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 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.


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