Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Okinawan Music is a Mix of Both Folk and Pop in Many Cases

The term New Okinawan Music indicates a genre that started to gain vitality around the end of WWII and emerged after Shimauta (Island folk songs). Especially during the 1990's though when the younger generation of Okinawan musicians drew the attention of the World Music scene by creating the genre called Okinawan Pops. New Okinawan Music covers a wide range of styles and is difficult to define precisely. Recently I received comments about classifying Rimi Natsukawa's covers of Shimauta as Minyo. I guess when it comes right down to it it would be Okinawan pop even though it is based on somewhat on folk music and Shimauta. For the most part we refer to the more recent music made by the younger musicians as being Okinawan pop but it is still based on their strong ties to the traditional culture of Okinawa much as Okinawan folk music. Overall there is an amazing amount of diversity and styles covered by these young musicians. It is a distinctive and original mix of influences from the world's jazz, pops, rock, 60's style folk music, country and Latin music laid on a foundation of traditional Okinawan music.

New Okinawan Music is now created by musicians who have incorporated Okinawan elements into their music. This does not mean they only sing songs about Okinawa but means that they use the elements of music that they have been exposed to as they grew up. American music has been a great influence on them as has Japanese pop so just because they may be from Okinawa does not mean they will limit their creativity to Okinawa specific materials. Still we see many elements of their culture incorporated into this new form of Okinawan Music. One of my favorite songs in this category is "Kizuna" by Orange Range which I feel embodies the modern spirit of the Okinawan people. There are still cultural ties that will draw these musicians to create songs like this even though they also play more modern music. Many songs still express Okinawan elements referred to use the traditional Ryukyuan music scale, and exhibit a background of Okinawa's history and society in their composition.

Musicians such as the Rinken Band, Shokichi Kina's Champloos, the Ne Nes, and Yukito Ara and Pasha Club utilize Okinawan scale in their music, were raised in homes with a lot of exposure to Okinawan music or had parents active in the traditional music scene. Still others that have incorporated the cultural background came out of the Koza rock scene near the military bases in the 1970's. They include musicians such as Murasaki and Condition Green which were some of my favorites during my time in Okinawa. Here is a video I put together because of their influence.

The definition of New Okinawan music also includes such people as those emigrants overseas before the war whose children grew up with influences from Okinawa and those who convey a longing for their roots in Okinawa. A good example of this is Diamantes.

The new music also encompasses the 60's style folk music that expresses the realistic side of Okinawa, an example of which would be Yutaka Sadoyama and the Okinawa Folk Mura.

The great difficulty in defining the actual edges of New Okinawan Music is that currently there is so much being created today with basic Okinawan elements. Some that might be hard to distinguish but are there none the less. So please don't take offense if someone misclassifies Okinawan music because as Okinawa's music becomes more and more worldly it is transforming the boundaries of Okinawa's music. Appreciate it for what it is and enjoy the cultural aspects that are being blended to affect people throughout the world in positive ways.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ohio Tomonokai Will Hold a Special Okinawan Dance Event on May 1st.

I know it's suppose to be food day but I received an email from Mark Fiedler who is with the Ohio-Okinawa Association and he had information he asked me to pass along.. In the email he asked that we help inform the masses of people out there who may be interested in attending an Okinawan dance recital. My wife and I will be attending this event and would urge everyone who enjoys Okinawan culture to try and attend the event. The show will feature two Living Treasures of Okinawa. Grand Masters Chie Tamagusuku and Shizue Matayoshi. I have attached the fyler to this posting in hopes some of you out there may consider attending. Hope to see you there.

Dear Friends & Supporters,

Invitation to Attend!

I have been asked to provide you with the attached brochure. As I’m sure your aware The Ohio-Okinawa Association is a non-profit consortium of Ohioans that have cultural or hereditary ties to Okinawa, Japan. The Association serves the Ohio community through its participation in various Asian festivals, charity activities, school, church, and corporate events throughout Ohio, playing traditional instruments, displaying kimonos and Okinawa dance.

This year the club will celebrate its 15th anniversary which will culminate with the Ohio Wesleyan dance recital. It is our request you circulate this flyer to your contacts, members and friends as appropriate, thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kaida Moji’s Mystery an English Translation of a Japanese Article

The following is an article I found in a JTA Coralway magazine that I thought would be appropriate for our human interest story for Sunday. The magazine was one of those free magazines in the seat pouch of an airliner we were flying on back in 2003 during a visit to Okinawa. The article was entirely in Japanese but with a bit of help from my friends, Yoneko and Kay, it is being presented here in Translation to English. The article is titled "Kaida Moji’s Mystery" and was written by Masao Higa. I have scanned the pictures from the book to go along with the posting. By left clicking on the image you can view them in a larger format. Simply use your back button to return to the posting after viewing. The pictures were taken by photographer Norimi Kengo. I take no credit for this article but feel that this is information that should be presented to non-japanese speakers as well. There are many Uchinanchu people who live outside of Japan that no longer have the ability to speak Japanese so this is being provided as in English to help them understand some of their cultural heritage.

