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, June 30, 2011

Finally Summer a time for bitter-melon

As some of you already know I like to grow GOYA or if you prefer bitter melon. I did a post last year about it if you dig back through the archives. This year I was a bit worried because the spring was exceptionally cool this year here in Wisconsin and goya like hot weather. We planted seeds from last ears planting around mothers day but nothing sprouted. Ithen replanted more seeds from last year and when the weather began to warm into the 70's we saw sprouts bust through the soil. The seedlings look very healthy this year so we are hoping the grow fast and produce fruit. Here are some pictures I took over the past few days. There is a warm front moving in today that is suppose to take us into the 90's and upper 80's so we're hoping for a growth spirt from our plants. I'll keep you posted.

Be back soon!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Imagine Celebrating 112 Birthdays - カメさん112歳誕生会

Recently Kame Takamiyaki celebrated her 112th birthday at Daimyo nursing home in Naha, Okinawa. In Okinawa they celebrate old age and reaching the milestone of 112 was no regular birthday. Takamiyaki was dressed in a traditional yellow bingata kimono with crimson markings. There was a family gathering with the residents of the center and everyone expressed their birthday wishes to Takamiyaki san. 
Here is a video of the celebration. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone treated the old with respect? 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cave of Todoroki

Hi everyone, Today I wanted to share with you an interesting interactive panoramic photo. I borrowed this from the web so I'm not taking credit for it but it was just too good not to share. You'll need quicktime installed to view it but most computers will already have it installed. Here's the story:

There are many natural caves of various sizes in the southern section of the Okinawa's main island. They are called Gama in the islands where during the midst of the Battle for Okinawa, they were used by both the Japanese army and Okinawan citizens’ for refuge from the fighting.

The cave of Todoroki is a natural cave in Itoman city. It consists of perpendicular and cylindrical doline with a center diameter of about 30 meters. The cave also has groundwater which flows through it. In it Okinawans faced the worst of both sides of the battle.

During the battle hundreds of Okinawan citizens took refuge in the cave as well as tens of Japanese soldiers. It is said that there was a baby who was screaming out from hunger and was strangled to death by a Japanese soldier to prevent giving away their position to the Americans. Okinawans who were going to surrender and others who spoke the local dialect were also killed by the Japanese soldiers as spies. Okinawan citizens were also made to leave the shelter of the cave dispite the intense gunfire. There was little food and some of the children also starved to death in this cave.

Then when surrender advice was not followed the US Forces, without distinguishing between Okinawan citizens and the Japanese army, threw the bombs or hand grenades into the cave. Later in the battle, Lieutenant-General Simon Buckner was killed in the by Japanese artillery bombardment at Maesato village on June 18, 1945. It is said that the US forces killed all of the civilians and POWs in retaliation.

This panorama photo is taken in the the direction of the center of the cave near the entrance of Todoroki cave.

Today, these caves are included in the courses given to junior and high school students, as a part of peace education in Japan and for the renunciation of war as a time when people can do vicarious deeds.

Here it is in Japanese





Information borrowed from the Panoramas of WWII Landmarks web site.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Okinawa Stone of Kenosha WI

Did you know that there are commemorative stones on the inner walls of the Washington Monument in Washington DC? Well there are. Gifts from contributors who helped build the monument and others who believed in what George Washington stood for. Even the people of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Here’s the story.

In a mission first entrusted to Commodore Matthew C. Perry 157 years ago, the people of Okinawa Prefecture presented an engraved memorial stone of polished coral to the people of the United States. This came about after it was discovered that the original stone had gone missing. During the 1989 ceremony, Shizuo Kishaba, then vice president of the Ryukyu America Historical Research Society, stated "This stone... should symbolize the historical ties of friendship and goodwill between our people.”

While Washington does have the memorial stone I discovered another stone that I think is even more magnificent. I call it the “Okinawa Stone” and its located right here in my home town of Kenosha Wisconsin. I was really surprised to discover it as I knew nothing of it previously and I’m pretty into all things Okinawan. Here’s the story.

I guess the American Legion was looking for a huge rock that was actually part of “The Rock” as Okinawa is affectionately known to many ex-soldiers that have been there. They wanted it for a memorial fountain that would honor the cities fallen war heroes. One of these veterans approached a good Okinawan friend of ours who also resides in Kenosha and asked her if she could help them get a lead on a boulder from Okinawa.

