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, May 9, 2012

Okinawa's Peace Memorial Park

A good portion of our tour with the Itoman City group was spent at the Okinawa Heiwa Kinen Koen or Peace Memorial Park. The park is the location of the southern memorial peace monuments erected in honor of the many victims of the worst tragedy in Okinawan history. The monuments were created in the hope of preventing the same tragic mistake again. 

I had been to the peace park many times in the past while living in Okinawa during the eighties but the park has been greatly developed since then an has become a totally different environment today. Here is a video of our experience. You'll notice at the end of the film clip I found an elevator and took it to the top where I found an observatory deck where I was able to get some good shots of the park from above.

Towering over this extensive park is the Peace Prayer and Memorial Hall. Inside the hall there is a Peace Buddha and paintings done by artists from around the world, the hall represents the hope for world peace.

 Adjacent to Memorial Hall is the Cornerstone of Peace and the stone wall monuments that hold the names of more than 234,000 people who lost their lives during the battle in Okinawa. It is very similar to the Vietnam war memorial in Washington DC but has many more names included here. 

 The Okinawan names included on the walls belong not only to victims from the Battle of Okinawa, but also to every known Okinawan who lost their life anywhere in the Pacific during World War II. It is estimated that one third of the island’s total population perished during that time. The walls also include the names of Japanese, Americans, and all other foreigners who died during the Battle of Okinawa.

 The rows of black granite engraved with names of the lost souls who are remembered here is a sobering sight. Nearly all Okinawans have a family members, relatives, or friends whose names are engraved on the walls.

The park has been designed so that the sun will cast its shadow past the Cornerstone of  Peace and down the monuments center path on June 23 each year, the exact day the battle for Okinawa ended. Every year on this date (Irei no hi), a memorial service takes place and there are free music concerts are held at the park. Facing the ocean, you'll find “Monument Road” on the right, with its beautiful greenery and Ryukyu Matsu trees.  Follow the path and you'll find a beautiful view of the ocean which provides a stark contrast to the bloody scenes that took place on that spot in 1945. The cold, gray monuments, which were constructed along that path were erected there by Japan’s other prefectures to memorialize the soldiers from their prefecture who died in Okinawa. If you walk to the end of the road to find another monument on the very site where Lieutenant General Ushijima, Commander of the Japanese Imperial Army in Okinawa, killed himself before the island fell.

The Peace Memorial Park also has a beautifully designed museum. The museum features many historical artifacts from the war and written accounts by survivors. It incorporates an Information Center that focuses on the Battle of Okinawa with the theme of peace. The displays are very moving and there are explanations in English. The entrance fee is 1300 for adults and 1150 for students. The museum center is open everyday from 9 am to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Itoman’s Kohchi hara and Akahigi bara no Haka (The Kohchi and Akahigi Family Tombs)

Who would consider a trip to a burial tomb to be a tourist attraction? Well one of the more unusual places we visited on the Itoman city tour was the Kohchi hara and Akahigi bara no Haka (The Kohchi and Akahigi Family Tombs). Here is a video followed by information about Okinawa and it burial traditions.

In Okinawa tombs hold the remains of all ancestors of one lineage, from father to son, to grandson, to great- grandson, continuing down the family tree. This means a tomb will contain all family remains under the male members of the family name including wives who married into the family but not the sisters unless they never married.

What makes the tombs of the Kohchi and Akahigi family special is that they contain the remains of more than 5,500 ancestors! These two family lineages have been traced back to 1684. Every deceased descendant from that time to today has found these tombs to be their final resting place.

Unlike the quiet and somber atmosphere you might expect from a visit to a western style graveyard, visits to Okinawan tombs are much happier. During the Seimei (shiimii) festival, which takes place on the 15th day of March according to the lunar calendar, Okinawans clean the area surrounding their ancestral tombs the day before. On the day of Seimei an abundance of food is prepared and brought to the family tomb. Family members then sit down in front of the tomb and enjoy food and drink in honor of their ancestors.

Traditionally, Okinawan people would place the body of their deceased ancestors inside the family tomb after performing various funeral rituals. The tomb will then be re-opened three years later and a female family member would perform the important task of cleaning the bones of the deceased. Before washing them, she would first remove any flesh that might remain. The bones would then be transferred to a special burial urn and placed back inside the tomb. Then thirty-three years later the tomb would be opened again and the bones removed from the urn. They would then be placed on a platform next to other ancestors completing the final burial rites.

After the war, the practice of cremating bodies became widely accepted and Okinawa’s bone-washing ritual gradually disappeared. Nowadays bodies are cremated and placed in an urn. The urns are then placed in the tomb with others that have been placed there before them. Okinawans consider a visit to the tomb as a visit with family and everyone love company.

To find the these family tombs in Itoman walking east from the Itoman Rotary to the second traffic light, a very small one-way street appears on the right side on the corner. This small road leads straight down to the tombs, which are on the left, behind the cement wall. To get there by vehicle, turn one block before the traffic signal and drive around the block.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hakugin Do (Fisherman's Shrine)

 During our stay in Okinawa we stayed in Yoza a small village that is now part of Itoman City. As part of the festivities of the Uchinanchu Taikai we participated in a tour of the southern sites around Itoman. The city took the visiting uchinanchu and there families around by bus and showed them the things in the area that make their home town area special. One of those places was Hakugin Do the fisherman's shrine.

