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!!

1 comment:

  1. Ah. I never realized that camps were set up. I'd heard about the kankara sanshin, and how people scrabbled together whatever they could, but always assumed that happened in their own home villages and such, that people were not relocated in this way.

    My own grandparents spent quite some time (a year or more? perhaps. we're really not sure) in Displaced Persons camps after being liberated from Buchenwald at the end of the war. Obviously, the situation here is different, since the Okinawans were not, strictly speaking, refugees, nor liberated peoples (I guess that one's debateable), and weren't displaced until these camps were created. But, even so, it's an experience that, at least in the case of Holocaust history in Europe, is often overlooked. Thanks for bringing attention to this Okinawan case. I hope that life in these camps wasn't too harsh, and that they were not kept there too long.