I guess our friend had a huge garden in Okinawa where they had just such a stone. One thing led to another and low and behold now there is a piece of Okinawa in Kenosha. The boulder is actually from a site where one of the bloodiest battles of the battle for Okinawa took place. It was an awesome feat to just get it here but it has been in place since 1976. Funny how life is connected isn’t it. Here is a video I made of the stone. If your ever in Kenosha stop by and have a look.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Red Rope of Marriage - An Okinawan Folktale

I have always been interested in Okinawan folktales and mythology. Because of this interest I have decided to place some of them here on occassion for your enjoyment. Just remember that folktales are not sweet or kind and that there may be content that might be inappropriate for young children.

The story I have chosen for today can be heard throughout the Ryukyu islands. Some call it Kara-Banashi or China Story because it originated in China. The story was brought to the Ryukyus' after the establishment of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the Mid 15th century. For our purpose here I'm calling it the Red Rope of Marriage.


It is said that in the old days, a couple destined to be wed in the future were tied together with an invisible red rope at birth.

This story begins with a bright young man who was a son of a Kunigami district official. One day he decided to go to the capital city of Shuri for he thought living in the northernmost part of Okinawa would not give him a chance to move up in society. He began his journey to Shuri on foot, as wheels had not been invented at the time. He figured it would take him five or six days to reach Shuri from Kunigami.

As he went up and down the mountains, the young man amused himself by looking at the bushes and animals he passed and by humming or singing to himself. One day, as night began to come, he decided to rest under a huge tree he could see in the distance. As he approached the tree, he saw an old man with white hair sitting under it. The old man was twisting a red rope in his hands and noticed the young man.

Young man, may I ask where you are heading?’ “I’m going to Shuri to study and become an Ichibanko,” the young man replied.

The young man was curious about the red rope and why the old man was twisting it. What is the red rope for, old man? “Oh this? This is a matchmaking rope.” The old man never stopped twisting the red rope while he talked. Then it is true there is a rope of marriage? The young man was even more curious now. Yes, it’s true. The old man squinted his eyes as he looked at the young man. “In fact, I know who is going to be your wife, young man. Really? You know who I will many?” “Of course I do. Look over there." The old man pointed. “See the young girl carrying firewood on her back? She is the one who will be your wife"

The young man looked at where the old man pointed and saw a young girl walking a short distance from them. He saw she was dark-skinned and had reddish hair. Ugly, thought the young man. He was very disappointed and somewhat angry this girl was destined to be his wife. “I can’t believe that ugly girl is going to be my wife! The young man exclaimed. “My life will be miserable. I don’t want to marry her.”

Outraged at the thought of having to marry this girl, the young man drew his sword and attacked the girl. The sword slashed the girl’s back and she collapsed on the ground. The young man ran away without seeing what happened to the poor girl.

The young man continued his journey and soon reached the capital city of Shuri. He went to school and studied very hard. A few years later he passed the government examination and became an Ichibanko, a high honor. As an Ichibanko, it was guaranteed he would get a good govermnent job. He was very happy now with his life. Before he started working for the government he decided to go back to Kunigami to tell his parents of his success.

On his journey back to Kunigami, it began to get dark as he looked for a place to sleep. He soon saw a rich mans house and decided to ask the master if he could stay there for the night. The young man knocked on the door and waited. The master of the house opened the door and looked at the young man.

“Master, would you kindly let me stay the night at your house?” The young man asked. ‘Young man, may I ask where you are from? The master asked. “I was studying at Shuri and became an lchibanko. I am now heading to my hometown of Kunigami to give my parents the good news.” The master smiled at this and opened the door wide, beckoning the young man into the house.

“An Ichibanko is a most honorable achievement and no one around here ever became one. Well, well, it is truly an honor to have a smart young man like you in my house. Please come in.”

Not only did the master provide lodging, he also presented the young man with a wonderful dinner. The young daughter of the master served the meal. She was so charming and beautiful the young man instantly fell in love with her.

After the young man finished his meal! the master said, "Young man, this is my daughter. She is now at a good age to wed. If an intelligent young man like yourself would marry her, it would be our family’s dream come true. Would you kindly take her as your wife?" The young man was a little surprised by this sudden offer, but accepted without hesitation. The young man and the beautiful girl got married and lived very happily together.

