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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ryuka (Okinawan Lyrical Poetry)

The ryuka is considered to be a significant genre in classical Okinawan literature. A short poem, the ryuka contains four lines of 8-8-8-6 syllables. It expresses a spontaneous emotion or feeling. These poems were written in Japanese hiragana script probably because it was easily adaptable to the various Okinawan dialects. Etymologically, the word ryuka, is an abbreviation of the word Ryukyu ka (流球歌, taking the first and third characters), which literally means “Ryukyuan song.” And as songs they were sung with the accompaniment of a sanshin.

Two different theories exist concerning the origin of ryuka poems. One being that it was brought about by Japanese influence and the other proclaiming it to be a literary form native to Okinawa. The first theory holds that the ryuka was a variation of the Japanese waka style of poetry which was introduced to Okinawa after the Satsuma invasion of 1609, when the Ryukyu Kingdom came into direct contact with mainland Japanese culture. As waka poetry was written in reaction to the kanshi, or Chinese poetry, in mainland Japan, so it was in Okinawa that the ryuka was written in reaction to the Japanese waka. The second theory, however, claims that the ryuka originated in Okinawa and that the songs of poetry were first sung during the time of King Sho Shin. This means they would have come about during the golden age of the Ryukyu Kingdom. (1477-1526)

They were definitely in contrast to the ancient Okinawan songs known as “songs of the community” that celebrated things like society and state with themes such as invocations to gods and nature, prayers for communal prosperity and abundant harvest, and glorification of kings and local chieftains. The new genre, “ryuka”, dealt with personal emotions felt by the authors. The ryuka concentrated on the individual and allowed a wide range of personal feelings to be expressed, especially the emotion of love. Love poems are by far the most numerous in the ryuka repertoire. While there are many poets who wrote in the ryuka style two most noted ryuka poets are Yoshiya Chiru and Onna Nabe.

The short and tragic life of the courtesan is a well known story in Okinawa. It is the story of Yoshiya Chiru (1650 To 1668) a well known ryuka poet. Born into a very poor family, Yoshiya was sold to the pleasure quarters in Naha when she was only eight years old. The poem she composed while on her way to Naha, as she crossed the Hija Bridge in Kadena village, is one of the most famous poems in Okinawa. Yoshiya’s poem has given Hija Bridge everlasting fame. This is the poem she composed.

Uramu Fija Bashi Ya                 Hateful Hija Bridge!

Wan Watasa Tumuti                  A heartless person

Nasaki Nen Fitu Nu                            Built you here

Kakiti Uchara                    So that I may go across.

Once at the pleasure quarters in Naha, Yoshiya’s Gift for poetry was soon recognized. But even while she worked in Naha, her thoughts were of her family and her native village. These thoughts never left her and her nostalgia was evident in this poem:

Kuban Suyu Suyu Tu                 Koba leaves sway gently,

Shima Mutu Nadu Natu                   The countryside quiet,

Chinagi Aru Ushi Nu       The tethered cow’s mellow cries-

Nakiyura Tumeba                                     My native village.

Her fame as a ryuka poet was such that only those customers who could match her skill in poetry would receive Yoshiya’s attention. Yoshiya would compose the first half of a ryuka poem and then expected the customers to give her a successful conclusion to the poem. Lord Nakazato, a poor but talented man, responded successfully to many of Yoshiya’s poems and as a result she fell in love with him. Their love however, was not approved of by Yoshiya’s avaricious master who forced her to accept an older, wealthier patron. Overcome with grief, Yoshiya refused to eat and starved herself to death. She was only eighteen years old at the time of her death.

Onna Nabe was another famous Ryuka poet in Okinawa. It is believed that she lived and wrote ryuka during the eighteenth century from the village of Onna. Her poetry was in contrast to Yoshiya Chiru’s delicate poems, Onna Nabe’s poems showed clarity and boldness in their expression. The most famous of her poems was composed when the King of Shuri stopped in her village while on a tour of Northern Okinawa.

Nami Nu Kwin Tumari                            Waves be still!

Kaji Nu Kwin Tumari                             Wind be silent!

Shui Tin Ga Nashi                 The King of Shuri comes-

Miun Chi Ugama                            We must honor him.

Another poem describes her love for a man in the village of Kin. Onna Nabe is also remembered for her bold expression of love in this poem dedicated to him.

Unna Daki Agata                                Beyond Mount Onna-

Satu Ga Umarijima                             The home of my love.

Muin Ushi Nukiti               The woods I wish to push aside,

Kugata Nasana                           To draw him close to me.

Today a monument stands in honor of Onna Nabe and her poetry on the vast, open Manzamo field high above the East China Sea.

Okinawan ryuka is an honest spontaneous flow of emotions from its people which has been inspired by the life struggles they have endured. They express the very essence of the spiritual lives of the Ryukyu people making them one of Okinawa’s cultural treasures.


  1. This is great scholarship. I'm a 4th generation Okinawan American. I was born and raised in Hawaii and currently living in Pittsburgh. I grew up hearing Okinawan music from my grandparents. I began to learn the sanshin in 1986. I enjoy playing and singing Okinawan koten uta-sanshin. Thanks for your great blog.

  2. My Mother is a Nakazato born in Naha, Okinawa. This page was informative as to my ancestors. I never knew that there was a Lord Nakazto. It is very nice to know that the name has lived on and that our poetry comes naturally.

  3. many thanks. without this article i would only have wikipedia as reference. a million thanks. bye! (btw wikipedia sucks)