A visit to the Yaese coast

Posted July 20, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

The town of Yaese in the south of Okinawa is less than ten minutes from our home. Despite the sizzling heat we managed to walk down to the coast there today and discovered a previously unknown (to us) beach which is fairly off the beaten track. It seems to be frequented mainly by local people. Despite living nearby for almost five years this was the first time we had explored this particular stretch of the coastline, but we will definitely return.

Some photos from today’s walk at Yaese:









Anjani: I Came To Love

Posted July 16, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

I Came To Love is the new album by Hawaiian-born singer Anjani Thomas who has strong family connections with Okinawa. Several years ago she made the album Okinawa Time which featured some of her own re-written versions of Okinawan songs by Rinken Teruya. Since that time she has found fame for her collaborations with Leonard Cohen and her last solo album Blue Alert was entirely co-written with Cohen and produced by him.

It’s already eight years since the excellent Blue Alert and a lot has happened since then, though Anjani’s fans must have begun to wonder whether this long promised new album was ever going to materialise. Well, the extended wait has been worth it and I Came To Love stands up very well alongside its predecessor. The album includes three songs co-written with Cohen (one of these an adaptation of an early poem). The other seven compositions are entirely the work of Anjani who plays piano and keyboards with a select band of handpicked musicians including country music giant Larry Campbell, renowned flamenco guitarist Pavlo, and co-producer Jerry Marotta on bass and percussion.


Anjani has obviously absorbed much of the songwriting and recording process from Cohen but at the same time she seems to have grasped a new freedom in following a somewhat different path of her own here and the results are more varied and more interesting than ever. ‘Standing on the Stairs’ begins the album in almost identical fashion to Blue Alert with its minimalist but sophisticated jazzy arrangement complementing her clear and precisely enunciated vocals. But just when we think we know exactly where this is going we get the countrified ‘Love in Between’ and then the folk-bluesy ‘Holy Ground’.

The title track which is the centrepiece of the album expertly contrasts light and shade and almost rocks out in parts as does the following ‘The Goal’. One of the most compelling songs is ‘Clean Slate’ which seems to sum up a theme of rebirth and regeneration which runs through much of an album concerned with love and reflections on life’s twists and turns. In a twist of her own, ‘Love Be a River’ is positively European with its guitar, bouzouki and accordion rising and falling along with the vocal.



I Came To Love was recorded in a variety of locations over a period of six years. It has no obvious standout tracks. Instead the album hangs together as a single statement and the initial impressions get better with every listen.




Bellowhead: Revival

Posted July 14, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Is it really a decade since English folk music was shaken to its core by the arrival of the big brassy sound of Bellowhead? It might not seem that long but Revival, the 5th album by the eleven piece English roots band, has just been released to celebrate ten years together.

The band was the brainchild of singer and fiddler John Boden and melodeon and concertina player John Spiers. On their first albums they made a fine noise adding all kinds of instrumentation to arrangements of traditional songs but it was on their 2010 release Hedonism that they really found their feet as recording artists. This milestone was followed by the manic but equally accomplished Broadside. As if this wasn’t enough the boys (and girl) are in superb form once more on Revival which comprises another ten songs and one instrumental.


With one exception, all of the pieces here are traditional, arranged by members of the band. If there’s a difference it’s that the songs are even bigger than before with a strong helping of brass to accompany Boden’s lead vocals. The two sea shanties which open the album, ‘Let Her Run’ and ‘Roll Alabama’, are as good as almost anything they’ve done while the drinking song ‘Let Union Be’ takes it to another level of musical diversity with hints of Latin American thrown into the mix just when it seems to have settled into a familiar groove.

‘Gosport Nancy’ is another highlight but it’s the one non-traditional track, ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’, which almost steals the show. Richard and Linda Thompson’s version is so embedded in the consciousness of English folk-rock aficionados that it seems almost foolhardy to mess about with it, but Bellowhead’s version is thrillingly different to just the right degree. ‘Rosemary Lane’ (a variant of the ‘Scarborough Fair’ story) is perhaps less of a triumph and the instrumental ‘Jack Lintel’ is no better or worse than others of its kind, but the album as a whole is so good that it’s churlish to find fault.



This is the band’s first release on the Island label which was famously the home of other important folk innovators Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band. The album was produced and mixed by Rupert Christie. Bellowhead are at heart a live band and probably best experienced as such. Sadly, it’s unlikely that we in Okinawa will ever have the opportunity to see them. In fact, how long they can maintain such a large group of musicians is a moot point but not one we should worry about too much for now. Let’s just be grateful for Revival and enjoy it while it lasts.

The CD notes make the important point that it has never been easier to discover the rich diverse sounds of many different places in the world such as Cuba, Portugal, Africa (and it might be added, Okinawa) but “the English have a reticence to embrace their own traditional culture, an isolated approach even within the British Isles. Bellowhead address this and take songs and music that are part of the historical tradition and infuse them with the same spirit and joy that are recognised elsewhere.”




Okinawa Typhoon

Posted July 10, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

As most will surely know, Okinawa was hit this week by one of its biggest typhoons for many years. Typhoon Neoguri first ripped through the Miyako Islands before moving on to the main island of Okinawa on Tuesday where half a million people were advised to evacuate, and more than 100,000 were left without electricity. The Ryukyu Islands are frequently visited by typhoons and the islanders are well prepared but this was stronger than most and was initially classified as a ‘super typhoon’.