Long ago, it is said that a fisherman from Itoman once borrowed a large sum of money from a Satsuma Samurai named Kodama Saemon. The fisherman however, was unable to pay his debt, so he hid from Kodama in a nearby cave. The samurai grew angry and began searching for the fisherman, asking villagers about his whereabouts. Kodama soon found the fisherman and threatened to kill him with his mighty sword unless he received payment. The fisherman begged for his life “No matter how much anger you feel, do not strike with your sword,” he pleaded. The words he spoke reached Kodama’s heart and the samurai decided to show him mercy. He extended the time of repayment for the fisherman’s debt until the following year. The fisherman wept silently for joy in the darkness of the cave and thanked Kodama for his kindness. Upon his return to Kagoshima, Kodama faced a similar situation when he found his wife that night asleep in his dark home with another man. Consumed by anger, the samurai drew his sword to kill the sleeping stranger. But at the height of his anger, just before he was about to strike, he remembered the words of the fisherman and his act of mercy. He dropped his sword to his side. Realizing there was someone else present, the two sleeping bodies awoke. To his astonishment, Kodama discovered that the person next to his wife was actually his mother, who had slept next to her daughter-in-law purposefully dressing as a man to help protect her while Kodama was away. Kodama broke down and wept as he realized he had nearly killed his own mother.

Kodama returned to Okinawa wishing to thank the fisherman and to cancel the debt, but the fisherman had already gathered the money he owed Kodama and insisted on repaying him. After arguing for quite a while, they finally agreed to put the money inside the same cave where the fisherman had hid. Today, the small shrine of Hakugin Do marks the spot of this legendary cave. 

Here is a video I took of our trip to Hakugin Do.

Hakugin Do is still used for prayer and plays today and is an important part in the spiritual customs of fisherman during the first day of the Chinese lunar New Year. The shrine also receives many visitors during the Itoman ha (Dragon boat) races in June. Hakugin Do is located about 500 meters north of Itoman Rotary on Route 331, on the right. When entering Itoman by vehicle from Naha, the shrine is on the left just past the FM Taman Radio Station.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cultural genes are inherited from parents and grandparents

Culture plays a dramatic role in the way people think, feel, and act. I believe that all cultures have certain values, beliefs, customs, language, knowledge, and worldviews that directly reflect the people as a whole. Okinawans are a great example of this and many of them continue to act on the ways of the past in ways that makes them very unique human beings. Many of the older generation on Okinawa today grew up poor. They depended on their neighbors and on their communities when times were hard. Through cooperation they built a spiritually rich society  which can still be seen on the island today in the ways of the people. Here is an example of what I mean. This is a video of a young boy I happened on while browsing YouTube. In the video the young boy is dancing to the delight of the crowd in a local department store. It is quite obvious to me that he has been influenced by the people around him as his style of Okinawan dance could not be possible without exposure to people who strive to keep there culture alive.


The young mans moves are very impressive. Did you noticed his shirt also reflects the cultural beliefs of his parents, as it reads " Take it Easy - Positive Life" which seems to be the jist of the Okinawan lifestyle. I speak of the Okinawan lifestyle of old because everyone in this modern world reflects back on their cultural roots when selecting their lifestyle. While the elders of Okinawa understood the importance of maintaining the culture many of the younger generation have not sufficiently inherited their cultural genes. The influences of modern Japanese and American culture upon the island has corrupted the gene pool. Many young people today are far more interested in eating a Big Mac rather than a plate of goya champuru. I believe that in order for the average Okinawan person to attain Fukuju (A happy and healthy longevity) they must participate in the societal needs of their communities. Without their participation the cultural genes will be stifled.

During our visit to Okinawa in 2011 I was very impressed with the daughter of my wife's sister as it was very apparent to me that she was carrying on Okinawan traditions passed along by the generations before her. She was also successfully melding these traditions in with the natural modern lifestyle of present day Okinawa. Here is a picture of her children I received just this week which proves she understands the importance of passing along cultural genes.

It is important that children find some fun and excitement in their cultural heritage to instill a sense of heritage in them understanding where they came from and how important it is to remember the past.

In America it is even harder to pass on the Okinawan cultural genes. Far removed from the feelings of community still found in Okinawa today the uchinanchu living in America must work hard to overcome the typical selfish mindset of the American youth. One promising factor I see though, is through the work of the Okinawa Kenjinkai's in American striving to give member's children a sense of their cultural heritage. In Chicago they are teaching cultural aspects of dance, taiko, and karate to the children which is the first step of ownership in a rich cultural community. The children are our future and we should not neglect our responsibilities to pass on the cultural genes to the next generation.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Ryukyu Kingdom (Second Sho Dynasty)

Sho Hashi’s descendants ruled successfully until 1461 when a young king by the name of Toku came to the throne. Prosperity diminished from the foolish spending of Toku’s father, Sho Taikyu, whose policies had improved the lifestyles of the royal family and the upper class, while the rest of the island lived a life of poverty. Toku was too young to recognize the chaos his father had caused, creating discontent among the pheasants that were not eager to see their taxes spent on lavish parties for the royal family. Even worse, he isolated himself from the royal court when he led an expedition to conquer a small meaningless island to the north that lay enroute to Kyushu.

