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.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Visitors from Salt Lake City

This weekend we had visitors from Salt Lake City. Uchinanchu Friend Keiko Mitchell and her husband Steve stopped by to say hello on their way to see their son in Rockford Illinois. Keiko recently passed her first level Sanshin test and played for us at the house. She has a wonderful voice and played very well from memory. We had dinner together and visited the Okinawa Stone down by the shores of Lake Michigan. They weren't able to stay long but it sure was nice to see them again.

One thing I like about having uchinanchu friends is once you have an Okinawan friend you have them for life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

August is the Month of Obon in Okinawa Japan

Obon (お盆) or just Bon (盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors' graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori.

The festival of Obon lasts for three days; however its starting date varies within different regions of Japan. When the lunar calendar was changed to the Gregorian calendar at the beginning of the Meiji era, the localities in Japan reacted differently and this resulted in three different times of Obon. "Shichigatsu Bon" (Bon in July) is based on the solar calendar and is celebrated around 15 July in eastern Japan (Kantō: areas such as Tokyo, Yokohama and the Tohoku region), coinciding with Chūgen. "Hachigatsu Bon" (Bon in August) is based on the solar calendar, is celebrated around the 15th of August and is the most commonly celebrated time. "Kyu Bon" (Old Bon) is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and so differs each year. "Kyu Bon" is celebrated in areas like the northern part of the Kantō region, Chūgoku, Shikoku, and the Southwestern islands. These three days are not listed as public holidays but it is customary that people are given leave.

Bon Odori (盆踊り), meaning simply Bon dance is a style of dancing performed during Obon. Originally a Nenbutsu folk dance to welcome the spirits of the dead, the style of celebration varies in many aspects from region to region. Each region has a local dance, as well as different music. The music can be songs specifically pertinent to the spiritual message of Obon, or local min'yo folk songs. Consequently, the Bon dance will look and sound different from region to region. Hokkaidō is known for a folk-song known as "Soran Bushi." The song "Tokyo Ondo" takes its namesake from the capital of Japan. "Gujo Odori" in Gujō, Gifu prefecture is famous for all night dancing. "Goshu Ondo" is a folk song from Shiga prefecture. Residents of the Kansai area will recognize the famous "Kawachi ondo." Tokushima in Shikoku is very famous for its "Awa Odori," or "fool's dance," and in the far south, one can hear the "Ohara Bushi" of Kagoshima.

The way in which the dance is performed is also different in each region, though the typical Bon dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a 'yagura'. The yagura is usually also the bandstand for the musicians and singers of the Obon music. Some dances proceed clockwise, and some dances proceed counter-clockwise around the yagura. Some dances reverse during the dance, though most do not. At times, people face the yagura and move towards and away from it. Still some dances, such as the Kagoshima Ohara dance, and the Tokushima Awa Odori, simply proceed in a straight line through the streets of the town.

The dance of a region can depict the area's history and specialization. For example, the movements of the dance of the Tankō Bushi (the "coal mining song") of old Miike Mine in Kyūshū show the movements of miners, i.e. digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging, etc. All dancers perform the same dance sequence in unison.

There are other ways in which a regional Bon dance can vary. Some dances involve the use of different kinds of fans, others involve the use of small towels called tenugui which may have colorful designs. Some require the use of small wooden clappers, or "kachi-kachi" during the dance. The "Hanagasa Odori" of Yamagata is performed with a straw hat that has been decorated with flowers.

The music that is played during the Bon dance is not limited to Obon music and min'yo; some modern enka hits and kids' tunes written to the beat of the "ondo" are also used to dance to during Obon season. The "Pokémon Ondo" was used as one of the ending theme songs for the anime series in Japan.

The Bon dance tradition is said to have started in the later years of the Muromachi period as a public entertainment. In the course of time, the original religious meaning has faded, and the dance has become associated with summer.

To celebrate O-Bon in Okinawa, the eisa drum dance is performed instead.

This video shows a compilation of dancers that danced at this years Bon dance at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights. Mitsuwa has become the annual spot for the bon odori in the chicagoland area. I changed the music but it fits rather nicely to the dance and the occassion.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What Exactly is the Uchinanchu Taikai?

Nearly 100 years ago, many Okinawans left their beloved island, lured by dreams of making their fortunes. Many islanders made their way to places such as Hawaii (where they worked on sugar plantations), Peru, Brazil, and other countries throughout the world. While many of these Okinawans dreams were larger than life, unfortunately life in a foreign country was worse than what they had foreseen. Housing conditions were poor and labor was unbelievably tough. Language barriers and new customs also gave many Okinawans problems as well.

Many people may wonder why so many Okinawans would leave such a beautiful place and move to a foreign country. Several factors contributed to this mass exodus. After Okinawa was assimilated by Japan, the new government imposed a new tax system and instigated a military draft. These policies made many islanders lives extremely difficult. The island also suffered from limited natural resources. Since space was at such a premium, few could afford decently sized farm plots, and typhoons destroyed crops on a regular basis.

Today, emigrants from Okinawa throughout the world regularly reconnect with islanders from the same village, town, or city. Many organized groups exist, promoting friendship and exchanging information. Recently, many groups have consolidated into larger networks called Kenjin-kai. There are sixty-six Kenjin-kai located throughout the world, and periodically these networks hold a Worldwide Uchinanchu (Okinawan) Festival in Okinawa sponsored by the Prefectural government, bringing representatives from different Kenjin-kai together.