Typhoon Neoguri hits Okinawa, Japan

Here on the southern tip of the island we always seem to have the worst time regarding power cuts and our house was without electricity for almost two days. The typhoon has now moved on to mainland Japan and the recovery is under way here on Okinawa.

Typhoon Neoguri hits Okinawa, Japan

Typhoon Neoguri hits Okinawa, Japan

These photos were taken yesterday in the Yomitan area by the British photographer and Okinawa resident Chris Willson. They show the continuing danger of landslides from torrential rain, as well as a flattened sign and some flattened banana trees.




Irei no hi 2014

Posted June 23, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

It seems to be a tradition that Irei no hi – the day when the end of the Battle of Okinawa is commemorated in the Ryukyu Islands – is accompanied by scorching hot weather. Today was no exception and the crowds who gathered for the main ceremony at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman, had to face the usual sizzling temperatures, blazing hot sun and extreme humidity.

Okinawa Peace Memorial Park today

Okinawa Peace Memorial Park today

Among those attending the ceremony were Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and American Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. They faced another kind of heat from Masaharu Kina the Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly. Kina’s speech touched on the current situation in which Okinawa is still made to suffer under Japanese and American power and it included the following words:

“Even now, 42 years after Okinawa reverted to Japan, work is still underway to unearth the remains of war dead and unexploded bombshells are still frequently found, which indicates the aftermath of the war continues in Okinawa. Additionally, Okinawa has been forced to shoulder an excessive U.S. military base burden after the war. As a result, the people of Okinawa have suffered roaring noise, incidents and accidents stemming from the bases. The unfair Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement also ignores the human rights of the people of Okinawa. The reality is far from a safe and secure life for the people of Okinawa.”

At the ceremony

At the ceremony

Prime Minister Abe

Prime Minister Abe

“In addition, in spite of the opposition to Osprey deployment expressed in the nonpartisan petition to the Prime Minister in January 2013, Ospreys were forcefully deployed contrary to the wishes of the people of Okinawa. The will of the people of Okinawa has been trampled upon repeatedly, and the distrust and indignation against the national government is reaching its limit.”

Peace Park after the ceremony

Peace Memorial Park after the ceremony

More than 240,000 people perished in the Battle of Okinawa and the official number of deaths continues to rise each year. Irei no hi is a public holiday in Okinawa but not in mainland Japan.





Martin & Eliza Carthy: The Moral of the Elephant

Posted June 16, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Other Music

Last year English folk singer Eliza Carthy celebrated 20 years as a professional musician with a double compilation album (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). Now she is back with a joint album with her even more illustrious father Martin Carthy who has been singing and recording roots music and more for around half a century.

This project is nothing new for England’s first family of folk as Eliza previously made a joint album with her mother Norma Waterson. This time she is alone with her father and there are no special guests. The eleven tracks are played and sung simply but expertly without the help of anyone else except for another member of the family, Oliver Knight, who has a credit as co-producer.


The two share vocal duties while Eliza plays fiddle and Martin adds his inimitable guitar. While most of the songs are traditional, the two standout tracks are both cover versions sung by Eliza. The first of these is ‘Happiness’ a wistful song composed by Molly Drake (Nick Drake’s mother). The other is Michael Marra’s quietly moving ‘Monkey Hair’ which to these ears has echoes of Elvis Costello. The pair deliver another excellent performance on ‘Waking Dreams (Awake Awake)’ while the traditional song ‘Died for Love’ is dedicated to another family member the late Mike Waterson.


The title comes from the album’s longest track ‘The Elephant’ which is based on a poem and its ‘moral’, explained in Martin and Eliza’s informative sleeve notes, is that we are all fighting the same battle and should “strive always for the big picture”. It isn’t an easy listen but the two Carthys are always challenging themselves and never looking for the soft option.

The album as a whole is a fine achievement with plenty of variety despite its relatively sparse delivery. Martin Carthy, now well into his seventies, shows no sign of diminishing powers and his vocals sound as strong as ever while Eliza is always pushing boundaries and is already well-established as a formidable flag-bearer for English roots music.

The Moral of the Elephant is released on Topic Records.




Bottle Mail from Okinawa

Posted June 4, 2014 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawa Overseas

Bottle Mail from Okinawa is the title of a new 50 minute show of Okinawan music and dance which will be performed for the first time this summer in Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014. The performance is by a collective of singers and dancers from Okinawa known as ‘Ship of the Ryukyu’. Its aim is to introduce the world to the distinctive culture of Okinawa by showcasing some of the outstanding performing arts to be found in the Ryukyu Islands. The collective began in 2012 with the support of the Okinawan government and has already presented works in Asia, Europe, the USA, and Australia.

From the official poster for Bottle Mail from Okinawa

From the official poster for Bottle Mail from Okinawa

The director of Bottle Mail from Okinawa is Megumi Tomita who is already well known and highly regarded in Okinawa for her many activities in the media and especially for her work as a writer, theatrical director, and actor. It was through our joint participation in the film Karakara that I first got to know Megumi more than two years ago and she has since introduced me to many important aspects of Okinawan culture which has helped to broaden my knowledge of these islands and their unique performing arts.

Director Megumi Tomita

Director Megumi Tomita

‘Ship of the Ryukyu’ views Okinawan performing arts as a Ryukyu Cultural Ship sailing the world to share the treasures of Okinawa. Bottle Mail from Okinawa, directed by Megumi Tomita, will be performed in Edinburgh from the 9th to 24th August. The Ship of the Ryukyu website contains a video trailer for the performance:



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