Yonaguni Island is home to a strange zoukei moji (alphabets which are based on representational shapes). In modern culture, Kaida moji is a term used to reference patterns on bandanas. However, until 1885 (Meiji 18), Kaida moji was actually used as a form of communication before official schools were established. This language was integrated very closely with certain Islanders of Okinawa. So what exactly is this Kaida moji? Anthropologists flew to find out.

Each Island in the Ryukyu chain lives and breathes its own traditional manners and customs. There are numerous origins and mysteries behind these established customs. However, when we ask the islanders of these origins, there is a sentiment that too much time has passed to uncover their ancestors’ thought process. Kaida moji is another example where many years have passed and information has been lost over the generations. In mid-July, I journeyed out to Okinawa with the hopes to solve these mysteries.

Kaida Moji is just one alphabet originating from the Yaeyama region. According to the Okinawa Dictionary (created by the “Okinawa Times Corp”). Kaida moji is different from kanji, and was used in Yonaguni Island. It was referred to as Yonaguni Kaida moji; however, it was used all over the Yaeyama Islands.

During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, an established form of writing did not exist. However, natives created various symbols to communicate messages from the kingdom to the people. One example includes a symbol used to notify everyone when the kingdom was collecting taxes. In 1893 (Meiji 25), an adventurist by the name of Sasamori Gisuke traveled to Yonaguni Island and saw this Kaida moji. Gisuke also documented what he witnessed in his book, “Minami Island Exploration.”

Do the elders of the Island remember Kaida moji?

We departed from Naha and headed toward Ishigaki Island. Before crossing to Yonaguni Island, we stopped by the Kihouen Boshukan (museum) on Taketomi Island in hopes of also meeting Toru Uesedo, the museum director. Unfortunately, we were unable to. However, we were able to see various records. The next day we journeyed off to Yonaguni Island. It’s been 20 years since I’ve visited this Island. I can only fathom how it has changed.

Twenty years ago, it was 1975 (Showa 50) and I was in north Japan for an international expo. I had established an Okinawa exhibit called “Umiya Karaishi” to showcase native Okinawan tools. That was for a research project I conducted 49 years ago with my friend and artist, Seitoku Oshiro. On that trip, I remember looking down from a small, two-motored plane. We were near the airport by a sugar factory and I could see the smoke stacks not too far ahead. I remember feeling a little worried about the flight, but we landed safely on Yonaguni Island. Now, twenty years later, I looked down below me at Hatoma Island as we left Ishigaki Island and in thirty minutes, once again, I’ve landed back on Yonaguni Island.

First, I visited the Yonaguni heritage office and inquired about Yonashiro. I wanted to know more about Kaida moji so I asked him to introduce me to some native Islanders. He had three individuals in mind, all who were over 70 years old, and so I immediately decided to visit them.

However, when we arrived and introduced ourselves, I felt the same sentiment; that too much time has passed to recollect these precious meanings. I felt stuck at a dead-end. Out of the three, there was only one who barely had a memory about Kaida moji. His name was Yuko Kubura and he currently lives in Sonai.

Kubura was born in 1928 (Showa 3), and is 75 years old. His family and he came from a farming background. Talking to him was beneficial in discovering various farming techniques used in the past. Kubura remembered seeing Kaida moji and the wooden blocks they were written on, but had no recollection of how it was used. After hearing his stories, I thought maybe that wooden block will soon become the key to finding the next step in solving this mystery.

The Purpose Behind the Danuhan Mark

The yaaban (also known as: ya no han) are visible not only on Yonaguni Island, but also on Taketama Island and the majority of the Yaeyama Islands. This is a certain mark used to distinguish one’s tools from another. Just like emblems are branded on Shogun shields, each house had a separate yaaban mark.

In Yonaguni Island, this yaaban mark is called a “danuhan.” In the Yonaguni dialect, a mountain is called a “dama,” and night is referred to as “duru”… in other parts of the Ryukyu Island, various alphabet sounds are slightly altered depending on the region of the Islands. For example, ヤ、イユイヨ=ディ、ドゥ、デ、ド thus ‘Yanuhan’ became ‘Danuhan’ due to a difference in these dialects.

However, the Danuhan mark seems to not have served a prominent role in the Yonaguni Island due to the fact that we only see these marks used on the backs of plates, trays, and cooking utensils. So exactly how was this mark used, and what does it mean? During large parties, it was frequent that one would borrow plates, utensils and various other cookwares from relatives and neighbors. Therefore, the mark became useful when it was time to return borrowed goods to their appropriate owners. In Kuberyou –san’s house, he has a tray with the danuhan mark on it still.

Until recently, there was another term, “mimi ban” that served a similar purpose as the yaaban and danuhan marks. Mimiban was something other than an alphabetical mark, it was a shape cut in the back of a cow’s ear to differentiate and decide which cows belonged to which owners. The yaaban and mimiban are not letters for an alphabet, but rather symbols.

