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.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grits & Sushi Blog Project

The Okinawa I imagined was scarred.  I imagined my mother as a child walking through a war torn place, over the dead bodies she saw during the bloody battle of Okinawa in WWII.  I recreated the nightmares she might have had.  (I never forget, those dead bodies. I never forget the sound of the planes flying above us, screaming, the Japanese soldiers pointing their guns at us, the doo doo smell in the caves where we hid from the Americans…)

These are powerful memories taken from a blog authored by one of my newest hafu Afro-Okinawan friends Mitzi Uehara Carter. She is a PhD candidate in the Anthropology Dept at the University of California Berkeley. She is currently working on her dissertation which is on the the US military in Okinawa--mapping race, military diaspora/culture in Okinawa.

She is also working on a side project, helping her mother to form a network of Okinawan women now living in the US who are/were married or in long-term relationships with Black men. The goal is to unite these women who may, like her mother, feel socially stigmatized by other Okinawans or Japanese for being in relationships with black men. Many of these women, especially of my mother's generation do not attend Kenjinkai meetings because they feel somewhat like outcasts. For those who feel comfortable, we hope they will share their stories (anonymously or not) to be documented into a booklet to be distributed to the other women in the network.

Here are some movies she writes about on her blog. Please visit Grits & Sushi to see what she has to say about them.

Seven courageous women who live alongside US bases from South Korea to Puerto Rico challenge the assumption that military bases make them safe, and advance alternative ideas of peace and security.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Okinawan Family Ties

I have a friend named Kay who is in Okinawa studying at Ryukyu University. She is an awesome person and understands that her heritage is a very special thing. She recently posted to her blog a story about visiting her relatives on her mothers side. Here is the story.

Matsuda is my grandma's brothers and sisters, and they are absolutely AWESOME. My perception on senior citizens have morphed thanks to all my relatives. No longer will I look at a 70 year old and call them 'old' now, since my 70-year old relatives refer to the phrase, 'when I get old,' in their speech, and point to their 90-year old relatives and call them 'old.' haha.

My grandma was supposed to make it back to Okinawa for her oldest sister's (Oba) 88th birthday in 2009. However, grandma passed away a year before that day came around.

Today I went to Hokubu to meet Oba. She was involved in a car accident this April and has been in the hospital ever since. Next year, she will be 90 years old. Up until the car crash, she was apparently a typical, genki obasan; making friends with whoever was lucky to walk into her life.

However, since April, she has been hooked up to ivy lines, and has to be fed through her nose via a tube. She isn't able to speak; and sleep and lying in her bed pan has turned into her daily routine.

My other relatives hesitated to take me to visit her at first since her comprehensive abilities have slowly sunken as well. They were worried that even if I met her, she wouldn't understand that I am her sister's granddaughter. However, I persisted that I've made it this far to Okinawa, and she's family, so I should see her. They agreed.

We went during lunch time, so all the patients were gathered in the common area and performing exercises (including a modified version of kachashii) before their meals were served. My great aunt was in the corner, unable to move. She didn't look like she was in good condition at all, and I was nervous as to what I should say or if she indeed would not understand who I was.

I walked over with Sakai ねーねー (my mom's cousin), and Kenhachi ojisan and obasan. Sakai ねーねー kneeled down to oba's ear, and with a shout-like whisper told oba that I was Kazuko's (my grandma) granddaughter, Kay.

I looked into her eyes and no sign of apprehension was visible. But then, Sakai ねーねーgrabbed my hand and placed into Oba's hand. Oba kept looking in my eyes this whole time. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, something in the atmosphere triggered something in our consciousness, and we both started welling up with tears.

Oba wasn't able to speak because she was physically impaired. I wasn't able to speak because I was consumed by the moment and was helpless to do anything else but feel the spiritual connection with Oba, with my grandma, with myself, and with the soul essence of what it means to be human.

We stayed like that for a while. I showed Oba pictures of grandma and my mom. She was struggling against her limits to try and talk, and kept trying to unplug the tubes attached to her face. Sakai ねーねー had to stop her and place her hands in a mitten and tie it to the armrest precisely for that reason. Oba laughed with her eyes.

Apparently my grandma talked about me a lot and would bring pictures and news articles of me whenever she would visit Okinawa. She kept telling everyone that one day she'll come back to visit Okinawa with me.

I think that one day was yesterday.

After I showed Oba the pictures, she looked beyond to a point not existent in that room. She was not in that room, and that clock on the wall could not define where in time she was either. She was dreaming with her eyes open to a place and time which details I do not know. However, which feelings I was connected with.

I swear I almost cried when I read this story. I thought to myself, What a wonderful connection she was able to make. We should all try to live up to the standard she sets.

Please visit Kay's blog

Friday, November 5, 2010

Okinawan Uta - The Shaman Women of Okinawa

Women were at the pinnacle of spiritual life in the Ryukyu Kingdom, today's Okinawa. Kings once isolated noro priestesses. They were prized as top advisors because people believed they could communicate with the gods. That tradition lives on with the Yuta. These modern-day seers dole out personal advice to ordinary people - for a fee!

Local Okinawan religion is presided over by women and incorporates elements of shamanism and animism. Okinawa is the home of noseless yuta shaman. The defect is interpreted as a kind of stigmata. Shamanism is based on animistic folk religions. In the case of itako, they believe in a number of gods from various different beliefs, such as animism, Buddhism and Shinto. Rather than simply mixing these beliefs, they superimpose later religions on top of existing ones, enabling long-running beliefs and gods to maintain strong identities.

During an initiation ceremony, each itako will come into contact with the gods that will possess them. They will also learn which god is most powerful in a variety of different circumstances.

The difference between priests and shamans lies in the fact that shamans go into a trance while priests simply ask the gods for mercy. Priests often come from privileged backgrounds while shamans are generally lower-class people or social outcasts.

Before Buddhism and Confucianism entered Japan, various emperors made use of the services of shamans. But as doctrinal religions were introduced, animism became vilified as the superstition and heresy of primitive culture. A similar trend can be seen in most civilizations around the world, in which folk religions are eliminated by institutional religions such as Buddhism, Christianity or Islam.

Eventually, the religious rituals once performed by female shamans in Japan in ancient times were taken over by men of later, more sophisticated religions.

Shamanism can help make up for weaknesses of modern culture by providing relief for people in extreme suffering and pain, making fuller use of people's daily lives and keeping society and culture intact. Shamanism fills some of the spaces left open by modern rationalism and science.

This video above was originally shown on the Washington Post web video site. I have placed it here to inform others about Okinawa by means of internet mining videos pertaining to the people and culture of the island of Okinawa. I would like to thank the creators of this video and have included the name of the reporters at the end of the video.