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Protectorate God Shi-Sa Arrives at Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai

• Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai received a pair of shi-sa, lion-like figures of saint dolls. Ikuko Nicols, who is a civilian ambassador between Chicago and Okinawa and a member of the Kenjinkai, calls the shi-sa as “Spirit of Okinawa” and “Spirit of Love”. A pair of shi-sa is the protectorate god of Okinawans and often seen at the gate or roof of a house in Okinawa.

• Nicols wanted a pair for the Kinjinkai’s 50th anniversary coming in 2016, so she applied for a grant to the International Exchange Department of Okinawa Prefectual Government. She thought that she would be able to buy a pair with the grant and introduce them at Japan Festival and Mitsuwa summer festival.
• The grant was approved on April 2nd, but the notice was delivered to her on June 13, after Japan Festival. She took an immediate action to buy a pair from Okinawa, but the cost was too high. Finally, she found the right person to obtain a pair. Keiko Yonaha, who was a member of the Kenjinkai from 2011 and returned to Okinawa last May, offered that she could arrange for handmade shi-sa. Yonaha was an Okinawa dance teacher and choreographer who led her school team to win Education Minister’s award for the third year in a row. Nicols was delighted and paid $2,400 from her own fund for shi-sa materials.

• It was not easy for Nicols to find a way to obtain shi-sa from Chicago, and it took her more than a month. The International Exchange Department required her to host an event by using the grant and submit a report within a month, but the time was too short. She asked the department officials to postpone the report submission, but the department canceled the grant saying that the rule was the rule.

• Beleaguered Nicols called Yonaha and explained everything. Yonaha kindly said that she would make a pair and there was no need to pay more. Later Nicols found that the cost was $12,500.

• Yonaha completed a pair of shi-sa in three months and was going to host a charity concert to raise funds. At the same time she was going to hold a presentation ceremony of shi-sa to Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai on October 4.
• In Okinawa, there were many events in October, so the ticket sale wasn’t good. Nicols wrote a letter to the relatives of the Kenjinkai members to come to the concert. She also wrote to the Village President of Yomitanson, where Yonaha was born. She wrote to the officials of the Department, too.
• Nicols looked for donators, and Masako Pacey generously gave her $1,000. Misako Honjo, who used to work at airlines, offered to go Okinawa with Nicols and took care of transportation for a pair of huge shi-sa.

• Despite a typhoon, about 450 people came to the concert. All the people to whom Nicols wrote came. A person who could not attend had brought a ticket fee with a souvenir in advance to the concert hall. The Village President sent a big bouquet of flowers, and the officials came to the concert.
• The concert was successful, and the audience enjoyed folk songs, a children’s play in the Okinawan dialect, flute and piano duo, and more.

• Although the concert was successful, they were still short by $1,700. Nicles offered to Yonaha to pay that amount. At that moment, Nicols’ former boss came to see her and brought her $10,000. He was a doctor of a mental health hospital where graduate student Nicols had worked. The doctor obtained his doctoral degree in clinical psychology in the U.S. Nicols paid $1,700 to Yonaha and returned the rest of the money to the doctor.

• The pair of shi-sa arrived at Chicago without any scratch. Yonaha promised to choreograph shi-sa-dance.
• Nicols said, “Everything was done by people’s support, and blessed shi-sa flew the sky to Chicago. I’ll never forget about the people who helped me when I was having a hard time. Now the pair of shi-sa is a symbol of Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai, and I wish younger members will dance with shi-sa.”


A pair of shi-sa presented to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai


The face of shi-sa

Ikuko Nicoles, Civilisan Ambassador


Ikuko Nicols (L) and Keiko Yonaha