Yaaban and Kaida Moji Collaborate to form Communication

According to historical documents, the yaaban marks also served more purposes other than distinguishing individuals’ homes.

“Nanpou Bunka No Tankyu” (South Culture Research, published in 1939) and its sequel published in 1942 are two books authored by Kaomura Tadao, and contain important documentations to understand the nature of the Showa 10 era.

In these documents, we found that Kaida moji was used not just for government or tax purposes for the emperor, rather it was also used to communicate in regular homes; and specific examples are recorded. In addition, how Kaida moji served to be beneficial was recorded along with photographic evidence of Kaida moji written on paper.

In his book, Kaomura documents Kaida moji representing marine products such as fish and octopus. On the other hand, he also specifies agricultural produce such as potatoes and green onions. In addition, grains such as rice and chestnuts are also depicted. Moreover, examples of Kaida moji are documented to represent quantity, measurement and (price) units using figures that look like pictures. Here is an example:

These symbols can be translated to the following meaning = First symbol represents the Irimatsuda (person’s) yaaban, and the last symbol = Kominuke’s yaaban. The symbols in between translate to “8 ropes, 2 units of chestnut, 1 bundle of bamboo, and please send it to Yanbarusen”

From, Komine

According to Kaomura, the use of danuhan and yaaban spread all throughout the Island.

The Meaning Behind Kaida Moji

How was the danuhan, yaaban, and Kaida moji used together on the Island as a means to communicate? On the way back from Yonaguni Island, we crossed over to Taketomi Island again to help accurately answer this question more.

Luckily, we were able to meet Kihouin Boushu museum’s director, Toro Uesedo. Also, the Kihoukan Taketomi’s yaaban was displayed at the museum along with examples of wooden name posts (“ita-fuda”) written in Kaida moji, and on the bottom of baskets. In addition, we saw documents from the kingdom to the islanders written with Kaida moji which were delivered to individual homes.

Moreover, according to the Jousei Tou museum director’s explanation, we found differences in the way Taketomi Islanders and Yonaguni Islanders created their yaabans. In Yonaguni andTaketomi, danuhan and yaaban were symbols used to understand the relationship between the head house and branch house (houses of the second, or third son, etc). The natives used to place a mark on the head house.

Nevertheless, what does the “Kaida” in Kaida moji stand for?

Some documents presume that Kaida was put there on the island by the government office which was called kaiya during the Ryukyu Kingdom era. Due to various accents circulating, it’s possible kaiya turned into kaida, and hence Kaida moji.

The Island Society’s Communication Tool

Again, I felt it was a difficult journey trying to uncover the mystery behind Kaida moji because it has been lost or is in the process of disappearing.

Kaida moji was used as a means of control by the government or royal government (Ryukyu Kingdom) but we found out that islanders used it in conjunction with the yaaban and danuhan in the same way as a means of communication from house to house.

Coming home from this Kaida moji journey, I have realized the strong connection between people and people, house to house and uncovered more evidence of the strong collective concept which existed in the past.

I would like to thank Kay and her mother Yoneko for helping me decifer the article so that I could present it here in this forum.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review - The Girl With the White Flag

Recently I read a book called “The Girl with the White Flag.” The book is a personal account of a young girl separated from her family during the battle of Okinawa. I’ve decided this fits the War, Peace and Politics category for Saturday’s. The book is a short read being only 127 pages in length but it is a true account of a little girls struggle during the battle for Okinawa during World War II. It is written by Tomiko Higa, the actual girl holding the flag in a photo snapped by a military photographer soon after the battle for Okinawa came to an end and the fighting was drawing to an close. The author kept quiet about her experience until the photo surfaced many years later and was misrepresented in the media. The author then felt compelled to set the story strait and went public before writing down her account in the book.

First sentence: I was born in Shuri, the ancient capital of Okinawa, which is now part of the city of Naha.
The Girl with the White Flag is the story of period of time in 1945 during the author's childhood in war-time Okinawa. It begins by giving the reader ample background into the time and culture and place. It provides good insite into the innocence of the time before world war II and a much more primative Okinawan. We meet our heroine, a young girl who through out most of the book spans the ages of five through seven although at the end she is an adult as it describes her decision and search for the photographer who took her photo. One of the first events she shares with readers is the death of her mother. She then relates what life was like with her father, two older sisters, and her older brother during a much simpler time in Okinawa. She describes a life in rural Shuri that may be hard for modern readers to grasp and understand. The little girl’s family life, the harshness of the times she lived, the strictness and discipline of her father, as well as the monstrosities of war and starvation.

About halfway through the narrative, the father disappears while setting out to find food. He had given the children instructions to follow if he failed to returned home and after a couple of days they realize they are left to fend for themselves. The American soldiers have just begun their invasion of the island and the children become refugees moving south to look for their father. The going is very rough and they struggle along the way just to survive. The children range in age from six to seventeen. Somewhere along the way their brother dies one night from a stray bullet while huddled next to the little girl. Then soon after burying their brother the little girl becomes separated from her sisters.

