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.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Yaeyaman Cultural Museum on Taketomi

Recently, I met a Tokyo University Graduate Student who lives in the Yaeyama islands on Taketomi island. He wrote his thesis on  the Kaida writing system that was used by the original people of the Yeayama islands. He informed me that the local Cultural Museum on Taketomi needs outside help to help preserve some of its cultural treasures. Here is the story:


The Curator of the Yaeyama Cultural Museum, Yoshinori Uesedo, inherited the museum from his adoptive father. (Toru Uesedo) Mr. Uesedo during his lifetime, collected huge amounts of old tools, clothing, coins, household goods, and other stuff from the Yaeyama islands. He also collected a few wooden slabs containing Kaida writing and some barazan knotted ropes.

八重山文化資料館の館長、上勢頭氏は彼の(養子関係の)父親(上勢頭 亨)からその資料館を相続した。上勢頭氏は彼の生存中に多数の古い道具、衣料品、硬貨、家庭所有物、そして八重山列島からの品々を収集した。それから彼は「カイダー文字」書式方から成る幾つかの木製の平板と真鍮製の結ばれた数々の綱なども収集した。

A Wooden Slab Containing Kaida Writing

Kaida writing was used throughout the Yaeyama islands but most notibly on Yonaguni and Taketomi. The script consists of pictographs, numerals, and measure words and was primarily used to record tax payments and personal transactions between the residents of the islands.


One of the "barazan" ropes in the Taketomi Museum

Mr Uesedo also obtained a couple of the "barazan" ropes, and examples of a "hogen-fuda"-- the "dialect tags" that kids who were caught speaking the native language were forced to wear. Ever since the Ryukyu Kingdom was conquered by the Japanese Shimazu clan (1609) and the Ryukyu islands were "given" to Satsuma, a province of Japan, the Shimazu clan forbid the use of local dialect.

又 上勢頭氏は「方言札」の見本である幾つかの「真鍮」の綱も手に入れていた。それは子ども達が地もと方言で話し それがばれた者には首から「方言下げ札」が吊るされた事である。琉球王国は1609年に日本・島津藩に侵攻・征服され琉球諸島は日本の一県薩摩に献上された。それ以来 島津藩は琉球に地方語・方言の使用を禁止した。

Under Japanese rule every attempt was made to dismantle the Okinawan's heritage and culture. Okinawans were forced to bring the islands more "in-line" with their Japanese occupiers as a process of assimilation. The Okinawan language and dialects were basically outlawed. The waves of programs to eradicate Ryukyuan culture and language in the Okinawan prewar occupation continued into the postwar.

日本の規則の下で沖縄の伝統と文化を徐々に廃止するあらゆる試みが企てられた。沖縄人は 日本の植民地として(沖縄)諸島を日本と系列し共に同化するようそのプロセスを無理に押し付けられた。沖縄の言語と方言は基礎的に不法とされ禁じられた。戦前の植民地琉球の文化と言語の根絶の動きは戦後になっても続いた。

In the late fifties and early sixties, teachers hung "dialect tags" [hôgen fuda 方言札] from the necks of offending students, which could only be gotten rid of by finding other students slipping into the tabooed sounds. The hapless student who was still tagged at the end of the day had to go home wearing the badge of humiliation.The "Hogen-fuda" was a dialect disgrace tag and the practice continued until well into the 1960's.

50年代末期から60年代初期まで、先生達は方言を使った生徒の首に罰として「方言札」を吊るし、その生徒は又同じくタブーな音(方言)を出した生徒を見つけるまで その札を首からぶら下げていた。下校時間になっても(方言札バトンタッチがいない)不運な生徒はそのままその恥の札をぶら下げて下校せざるをえなかった。「方言札」は方言を不名誉とする札でその強制的な習慣は1960年代になっても実行された。

Mr. Uesedo and my facebook friend Chuck who connected me with Mark

Mark & Chuck outside the Taketomi Museum

The museum on Taketomi houses many of the original artifacts from the islands which would have been forever lost had it not been for the efforts of Toru Uesedo and now his son Yoshinori Uesedo. The Museum could currently use some outside help with the depressed world economy right now. Please contact Mr. Mark Rosa on his facebook site if you would like to help the museum. He can explain how you can help. Also, If you ever make it to Taketomi it's well worth a visit if to the Museum the admission is only 300 yen.

上勢頭亨氏と今その息子の上勢頭芳徳氏の努力があったからこそ竹富の博物館は各島々からの沢山の原品・実物の工芸品を保管する事ができました。しかし、現在、世界的経済不況の為 博物館は外部からの援助を必要としています。博物館のヘルプのご連絡はマーク・ローザ、彼のフェイス・ブック・サイトにお願いします。貴方がどの様にヘルプできるかは彼が説明いたします。それから貴方が、もし竹富に旅行するチャンスがありましたらその博物館をぜひ訪ねて下さい。入場料はたったの300円です。

I would like to Thank Ms. Teiko Tursi who assisted me in the translation of my posting into Japanese.


  1. Wow. Thanks for posting about this - I'd never heard of kaida writing. That's really interesting stuff. I'm awfully curious now to go learn more about the outlying islands, and to visit this Taketomi museum.

    You may want to take a look at your history books again, though, on the rest of it. As described in George Kerr's "Okinawa: the History of an Island People," Ron Toby's "State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan," and elsewhere, Satsuma took over in 1609, not 1602, and made every effort to preserve the foreignness and exoticness of Okinawan culture, both to enhance their own reputation as the only samurai domain to claim a foreign kingdom as a vassal, to hide Japanese influence in Okinawa in order to ensure that the kingdom's relationship with China was maintained - a large part of the reason Ryukyu was valuable to Satsuma was because of its access to China and to Chinese goods through the tribute/investiture trade.