One day. the young man was watching his beloved wife from behind as she watered the garden. When she bent over, he noticed a large scar running from her neck down her back. Where did you get that from?” He asked. “Oh this?” She said and tried to brush it off as nothing. ‘Some years ago when I was coming home carrying firewood on my back, I dont know why, but a man suddenly attacked me and slashed my back with his sword. I fainted from the pain. The people who found me took me to their house to care for me. I lost my memory, so they brought me up as their own daughter.”

Listening to this story, the young man remembered the strange encounter he had with the old man many years ago. The old man had been right. Man and wife were bonded with a red rope from the lime of their birth. I could never tell my wife, thought the young man. I will compensate my actions by loving and cherishing her forever. He made this promise to himself from the bottom of his heart.

From that day on, the young man loved his wife more than before and worked very hard in his job and soon was promoted to a higher position in the government. The young man and his wife were indeed a perfect match because they had been bonded together by the invisible red rope.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Okinawan Sugar

The land resources of the Ryukyus is extremely limited. Agricultural production has always been severely hampered by the restricted water supply, severe typhoons, and other climatic factors in Okinawa. In the golden era, and even in the period of Satsuma domination, the islands agricultural resources needed to be supplemented by profits from maritime commerce. After formal annexation by Japan, the steadily increasing population became entirely dependent on their meager domestic resources. The Japanese government established several programs as a result to meet this critical economic problem.

One of the most extensive of all the economic programs undertaken by the government was the intensive development and conservation of natural resources on Okinawa. Their greatest progress was made in the development of the sugar industry. Sugar cane in fact, was the farmers only significant cash crop and after 1920 nearly twenty five percent of all cultivated land was planted in sugar cane. Sugar cane accounted for sixty five percent of the total value of Ryukyuan industrial production and exports.