The book recounts what it was like to be seven and alone and wandering in and out of danger. There was no safe place. Not really. Japanese soldiers weren't "safe." In fact, in her brief encounters with them she was almost killed by one of them. She figures things out as she goes and realizes that being near soldiers wasn't safe and was something to avoid at all costs. She realizes that the only "safe" soldier is a dead soldier the kind that was a source of food because of the supplies they carried with them during the battle.

Her will to survive was strong. She uses the knowledge her father had provided her earlier in her life to find food and safety in a very precarious situation. The sights, sounds, and smells, which surrounded her, are very well portrayed by the author.

If there is power in this book, the Girl with The White Flag, it is in its sheer rawness, its simplicity, and its boldness when it comes to being straight forward and honest. The story is incredibly powerful because it's a true of the girl’s experiences. Here is an eyewitness account of what it means to be seven and a refugee in a war zone. It can be brutal. It can be intense. But there is more to it than that. I would recommend the book to the younger generation of Okinawans whose grandparents probably lived through the same traumatic experiences as the little girl telling the story. Many of the older generation were traumatized by the war and did not speak of their experiences during the battle. These however are stories that should be told to the world so that people will realize how horrendous war actually is especially when it is up close and personal. Let's all strive for Peace.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm Back! Today is Okinawan People Day Feature: Rimi Natsukawa

On the days when I write about Okinawan people I will choose a famous or notable Okinawan person and tell you something about them. One of the things i love about Okinawa is it's music style called Minyo. Minyo is a type of popular folk music that is normally sung to the melodies of the sanshin. One of my favorite minyo singers is Rimi Natsukawa.

Rimi Natsukawa was born on 9 October 1973 and is a very popular Okinawan folk singer. She is best known for her 2001 single "Nada Sōsō" but has an outstanding musical ability both vocally and talented use of the sanshin.

Natsukawa was born in Ishigaki, the largest city in the Yaeyama Islands chain and from a young age she enjoyed singing. She aspired to be a singer after hearing her father sing classic Yaeyaman folk songs, like "Tsuki nu Kaisha" (月ぬ美しゃ, Beauty of the Moon) and "Densaa Bushi" (デンサー節, Tradition Song). From the age of seven she practised two hours everyday, with the help of her father. He trained her up to be an enka singer and at nine years old she won a local singing contest called the Chibikko Nodo Jiman Daikai. (Our Tiny Kids' Throats Competition). Natsukawa continued to win competitions, and in 1984 won the MBS TV show Shirōto Meijin-kai's (素人名人会) grand prize. In 1986, she won the Nagasaki Kayōsai's (長崎歌謡祭, Nagasaki Song Festival) grand prize (the youngest person ever to win the prize at that time).

Her Pony Canyon debut came as "Misato Hoshi," in 1989 after promoting "Shiori." (しほり) Natsukawa, by chance, was scouted shortly after winning the competition at 13 years old. She moved to Tokyo, and started preparing for her debut. She debuted later in 1989 as an enka singer with the name "Misato Hoshi," under Pony Canyon. She released three singles in three years but not find much success. Natsukawa felt defeated and after living for four years in Tokyo, she moved back to Okinawa. She lived with her older sister in Naha, and helped out in her restaurant, singing for the customers. As patrons would travel quite a distance to hear her sing, she gradually regained her desire to be a singer.

In 1998, she appeared on an Okinawan radio show called Iwa-chan no Vitamin Radio (岩ちゃんのビタミンラジオ, Rocky's Vitamin Radio) as an assistant.

In 1999, Natsukawa's musical director from her Pony Canyon days decided to set up a music production company for her, and asked if she could return to the capital. She was soon signed under Victor Entertainment, and re-debuted with the single "Yūbae ni Yurete." (夕映えにゆれて, Swaying in the Sunset) She was finding similar success to her first debut, as neither of her first singles appeared on the Japanese music charts. While watching the news broadcast of the 26th G8 summit held in Okinawa, Natsukawa watched a performance by the Okinawan folk band Begin as they performed a song called "Nada Sōsō." She found she could not get the song out of her head, and requested that she could cover the song backstage at a Begin concert. The song was released as her third single in March 2001.

Very slowly and steadily the song started gaining popularity. It was a hit on Okinawan radio stations, and in May 2002 (over a year after it's release) it first charted in the Orion top 100 singles charts. Natsukawa then released an EP of Okinawan cover songs called Minamikaze, and her popularity began to gain momentum. By June, the single had broke into the top 50, and by July the top 20. Her debut album Tida Kaji nu Umui was released in September. Natsukawa was asked to perform the song at the 2002 Kōhaku Uta Gassen (New Year's song competition), which made the song break the top 10. By the time Tida Kaji nu Umui and Minamikaze stopped charting (roughly two years later), they had sold 280,000/371,000 copies respectively. "Nada Sōsō" stopped charting a total of six years after its release, and sold over 680,000 copies.

