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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kankara a Sanshin Built of Necessity

Did you know that after the battle of Okinawa the Americans gathered up the Okinawan civilians and placed them into camps on the island? They weren't really prisoner of war camps but rather a type of detention facility where the people could be maintained until a plan was developed by the American occupation forces. Remember the American occupation forces at that time believed they would be heading to Japan and began their development of airfields and other facilities they would need. Of course the atomic bomb changed those invasion plans and they then turned to building up the island militarily.

The Okinawans without any goods and the extreme scarcity of natural resources were in a desperate day to day battle for their survival and had a hard time finding even their most basic needs to sustain life. There were still Japanese soldiers on the island and it was a hazardous outside of the camps. As occupation forces gathered the survivors they split them into groups of enemy combatants (Japanese soldiers) or Okinawan natives (so they called them).
The Okinawans in the camps, despite their dire situation reverted to the traditional ways of the island and used song and dance to lighten their spirit and make the best of their situation. With the loss of almost everything of value on island due to the battle their primary instrument the sanshin had now become very scarce. The Americans were told not to provide Okinawans with food that was intended for their troops but rather to only give them foods which could be gathered from crops and food stores that had been on the island prior to their arrival. However, because much of the food had been taken by the Japanese soldiers or been destroyed in the battle food needed to be rationed and was very limited. The Americans did supply some items despite their original order not to and gave the Okinawans canned powdered milk and other items to help limit the numbers of survivors dying of starvation.
It was from those cans of food and the resourcefulness of the Okinawan people in the camps that they would be able to bring music back to the people again. I imagine the battle had placed huge mental strains on many of them because many of them had been seperated from other family members and had no idea if they were alive or dead. To combat depression they began using materials they could find to fabricate musical instruments called Kankara. The stalk of the makeshift Sanshin was made usually from the leg post of a bed or table and was whittled down by using old junk swords or bayonets left over from the battle. Strings were fabricated from material taken from discarded parachutes. Soon the sound of music permeated the air both inside and outside the barbed wire fences and the island began to heal from its wounds. Music came back to the people and their situation no longer seemed as bleak.

I decided to write about Kankara today because my good internet friend Russell Mettke sent me a link to a video he recently posted. The video is about a kit that is now available that allows you to build your very own custom sanshin. Here is the video. great job Diverboy!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

About being an Okinawa Goodwill Ambassador

Some of you may already know that I am a Goodwill Ambassador to Okinawa that was appointed by the Governor of Okinawa to promote goodwill and understanding about Okinawa and it's culture. Before I ever came along however there was a very nice Okinawan lady named Ikuko Nichols that has been serving the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai as their Minkan Taishi. In our most recent edition of the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai newsletter she wrote an article which I would like to share with everyone. She has been very dedicated to the cause and I believe what she has to say will be of interest to other Minkan Taishi throughout the world.

2010 volunteers with the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai GW Ambassadors

Goodwill Ambassador Activities by Ikuko Nichols

I would like to express my gratitude to those of you who provided support and cooperation to the Goodwill Ambassador activities in past years. I have been thinking of introducing you what is the Goodwill Ambassador.

The Okinawan Government certified me as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2003. There are currently four Goodwill Ambassadors in Illinois beside myself. From here on called “ambassador”. We work independently, but I think each ambassador has been working in their field of expertise.

Okinawa has human networks around the world, promoting international exchanges and providing promotional information on Okinawa. The Okinawan Government has certified many ambassadors overseas, provided a grant for their projects, and support for their ambassador activities. The ambassador must submit a grant application that describes their action plan, the project purpose, the project implementation, etc. Once the Okinawan Government accepts the plan, it reimburses up to 2/3 of expenses, but the rest of expenses are shouldered by the ambassador or the organization they are associated with. The ambassador duty is voluntary and not for financial gain.

While there are many the ambassadors certified by the Okinawan Government, sadly many of them are not actively applying for the grant. Becoming a goodwill ambassador is not limited to Okinawan people; anyone who understands Okinawa, and can contribute to the international exchange can be one as long as they meet the criteria.

Now I would like to introduce you to my past ambassador activities and my plan for the future as an ambassador.

1. My first business activities as a Goodwill Ambassador were when I participated in the Rotary International Convention that was held in McCormick Center and hosted by the Rotary Club's headquarters in Evanston, Illinois. I volunteered as a guide to the Rotary Club of Okinawa.