Noren Daiichi Sugar Mill

The Ryukyuan Sugar Industry has a history dating back three hundred years and was a major source of revenue to Ryukyuan farmers in the prewar years. The first centrifugal sugar mill began operating in the Ryukyu Islands in 1908 in Nishihara-ken. The original plant was called the Noren Daiichi Sugar Mill. Subsequently, additional plants would be built at Kadena, Ie Shima, and Minami Daito. All were completely demolished during the battle for Okinawa and for sometime after the war the farmers paid little attention to the cultivation of sugar cane. This was primarily because every one was busy increasing production of foods to sustain life and not concentrating on sugar. In 1947 though the Government, as well as the inhabitants of the southern municipalities on the island began to realize that complete rural rehabilitation could only be achieved through the development of the sugar industry.
At first the military government took a negative attitude toward the resumption of sugar cane cultivation because of its policy to accelerate production of other foods. However it finally concurred in resuming sugar cane cultivation in Minami-Daito and issued a license to Daito Sugar Manufacturing Company to begin operation in January 1948. In 1951, the Ryukyu Sugar Manufacturing Company was established in Haebaru with modern equipment imported from Hawaii. Since that time the military government has invited experts from Hawaii and the United States mainland to survey the Ryukyu Islands regarding the acceleration of the sugar industry. Because of these efforts, sugar cane cultivation has flourished.
From Nakijin at the northern extremity of the Motobu peninsula, to Gushikami at the southern tip of Okinawa, the canes in the fields stand three meters tall in the many areas during the month of November. At that time they are heavy and damp with the sweet fluid from which sugar is made. The flower a top the long stalks has turned from green to yellow as the sugar content approaches its maximum. Soon the flowers will turn from yellow to white to signal the end of another 18 month cycle. In a matter of days the cane will be fully ripened and the sugar harvest will begin.
More than seventy five percent of the seasons (November through April) total harvest will go to the Ryukyu Islands ten centrifugal mills which produce white sugar. Miyako has two centrifugal mills. Ishigaki and Daito have one each. On Okinawa there are two mills at Nishihara-son, and one each at Haebaru-son, Itoman, Gushikawa-son and Nakijin-son.
Since the manufacture of sugar is such an important industry in the Ryukyus, it is advisable to visit more than one plant during the season in order to grasp the volume of production and employment. On this tour we will visit the sugar mill which is located in Nishihara-son on highway 13. The mill was established in 1959. It is owned and operated by the Ryukyu Federation of Agricultural Cooperative. On this tour we will follow 80 metric tons of cane being processed through the mill.
A giant iron claw, operated from an overhead crane, picks up the cane, a metric ton at a time, and drops it into a hopper. The cane falls from the hopper onto cutters which cut it into 15 centimeter lengths. Then it automatically passes to a second cutter and then through a shredder which tears the cane into smaller frayed particles. The shredded cane then moves rapidly through a series of four “mill rolls’ each of which squeezes the cane between heavy rollers. Beneath the mill rolls is a tank which receives the juice from the shredded cane as it is compressed between the rollers. After the cane leaves the first, second, and third mill rolls, it is saturated with water to assist in extracting all possible sugar content from the cane. It then passes through a fourth mill roll. By this point it has by then become thoroughly pulverized and a dry residue remains on the fourth roll. This is utilized as fuel for the furnaces which produce the steam to operate the mill.
The tank beneath the mill rolls has now accumulated 80 metric tons of juice from the cane. This includes the added water which amounts to about 15 per cent of the total solution. The juice is heated and piped into another tank where a lime solution is added which changes the juice from an acid to a slightly alkali solution. Then, to neutralize the alkali, a small amount of sulfur dioxide is introduced into the tank, it is desirable that the juice be as neutral as possible. If it is allowed to remain slightly acid or slightly alkali, the ultimate quality of the sugar would be adversely affected.
Next the juice flows from the neutralizing tank into vats where it sets while impurities settle to the bottom. The clear fluid then flows to a clarified juice tank while the impure “mud” juice from the bottom of the vats flows through a filter and then back into the clarified juice tank. The clarified juice then flows to a series of evaporating tanks where it is heated and allowed to evaporate until it becomes heavy, thick syrup containing very little water. What was previously 80 kilos of juice and water is now 8.24 kilos of syrup.
Finally, the heavy syrup flows into the centrifugal vats which spin at a rate of 1,200 revolutions per minute. As the vats spin centrifugal action forces the last bit of moisture out of the syrup, which, minus its moisture content, becomes dry, white sugar crystals. The moisture that is thus extracted drips from the bottom of the centrifugal vats while the white sugar is conveyed up to a storage bin. What was once 8.24 kilos of syrup is now 1.84 kilos of white sugar. Or, by weight, 2.4 metric tons of exhaust molasses and 916 metric tons of white sugar.
The sugar pours from the storage bin into clean, white sacks of 8 kilogram net capacity. Exactly 320 sacks are filled, sewn shut and stacked in the packing room to await shipment to market.

The preceding information was taken from a book I purchased called Okinawa at work. The book is from 1965 so a lot of the information is out dated and reflects the views of the Gaijin's who wrote it but I felt it a worthy resource for accomplishing my goal here with this blog of providing historical information about the islands and people of Okinawa. What I remember most about Okinawan sugar is the sweet smell of what I would describe as carmel corn in the air whe the mills were operating. The two I remember most were near Katsuren and in Nishihara. The viewpoint of the american who wrote the book focused on the production of white sugar but obviously there is more benefit in using the so called Black sugar with all its nutrients and vitamin properties. The Okinawans have always known this and Black sugar is a staple in Okinawan cookery. White sugar however was one of the resources that helped the Okinawan economy recover after the war and proves the fortitude of the Okinawan people in being able to sucessfully farm it.

It was one of the toughest days I can remember the day my father in law asked me to come help with the harvest of his sugarcane. Al I did was carry tied bundles of cane from the field to the street where we stacked it in anticipation of a huge dump truck showing up with a claw that would lift the cane bundles up into the truck. I was never so tried in all my life as after that day.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Upcoming Video of the April 2011 Performances

Hello everyone! I'm posting today to let everyone know that I am now editing film taken at the 2011 Shinnen Kai (New Years celebration) of the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. Each year the kenjinkai has a new years gathering and the performance group shows off it's stuff. Here is just an example of the great job they do.

When I'm finished the DVD's will be available for $10. I will be offering the DVD on Ebay (Just search "Okinawa") or you can email me for a copy at Shipping and Handling will be added to the sale.