The first was held in 1990 and then more were held in 1995, 2001, and 2006. This year, the 5th World Uchinanchu Festival will be held at the Okinawa Cellular Stadium in Naha. The events will take place between October 12th and the 16th once again bringing Okinawans back to their beloved ancestral homeland.

Let the Churashima spirit echo into the future!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The 5th Joint Performance Recital with The Kariyushi-kai

If you're going to be in Okinawa the weekend before the 5th world Uchinanchu Festival maybe you'll be interested in attending a cultural arts performance between the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai and the Kariyushi-kai of Okinawa.

On October 9th 2011 there will be a joint performance recital featuring the Music & Dance of Okinawa Japan. Performed by members of the Kariyushi-kai and the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai the performance will be the fifth time these two groups have met to perform together.

It will be held at the Kimutaka Hall which is located at 3071 Katsuren-Henna, in Uruma City. This is an exciting event for those who enjoy the pleasures of the Okinawa culture.

EVENT: 5th Reunion Recital of the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai and the Okinawa Kariyushi-Kai

When: Sunday, October 9th 2011

View Larger Map

Where: Kimutaka Hall (3071 Katsuren-Henna, Uruma City)

Time: 3pm

You MUST RSVP for tickets to this event. If you have questions and request for more detail information please contact to Mayumi Seino /

A 2011 Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai Event

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Okinawa's Annual Shisa-mai Festival

Once upon a time, a Ryukyuan emissary returned from China after his voyage to the court at Shuri Castle, where he brought with him a gift for the king. It was a necklace decorated with a small figurine of a shisa-dog. The king found it charming and wore it underneath his clothing.

Now it happened that the Naha Port bay, by the village of Madanbashi was often terrorized by a sea dragon who ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the King was visiting the village when one of these attacks happened. The people scattered running to hide from the horrible sea dragon. The local noro had been told in a dream that he should instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift his figurine towards the dragon. She sent a young boy named Chiga to tell him the message which had come to her in a dream. The King upon hearing the message went to the seaside where he faced the sea monster with the figurine held high.
Shisa near Gana-mui Woods & the Naha Ohashi Bridge
Almost  immediately a giant roar could be heard all throughout  the village. A roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the sea dragon. Then a massive boulder then fell from heavens and crushing the sea dragon's tail. He couldn't move, and eventually died. This boulder and the dragon's body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees, and can still be seen by the port today. It is the "Gana-mui Woods" near Naha Ohashi bridge. The towns people built a large stone shisa to protect it from the dragon's spirit and other threats.

The people of Okinawa call lion-dogs, shisa or shishi. pronounced "She-she" Shishi is a Chinese word meaning lion-dog. A shisa is a lion-dog originally from China that wards off evil spirits and was initially placed at the entrances of castles, temples, imperial mausoleums and communities. In Okinawa they can be seen on many houses as well. Many times there are two Shisa present one with mouth closed to warn potential evil to stay away from the property and one with the mouth open almost in a smile to welcome good spirts.
Photo courtesy of Lloyd Wanscott photographer for Okinawa Living Magazine

The Shishimai, or Shisa dance, is a lively dance performed by a two costumed performers. In the dance, the fierce guardian is transformed into a fun loving spirit as it leaps and runs, wagging its furry tail and snapping its great wooden jaws at the audience to bring the people in attendance good luck. Children and adults alike laugh and try to pet the Shisa as it bounds by and catches a ball thrown by a Chondara clown.

The Shisa brings a warm feeling of timeless joy and by means of its ancient protection. It has become a rich part of Ryukyuan history and culture as well as reflecting the traditional beliefs of the typical family in Okinawa.

Every year in Okinawa they hold an annual shisa-mai festival. I believe this years festival will be held on September 25th at the Agena Bullring in Uruma City. Several different groups will be competing for the honor of best Shisa-mai group 2011.

If your going to Okinawa early for the 5th World Uchinanchu Festival this may be something you should check out. I'm positive you won't be disappointed. Maybe I'll see you there!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chicago's Annual Bon Odori

It's been a few days since I last wrote on the blog because I broke my tooth off and have been in pain for most of the week. The dentist was able to help me out before Saturday’s event at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights, IL. The event is an annual one with everyone showing up to celebrate Obon. The Japanese holiday that celebrates the ancestors returning back to the earth for a yearly visit, It involves many Japanese and Okinawans from around the Chicago area as well as everyone else who likes culture. It is a time to meet with old friends and meet new ones as well.

Saturday I met a Japanese fellow named Kohei Yoshida who was visiting Chicago on a research project involving the assimilation of local uchinanchu people into other cultures. He was looking for volunteers to interview for the project and somehow he ended up talking to me. Mr. Yoshida is a research fellow of the Japan Society for the promotion of science (Social Science) with the Tokyo Metropolitan University. If you would like to contact him he said he would love to interview anyone with possible information on his research subject. Please feel free to email him at Yoshida san was going to Brazil and Peru after his Chicago visit but promised to stop back and see us next summer.
The Bon dance is a tradition where a group of people from a village gather to dance in celebration around a podium of lanterns usually set up in the village's gathering place. In Chicago we still celebrate the tradition by visiting our gathering place, Mitsuwa Market, where everyone constantly visits and picks up the essentials of Japanese cookery.

The Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai has become a regular part of the celebration demonstrating its version of Matsuri Daiko a form of choreographed eisa movements to a more modern style of eisa music from Okinawa. I was there to capture all of the action to share with you here today. So here is a sample of what I took. More video can be viewed on my Youtube page at ... Enjoy!