    Along those same lines, it was not until the Meiji period, when the kingdom was abolished and Okinawa was fully annexed into Japan that efforts were made, not just in Okinawa but throughout the Japanese archipelago, to create a homogeneous Japanese culture, language, and identity. Hôgen fuda were introduced sometime in the Meiji period, and in fact, prior to that, it was the learning and speaking of Japanese which was discouraged.

    I am myself not quite so clear on events after the war, but remember that Okinawa was under US Occupation throughout the 1950s-60s, so while the practice of hôgen fuda may have continued (I don't know), it becomes a more complicated question of why the Americans would have allowed (or required) that practice to continue - it can't be blamed on Tokyo at this point in time.

    I apologize if I have come across as rude in my comments; that is certainly not my intention. I'm happy to have discovered your blog, and enjoy reading it every day. Keep up the good work!

  2. Just curious are you Japanese?

    I did not think you came across as rude at all. It's hard to find factual information because there are always two sides to every story. I welcome open communication. 1602 was a typo if you look at the text in Japanese the date was correct. I have now corrected the mistake. Thanks for pointing it out.

    You appear to be a knowledgable person in regards to early history of the Ryukyus. If you would like to contribute to the blog with submissions regarding Okinawan history I would welcome your input.

    I do not claim to be an expert only a person interested in bringing out discussion on subjects I'm interested in. I'm an outsider and I'm also learning as I go. I have an open mind (I think) to any theroy or fact that may be presented. I welcome anyone to make their point.

    I want the blog to entice discussions about Okinawan culture so that these types of things can become clearer and the history of Okinawa is preserved for future generations. Through time, lack of consideration, differing viewpoints, ancestrial heritage, things have become clouded. None of us here on the earth were there at the time this all first took place. Only through someone writing it down somewhere in their interpretation of what happened and by ancestors talking about the past with the younger generations was information preserved.

    I believe some people of true Japanese viewpoints sometimes have different perspectives of what happened compared to some people of the Ryukyu Islands.


  3. I am not sure if the Hogen Kada was in use in the 1950s and 60s. But there was no American "occupation" of the Yaeyamas and the Yaeyamas were spared from battles during WW2. There may have been some administrative liasons but I strongly suspect there was a benign neglect by the American Occupation Government over the Yaeyamas.
    I spent November paddling around the Yaeyama Islands and I found Taketomi to be puzzling. To me, it had the face of Okinawa but the heart of Tokyo. I had formed bonds with people on Ishigaki, Hatoma and Iriomote and people who I had not met before on Kuro and Kohama are now family. That just was not the case with Taketomi. Ironically, it took an American, Mark Rosa, intoducing me to Mr Uesedo to give me some perspective.

  4. tsunamichuck, I must admit I never gave it much thought whether the American Occupation exerted any influence or control on the other islands, such as the Yaeyamas. I'd always assumed that the Occupation covered all of Japan, from Hokkaido down to Miyako, lasting of course an extra 20 years longer in Okinawa Prefecture after the rest of Japan regained (full) sovereignty. So, I guess SCAP influence didn't really extend down to the Yaeyamas. Interesting stuff. You learn something new every day ^_^

    Tom, no, I am not by chance Japanese. I'm a white boy from New York, studying Japanese/Okinawan Studies at the U of Hawaii. I've only ever been fortunate to visit Okinawa once, and then only for a weekend, so I must admit that all I know is what I've read in books and such. I really envy those who've spent more time in Okinawa, and have a truer connection to the place.

    You're absolutely right to point out that history can come to be interpreted in different ways, and indeed, scholarship in English on Okinawan history is quite limited, and possibly flawed. I'm just repeating what I have read and understood myself, based on comparisons of different accounts, and where they agree or contradict. George Kerr is pretty much the only one to have ever written a full history of Okinawa, from the earliest coalescence of an island-wide polity, to the aftermath of WWII. However, his account is about 60 years old now, and has been criticized for being at times too romantic about the innocence and peacefulness of the Ryukyuan people, painting them as eternal victims, and as noble and innocent through and through.

    Every account has its bias, as you point out. Every one has its failings. And, indeed, the issue of to what extent there was Japanese cultural influence felt in the Ryukyu Kingdom is one I've never felt fully comfortable with. If Satsuma had to tell Okinawan envoys to Japan to pretend to not speak Japanese, and to go out of their way to behave and dress in a particularly exotic (read: non-Japanese) manner, that would imply that there was indeed Japanese influence upon them that they needed to hide. If Japanese influence had been more limited, there would be no need to enforce an artificial degree of exoticness, because the non-Japaneseness would already be there.

    This is a most difficult issue to research, or so I would imagine, given the extent of the efforts to hide Japanese influence, especially in the kingdom's official documents. Still, it is a most intriguing and important question.

    I thank you for your offer that I might contribute on Okinawan history topics, but sadly I have tons on my plate these days.

    I do sometimes post about Okinawan topics on my own blog, however, if you don't mind my being a little self-promoting here:

    I eagerly look forward to your future posts. Cheers.

  5. Is there a reason why the above Kaida Writing example eerily resembles the Chinese Oracle Bone and Bronze scripts? Could this be a retention of very early Asian writing? Or rather a back-formation through contact with modern writing?