Natsukawa released a string of Okinawan song-based releases from this time until 2004. One of these, "Warabigami (Yamatoguchi)" (童神~ヤマトグチ~, Little God, was nominated for the Japan Record Award. It was Natsukawa's biggest hit since Nada Sōsō, reaching the top 20.

In 2004, Natsukawa's music changed to centre more around original songs, with her third album Kaze no Michi (her second, Sora no Keshiki, featured many original songs, but still centred around Okinawan folk songs). She started a trend in her music for collaborating with high profile musicians like Kazufumi Miyazawa, (The Gospellers). Her 2005 follow-up, Ayakaji no Ne, was similar, with Kentarō Kobuchi of Kobukuro writing her single "Sayōnara Arigatō" (さようなら ありがとう, Good-Bye, Thank You?). Natsukawa's releases began dropping in sales, with "Sayōnara Arigatō" being her most recent top 50 single, with its 2006 re-release.

In 2006, she released a compilation album, Rimi Natsukawa Selection, that was only for release in non-Japanese Asian countries. The album was a massive success in Taiwan, reaching #1 on the Taiwanese album charts. Then in 2007, Natsukawa ended her contract with her production office. She continued to release music under Victor, however, such as her 5th album Umui Kaji.

At Natsukawa's concerts and at her website, she began asking for submissions from fans for songs they would like to hear her cover. The result of this was the "Uta Sagashi" (歌さがし, Song Search) project, where Natsukawa worked on covering mainly Japanese popular songs. This resulted in the album Uta Sagashi, her most successful release of her material since 2003.

Since this, Natsukawa married percussionist Masaaki Tamaki (玉木正昭) on January 1, 2009 and has continued to release original material and compilations. Her second Uta Sagashi album was released in February 2010, and is her first bilingual Japanese/Chinese album.

Here is a listing of her Albums and Top singles.

Studio albums

2002: Tida: Tida Kaji nu Umui

2003: Sora no Keshiki

2004: Kaze no Michi

2005: Ayakaji no Ne

2007: Umui Kaji

2009: Kokoro no Uta
Compilation albums

2004: Okinawa no Kaze

2005: Rimi Natsukawa Single Collection Vol. 1

2006: Rimits: Best Duet Songs

2006: Rimi Natsukawa Selection

2008: Ai no Uta: Self-Selection Best

2009: Okinawa Uta: Chikyū no Kaze o Kanjite

2010: Misato Hoshi Best Collection

Top 50 Singles

2001: Nada Sōsō

2003: Michishirube

2003: Tori yo

2003: Warabigami (Yamatoguchi)

2004: Kana yo Kana yo

2004: Kokoro Tsutae

2005: Sayōnara Arigatō

2006: Sayōnara Arigatō (Ama no Kaze)/Mirai

My hope is to one day be able to attend a Rimi Natsukawa performance and maybe if I'm lucky get to meet her in person.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Where have I been?

For those of you who have been following my blog. My apologies. I had to leave town on short notice to help my son out in Louisiana. I'm currently online from there. I should be back and making postings again on Thursday or Friday of this week. See you all later ... Tom.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We will begin with an introduction to Ryukyuan Dance to start our Okinawan Arts Wednesday Topic

The seas surrounding the Ryukyu Islands are renouned for their wonderous beauty. The aquamarine colors are tremendous under the tropical suns rays. The seas have always exerted an influence on the life and culture of Okinawa. One might site the concept of Narai-Kanai, which plays an important part in native Okinawan religious belief and is concieved as an idealized realm over the seas, as the abode of the gods. The people have traditionally believed that happiness and prosperity assured by a plentiful harvest are brought from Narai-Kanai. The spirit of prayer is expressed in stylized gesture, while prayer itself becomes manifested in song, thereby opening the way to development of the performing arts. To the backdrop of the islands' history, song and dance have continued through to the present time, serving as vehiclesfor expression of the thoughts and emotions of the Okinawan People.
Several centuries ago the Ryukyu Kingdom attained a measure of wealth and prosperity as the agent of entrepot trade between China, Southeast Asia, and Japan. In the process if absorbed cultural influences from these nations and an aristocratic A Ryukyuan court culture took root in which the distinctively Okinawan aesthetics and sensibilities emerged to take their place alongside the great cultures of the world. The traditional performing arts epitomizes this Ryukyuan culture.

Through the next few weeks I will be placing information on Wednesdays pertaining to the music and dances associated with Ryukyu Dance which is conventionally classified into four major genres whose stylistic features are products of the different socio-historical conditions.

First there is the genre of Classical Dance, which is sometimes reffered to as court dance. This film is an example of Classical Ryukyuan Dance.
Second there is the genre of zo odori or popular dance which emerged after the establishment of Okinawa prefecture in the late 19th century. In contrast to the aristocratic orgins of classical dance, this genre is rooted in the daily lives of the common people, whose feelings and attitudes are expressed.
Third, we have the genre of modern dance which refers to the post war dances created after the World War II.