Toku’s actions set the stage for a rebellion upon his death. Kanemaru, who had served as treasurer to previous kings, led the successful coup and declared himself king in the year 1470. He took the name Sho En and began a second dynasty that would see four hundred years of rule by the Sho En royal bloodline.

Upon receiving confirmation of his authority from the Emperor of China, Sho en enjoyed a brief but successful reign on the throne. Sho En changed the way future kings would make decisions by giving the high priestess of Shuri court a level of authority his ancestors had never seen before. His decision enabled noro high priestesses to play pivotal roles in political decisions that affected the entire kingdom.

King Sho En, 1415-1476
When Sho En’s son, Sho Shin, came to the throne in 1477, he was just 14 years old. Despite his young age, he maintained power with the help of his mother during the early years of his rule. Eventually, Sho Shin showed natural leadership, and his wisdom guided the Ryukyu Kingdom through 50 years of prosperity.

A document sent by the Ming Emperor Xiao Zong to the Ryukyuan Chuzan King Sho Shin.
Under Sho Shin’s rule, Shuri Castle and its surrounding area saw a boom in construction while Shuri Port bustled with economic activity as Ryukyuan ships continued to expand trade. The increase in overseas trade helped to stimulate the economy and kept the warlords happy. Later, Sho Shin persuaded the warlords to leave their castles and live near Shuri castle, enabling him to exercise power throughout the kingdom.

King Sho Shin, 1465-1526

Sho Shin’s reign ended upon his death in 1526. The years that followed saw rising tensions in Southeast Asia, and began keeping a watchful eye on European expansion into the Asian region. For centuries, Japan had viewed the Ryukyu Kingdom as an unimportant neighbor, but world events began to force some leaders in Edo to think differently.

King Sho Hashi and the Ryukyu Kingdom Era

 One of the things I learned while in Okinawa last year was the history of how a a man called Sho Hashi brought the three regions of Okinawa (Hokuzan to the North, Chuzan in the central area and Nanzan in the South) together by overtaking the lords who ruled the regions. Sho Hashi in fact brought the island together essentially beginning the Ryukyu Kingdom. Here is the story:

Ryukyu Kingdom Era (The First Sho Dynasty)

Early in the 15th century, a great warrior by the name of Hashi began to gain power within the Chuzan Kingdom. Together with his father, Shisho, they led a successful revolt against the unpopular King Bunei of Urasoe. Shisho declared himself as king and moved the seat of the Chuzan Kingdom from Urasoe to Shun. With the power of Chuzan increasing, Hashi made and impressive show of skill as a diplomat by gaining the allegiance of Lord Gosamaru — one of the island’s most powerful aji (a chieftain). He proceeded to win the favor of three aji in Hokuzan. Hashi’s political maneuvering provided him with enough strength to launch an attack on Nakijin Castle in the north and in 1416, a fierce battle ensued between the powerful Hokuzan army and the forces loyal to Hashi. Despite being protected by great natural barriers and a strong military, Nakijin Castle fell, and Hashi returned to Shuri a hero.

In 1422, Hashi’s father passed away. The Chinese Emperor officially recognized Hashi as the new Chuzan King and gave him the name “Sho.” This move by China signified that it saw Chuzan as the main seat of government within Okinawa.

Sho Hashi then began to make plans to sieze Nanzan (the southern kingdom). He knew that trouble within King Taromai's Nanzan administration had already begun to greatly undermine Taromai’s power. In 1429 he took advantage of Taromai’s weakened authority and quickly moved to attack the Nanzan forces at Ozato. The Nanzan army was no match against Sho Hashi's forces, and the southern kingdom fell. Okinawa was finally unified under one rule, and the name “Ryukyu Kingdom” was bestowed upon the islands by the Chinese Emperor.

During his reign Sho Hashi again proved his skills as a diplomat by greatly expanding trade and then using the increase in wealth to control the island’s other warlords. Under his guidance, the Ryukyu Kingdom began engaging in commerce with many other nations, such as Korea, the Kingdom of Siam, and Java. With the help of his trusted adviser, Kaiki, the new king implemented many new changes that quickly won him the adoration of his people. His greatest accomplishment, however, was keeping his potential enemies preoccupied with their newly found wealth, for it was the first time that Okinawans saw prolonged peace throughout the islands.

While Attending the 5th Worldwide Uchinanchu festival I was lucky enough to attend a theater performance by Junior High School and High School students which depicted the life and times of King Sho Hashi. Here is a playlist of video I took of the performance. These kids did a tremendously great job and their ability was very close to professional in my opinion. The video is 2 hours and 28 minutes long so give yourself plenty of time when you start watching. Don't forget to comment!