nine people were missing in the most recent report.
As Ohshima’s only sister city, the County of Hawai‘i joined the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Hawai‘i, Japanese Community Association, and Kona Japanese Civic Association in the Aloha Ohshima relief drive. The drive has been extended through the end of January 2014, bolstered by a recent donation of $1,000 from the JCCIH. Donations to “Aloha Ohshima” will continue to be accepted at Bank of Hawai‘i branches statewide.
In Japanese, Ohshima means “big island” – so it’s fitting that Ohshima Island’s only international sister city relationship is with Hawai‘i’s Big Island. Though Ohshima is much smaller than Hawai‘i Island – about 35 square miles with a population of 8,200 – it is home to waterfalls, valleys, and Mt. Mihara, an active volcano 2,507 feet tall. Located 75 miles south of Tokyo, Ohshima is the largest island in the Izu group, over a dozen islands extending south from the Izu Peninsula.
The County of Hawai‘i’s sister city relationship with Ohshima Island was initiated in 1962 by the Board of Supervisors, the predecessor to today’s County Council. The Chairman and Executive Officer of the Board of Supervisors, the predecessor to the office of the Mayor, was Thomas K. ‘Lofty’ Cook. Members of the Board of Supervisors at the time were Wing Kong ‘Winkie’ Chong, Elroy Osorio, Helene Hale, Sherwood Greenwell, Ikuo Hisaoka, and Elias Yadao.
A monument commemorating the sister city relationship was erected in 1992, the 30th anniversary of the relationship, in Lili‘uokalani Gardens, by Ohshima Mayor Nagaharu Shimizu.
The most recent visit to Hawai‘i Island by friends from Ohshima Island was in October 2012. Mayumi Jinguh and Zen Tanaka of Ohshima visited on behalf of Mayor Masafumi Kawashima, delivering a letter and a 50th anniversary gift – a copper relief depicting a rainbow bridge between Hawai‘i Island and Ohshima Island. Tanaka, the 19th master of a 414-year-old copper craftsmanship school, started his work with copper when he was 15 years old. The people of Ohshima Island, including Mayor Masafumi Kawashima, participated in crafting the piece.