Lastly, we have the genre of folk dance which reffers to the styles of dance which have been pasted down through the ages. These dances are usually associated with rituals and festivities of the local communities throughout the Ryukyu Islands.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shima Uta – Ancient Island and Modern Melodies of the Ryukyu Isles

The early history of Okinawa is shrouded in mystery and it's not known for sure exactly where the Okinawan people came from. It's believed some came through Japan from northern Asia, some through the Korean peninsula from Mongolia, and others from Southeast Asia through The Philippines. The Ryukyu Islands have always been an important trading link between Southeast Asian countries and Japan, China, and Korea. This strategic position has resulted in a history of dominance from Okinawa's neighbors and feuding over its control.
After an initial period of battling warlords and tiny kingdoms, in the 13th century the first Okinawan dynasty was established, after which the Ryukyu Islands remained essentially independent, although at various times split into separate kingdoms. By the late 14th century a unified Ryukyu Kingdom emerged, and in the 15th century the capital was moved to Shuri, near to today's largest city and port of Naha on the main island. Throughout this time, the country traded with China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia, and developed in language and culture in relative isolation. The kingdom later expanded to include the four island groups, of Amami in the north, through to the centrally located Okinawa main island, to Miyako in the west and Yaeyama to the south, each combining it's own local culture with those of the many they came into contact with.

King Sho Shin
The reign of Sho Shin between 1477 and 1525 is considered especially important for the development of Okinawan culture and craft, remembered as 'the golden age of Chuzan'. The sanshin, a three stringed, snake skinned covered lute, became the heart of Okinawan folk music because of Sho Shin’s cultural exchange with China. An adaptation of the Chinese sanxien it arrived in Okinawa during his reign. Originally, it was an instrument of the Ryukyu nobility who would play it as a court music instrument when entertaining visiting Chinese envoys.
Commodore Perry at Shurimon
The islands were later invaded by the Satsuma province in southern Japan in 1609, and effectively became a colony of Japan until 1879. During this period however, local culture and music thrived. After Commodore Perry arrived in Naha in 1853, Britain, the US, France and Russia all tried to establish trading links with Okinawa. Japan, not wishing to lose its share of the cut, sent a force to invade the islands in 1879, after which Okinawa was made a prefecture of Japan proper.

With the disbandment of the Okinawan government, the nobility were forced to pay their own way, and as many had become competent musicians, some moved to different areas of the islands to teach in the local communities. Folk traditions were given a boost with the addition of sanshin accompaniment and the local ryuka poetry could now be sung creating localized island songs. On the outer islands, such as Yaeyama, formerly vocal only working songs, Yunta and Jiraba were set to the sound of the sanshin. Even Aoyo the oldest of the sacred songs in the islands was put to the wonderful melodies of the sanshin. In light of this new musical addition to Okinawa’s culture many composers began to write original songs which gave rise to what's known today as Shima-Uta or Island Songs.
Choki Fukuhara
Regarded as the first major figure of folk music in Okinawa, Choki Fukuhara was born in 1903 and composed many, now classic, songs and established Marafuku Records, the most important local label. It's a position which Marafuku still holds today, run by his son Tsuneo Fukuhara, himself a top composer and producer. Choki is called the father of modern day Okinawan folk songs. He was a researcher who collected folk songs from each of the regions in Okinawa and a singer of note himself who composed shima uta like "Natsukasiki Furusato", "Gunjin-bushi", and "Imin-kouta".
Another influential figure of 'shima uta' was Rinsho Kadekaru born in 1920 in Goeku, in central Okinawa. He learned to play at his village's all night revelries known as mo-ashibi. Mo-Ashibi was where young people would sing, dance and drink, usually on the beach, often until dawn. These parties would start after a full day's hard labour in the fields, when the sun rose again they would head off to work until the sun began to set once again when the party would start up once again. In the pre-war years there are stories of parents encouraging their children to take part in the mo-ashibi every night, in hopes that their children would fail the medical exams for military conscription due to their exhaustion!
Rinsho Kadekaru
Despite attempts to ban them, mo-ashibi flourished until just before the Second World War, although following the war and the US occupation, they were outlawed for good. In the wake of the war, when up to a third of the population had died, musicians such as Rinsho Kadekaru, who had been in exile in Saipan during the war, and Shouei Kina (father of Shokichi Kina) were a source of inspiration in restoring the pride of the people. Kadekaru went on to record over 250 songs for local labels, more than any other musician, before his death.
Traditional shima uta or island songs are normally accompanied by the sanshin. These days Okinawan instrument makers commonly use a synthetic snake skin, although skins are still imported from Indonesia. The Okinawan pentatonic scale (do-mi-fa-so-ti) is identical to that used in some areas of Indonesia and related to scales used in Polynesia and Micronesia. The song texts are based on the ryuka metrical structure comprised of four lines of 8-8-8-6 syllables, as opposed to the Japanese 26 syllable structure.
The upbeat dance songs are known as katcharsee. Taiko drums, the big shima daiko and the hand held paranku many times accompany the sanshin. Singers and dancers add to the rhythm with their local castanets called sanbas. It's to the katcharsee numbers that Okinawans love to sing and dance. Arms are raised and hands waved wildly to the infectious rhythm of the fast paced music.
Shima Uta is very much alive on Okinawa today and is a part of the everyday life in Okinawa. Whether on the radio or at a minyo venue or just sitting out on the porch where the sound of the sanshin can sometimes be heard wafting about in the air.