2. I Attend The 100th Anniversary of the Hawaii Okinawa Kenjinkai and the first Sekai no Uchinanchu Taikai. I Met other Okinawa Kenjinkai presidents and attended the goodwill ambassador conference for an exchange of ideas.

3. I Carried out the project “Other Japan”. It is an exchange program between DuPage College and Ryukyu University that sent 20 DuPage College students to Okinawa. I arranged the event with Mr. Youkou Asato, the author of “Battle in Okinawa –Memoir of one mother”, and the exchange students so they could learn about World War II and the importance of peace through him.

4. I have an annual booth at Japan Day, in Arlington Heights each year where I introduced the Okinawan culture through display and demonstration of Okinawan pottery, lacquerware, textiles, fork art, and Sanshin music. One of the other goodwill ambassadors, Tom Corrao, also joined this event last year.

5. I joined in the Okinawan Immigration Centennial celebrations in Argentina.

6. I established an Okinawan club at Jonathan Burr Elementary school a Chicago public school.

7. I invited an Okinawan popular performing arts Eisa instructor to Chicago to teach Eisa to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai members.

I enjoyed all these projects, but I could not have realized some of them without your support. For this I Thank you. I also look forward to your continued support and understanding in the future.

As a future plan, I am thinking of inviting a professional Sanshin instructor to teach Sanshin to our future generation. If you have an idea or plan for the goodwill ambassador, I like to work with the plan or with you.

Ikuko Nichols

Japan Day 2010 Arlington Heights Illinois
Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai – Goodwill Ambassador
I would like to commend Ikuko for her hard work and dedication to her cause. It seems as if there are many Minkan Taishi out there that could use an example like her. Keep up the good work you are a motivation to us all Ikuko!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Some Background about the Poems and Folksongs of Okinawa


All of Okinawa is located in a sub-tropical area so the people of Okinawa enjoy a very mild climate. The island remains green throughout the year and the growing seasons are continuous. Such a climate has cultivated the passionate and ardent temperments of its people.

In Okinawa they grow very big tropical trees called "Deigo." They have very large knotty trunks and they are the only trees in Okinawa which loose their leaves during Okinawa's mild winters. Their giant trunks remind one of the strong arms of young men.

In early summer the trees bloom simaltaneously from the hearts of their bare bodies, deep crimson flowers, so red they seem like fire. Of course they are very beautiful to see. Okinawans believe they symbolize the burning passions of the ladies of Okinawa.


Typhoons have raged and struck violently throughout the Ryukyu islands for centuries.

Nature has not always been so merciful to the Okinawan people but after the storm the island always returns to a calm state with blue indigo found in both the sea and the skies.

Circumstance and Okinawan Character

There are some seventy islands in the Ryukyus including Okinawa, Miyako, and the Yaeyamas. The Miyako and Yaeyama islands ly far to the southwest of Okinawa and the sea has been a major influence on the lives of the Okinawan people. With the sea all around them it has greatly influence their character and envoked the people to produce many beautiful poems.
Okinawan Lifestyle

Okinawan islands are mostly small and narrow and as a result they have not been blessed with an abundance of natural resourses. For generations the people of the islands have had to make their livelyhood by navigating between them in sailing canoes.

Most Okinawan poems are the direct result of the spontaneous flow of emotions and feelings aroused by everyday struggles experienced as part of living life in the islands. Naturally these poems have not been artificially produced and are a direct response to the natural laws of nature and the spiritual lives of these island people.

Okinawans are cheerfully living their lives un the pursuit of happiness. Their poety expresses both the pains and pleasures of their very existance. Their struggle has produced beautiful poems including these.

Isigachi ka ra                   n ji ti
Ya ra bu za chi                hai mi gu ri ba
Su ri ka ra                        ha ra si ba
Ki ra ma                           Naha nu minatu

Leaving the port of Ishigaki
Sailing round the cape Yarabu
Still further sail scarcely brings, us near Kerema,
Soon Iimps into the port Naha.

Yam ba ru nu         tabi ya
A wa ri do ya         si gu ku
Miru munu ya         ne ra n
Umi tu                   yama tu

The dearest one
Is a journey to Yambaru
Nothing can be seen
But sea and Mountians to console you.