This information was obtained from several different sources. A good chunk of it came from a web page on the Farside music site. I have added a link to their web site on my main page. Please visit them as they are a world resource for obtaining Okinawan music over the internet.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Pork - The Favored Meat of Okinawan Cooks

Since today is Monday its Okinawan food day so let’s start out with that most basic of Okinawan staples pork! It is often heard in Okinawa that the only part of a pig that an Okinawan won’t eat is the “Oink.” I actually think some Okinawans enjoy the oink too. Although, maybe only with a little awamori on the side. In Okinawa the word meat has always been the equivalent to pork. It is the most important ingredient in Okinawan Cookery. Literally everything is usable to the Okinawan cook even the ears, feet, blood, and internal organs. Pork in Okinawa is cooked in a variety of ways but is commonly cooked with daikon radish, vegetables, kelp, dried gourd shavings, and even Chinese bamboo shoots.
The Market in Heiwa Dori
Butcher shops in Okinawa sell pork that sharply contrasts the pork commonly sold in mainland Japan. Many people shop for pork at the marketplace on Heiwa Street in Naha where there are rows of various butcher shops selling the best cuts of pork. First time visitors to the market will more than likely be astounded by the sight of huge chunks of pork on display in the shop windows. Entrails are also out on display as any part can be precisely cut for the customer to use in a wide variety of Okinawan pork dishes.
Nakajinagu - (Island Pig)
Pork in Okinawa originated from China and seemed almost tailor made for the tiny island nation. Okinawa had very little grazing land so it could not support cattle but the pigs were another story as they have thrived on Okinawa for hundreds of years. Compared to cattle pigs were quite easy to raise and could be kept on relatively small areas of land. However, during World War II the population of pigs was desimated in the heavy fighting and Uchinanchu people who had emmigrated to Hawaii realizing the grave food shortage after the war set sail to deliver new stocks of island pigs. Thanks to their efforts the islanders were able to once again establish a sustainable food source on the islands. Here is a short film from an old japanese TV show telling about the Island pigs today and the wonderful food source they provide.

Some Favorite Okinawan Pork Dishes Include
Rafute a dish once reserved for royalty and visiting dignitaries, now everyone enjoys this sort of simmered pork belly.
San-mai-niku which literally translates to meat with three layers is a type of stewed pork belly that is also very popular.
Soki are pork short ribs that are marinated in soy sauce and brown sugar then simmered until extremely tender.
Ashitebichi is a dish of Okinawan style pigs’ feet where the feet are simmered for hours until the meat is literally falling off of the bone.
Nakami translates to “inner meat” and consists of the hog maw and chitlins (stomach and intestines).
 Mimigaa are thin shavings of the pigs ear. It is served with a sauce of peanut butter, vinegar, miso, and a bit of mayonnaise.
The final dish I am going to mention is a bit strange to the western perspective. It is a dish called Chiraga. It is the face of the pig and is usually sold smoked so it can be enjoyed as if one were chewing jerky. It can also be sliced into strips and added to soup.

Yaasa Ru maasaru!
Okinawan Proverb - Food is delicious when one is hungry

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Okinawan Symbols and History of the Hidari-Gomon

When one thinks of Okinawa there are a few common symbols that may come to mind. I didn't really give it a second thought when I first saw them and simply believed that they stood for Okinawa the way a state symbol represents a state in the USA. I guess I never really gave it a thought what the various things portrayed in the state symbol for Wisconsin were either. Anyway, these symbols do have meaning and I will attempt here to explain the meaning of some very common symbols you may see when in Okinawa or any of the other Ryukyu Islands.

Let's begin with the Prefectural Symbol of Okinawa. This symbol was adopted as the official government symbol to Okinawa Prefecture in 1972 when reversion gave Okinawa back to the country of Japan. The outer circle of the symbol represents the ocean which plays such a large part in Okinawa's identity. The white circle symbolizes a peace-loving Okinawa and the inner circle symbolizes a globally developing Okinawa. In short, the mark symbolizes "Ocean" "Peace" and "Development" all primary concerns to the people of Okinawa.
                Official Prefectual Government Symbol of Okinawa
The next common symbol is called the Hidari Gomon and it was once the Royal crest of Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa. In Japanese it is called the Hidari mitsudomoe and is a common design element in Japanese family emblems (家紋) and corporate logos. The Hidari Gonon is the primary traditional symbol of Okinawa. It is unclear who used the symbol first but it has special significance to the Okinawan people especially those practicing the ancient art of Okinawan Karate. I have heard a couple different interpretations of the meaning of the symbol so their may be more than one definition for the symbol.

The Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism which came from China to Japan uses the Hidari Gomon as a visual representation of the cycle of life. Others believe that the symbol is Shinto related because in Shinto mythology the symbol is often used to signify the structure taking place between three worlds. Such worlds include heaven, Earth, and the Underworld.

One explanation that was particularly interesting to me was the Okinawan folktale where they interpret the "Hidari Gomon" as representing loyalty, heroism, and altruism to a proud island people and their descendants. They believe it to be expressed through a past full of struggle and hardship, but also a willingness to face the difficulties the ahead no matter what the cost.

According to the story the origin of the Hidari-Gomon takes place in feudal Japan, when the feudal lords and their private armies of samurai fought fiercely for land ownership. It was during a time of constant war in Japan. During these wars, Okinawa was defeated and dominated by the lord of Kagoshima, who imposed conditions on the Ryukyuan people. He proclaimed without exception that the people should go unarmed and that those who were found carrying weapons should be executed. Also, as a tribute of war, he proclaimed that Ryukyuans should submit an annual tax of rice to Kagoshima.

For many years the Ryukyu people religiously fulfilled the terms of the lords agreement. At the time rice was plentiful and no one went armed because a way of fighting had been developed in Okinawa which did not require the use of weapons. We now know this as Karate. Karate was developed because the Ryukyuan King did not want his people to be defenseless and he began secretly sending members of his guard to China, where he knew various forms of bare-hand fighting were being taught. Gradually, karate was being formed, the weapon was the body of the fighter, and it did not conflict in any way the terms imposed by the lord of Kagoshima.

Everything was fine until a great drought occurred in the Ryukyu Kingdom, which caused a shortage of rice throughout the islands. This cause extensive poverty and hunger among the Ryukyu people and prevented the kingdom from being able to make the payment of rice to Kagoshima. Seeing the suffering of his people the Ryukyu King decided to send a delegation to Kagoshima with a message reporting the sad situation of his people and asking at the same time to forego the rice tax that year. This in the Kings mind was surely a reasonable request as there wasn’t even rice for those farmers who planted it.

Kagoshima Lord
The King’s envoy left the kingdom escorted by three unarmed samurai guards and was received by the lord of Kagoshima, who was outraged by the audacity of the Ryukyuans. Not only did they not bring the rice, but they had the guts to still come and ask him to excuse their debt. The Lord of Kagoshima then ordered his Samurai to kill the messenger. One of the lord’s samurai came towards the envoy with his spear but the three unarmed Ryukyuan guards were able to easily defend against the attack. This surprised the Kagoshima Lord who considered his samurai to be invincible warriors. As other samurai came to assist in the capture of the Ryukyuan guards, the envoy tried to reason with the lord by explaining further that the people in the Ryukyu Islands were starving, trying to make him understand the pain and suffering of the Ryukyuan people.

The lord ordered the immediate execution of the three guards by having them thrown into a huge caldron of boiling water used for extracting oils for fuel. They struggled in front of him and the envoy where they screamed out, pleading not for their own lives but for the lives of the Ryukyuan people. Hearing their screams for him to save the Ryukyu people even as they were boiling to death moved the Kagoshima lord. It caused him to finally open his mind to the suffering of the Ryukyu people. When he finally realized the extent of the of the Ryukyuan people’s plight he expressed solidarity to those people, and not only accepted their excuses for not paying tribute but had his men carry a cargo of rice to the islands to ease the hunger and suffering of the island people. In return for his generosity he requested that the masters of the art of Karate come to Kagoshima to teach his men the fighting techniques he had observed defeat his warrior. The value and courage of those three Ryukyuan warriors initiated a new period of relations between the two kingdoms and eventually led to the cooperation and friendship of both peoples.

Later, back in the Ryukyu Kingdom, the envoy described the death of three warriors to the King. The King after hearing the story of the Ryukyu guards deaths had up the Hidari-Gomon drawn up to symbolize their heroic action. The symbol is said to portray the three Ryukyu warriors spinning around in the pot giving their lives for the greater good of the people. The symbol has since become the symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a symbol which can now be found just about everywhere in Okinawa. Many Karate dojos have also incorporated its use into the symbols they use to represent their particular style of the ancient Okinawan art of Karate

ファイル:Hidari mitsudomoe

The next symbol is called the Uechi-Ryu Okikukai symbol. It is a composite of the two previous symbols, one representing the old Ryukyu Kingdom and the other representing modern Okinawa.The official prefectural symbol of Okinawa is in the center of the symbol to represent modern Okinawa and is encircled within the symbol that once represented the historic Ryukyuan Kingdom consisting of three yellow waves that circle a white region.

The Uechi-Ryu Okikukai symbol which is used to represent one of the Okinawan styles of karate is the old blended with the new. This is only one of many Okinawan Karate symbols derived from both ancient and modern symbolism of the Ryukyu Isles.

Uechi-Ryu Okikukai symbol

Here are some other symbols associated with Okinawan Karate.