Irei no hi 2017

Posted June 23, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

It’s the 23rd June once again and so it’s Irei no hi in Okinawa which is a public holiday throughout the Ryukyu Islands. For the eighth year in succession I attended the Memorial Service for all the war dead in the Battle of Okinawa which ended on this day 72 years ago at a cost of more than 240,000 lives. As always, the main ceremony was held at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Itoman.

The rainy season is finally at an end in Okinawa and today, like all the other Irei no hi ceremonies I’ve attended, there was blazing sunshine and sweltering heat.

As before, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an appearance that was about as welcome as a fly in your soup. Tight security ensured that his visit went off without incident but his speech on the need for peace and assurances that he was thinking about Okinawa seemed hypocritical at the very least. His actions and those of his government have been completely at odds with his words today.

The current situation in Okinawa was better addressed by Yonekichi Shinzato, Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, who said:

“Although 72 years have passed, there are still vast US military facilities in Okinawa, and people still suffer from incidents and accidents due to their presence. The reduction of Okinawa’s excessive military burden has repeatedly been called for. However, considering the number of military related incidents in Okinawa such as parachute drop training in Kadena Air Base despite local opposition and frequent military aircraft flyovers, I have to say the situation has been regressing. Therefore, I firmly request, again, reducing our military burden.”

This was taken up by Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga in his Peace Declaration:

“Especially regarding the relocation of Futenma Air Station to the Henoko area, we cannot tolerate that the construction has been forcibly begun, ignoring the will of the people of Okinawa. I am determined to work closely with the Okinawan people in order to block the relocation of Futenma Air Station to Henoko.”

Onaga went on: “This year marks the 70th anniversary of enforcement of the Japanese constitution and 45th anniversary of its application to Okinawa Prefecture. Considering this milestone, we must reaffirm the principle of pacifism of the constitution and every individual has to firmly pursue lasting peace for the world and make efforts to realize it.”

“Masahide Ota, former governor of Okinawa, passed away last week. He wanted Okinawa to become a foundation for creation of peace and peaceful co-existence. As a vow to prevent the re-occurrence of the horrors of war, he decided to establish “The Cornerstone of Peace” to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa, regardless of their nationalities.”

“We, as citizens living in Okinawa, will strive to pass on our hope for a better tomorrow which is built into “The Cornerstone of Peace” to the next generation. In addition, we are determined to continue making efforts to create a society full of joy, where our children and grandchildren, who hold the fate of the future in their hands, will be able to live in peace and safety.”

Harry & Mac – Road to Okinawa

Posted June 19, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

Road to Okinawa is billed as a ‘Talk Show’ by Harry (Haruomi Hosono) and Mac (Makoto Kubota), who have been for many years two of the most well-established musicians and producers from mainland Japan. Both also have strong connections to these islands. The Talk Show takes place on Saturday in Naha.

Hosono is probably best known for his work as a member of electronic music pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra and he has released many solo albums covering a wide range of styles. Kubota has also had a long interest in the music of Okinawa and is a musician, engineer, and producer. His Blue Asia projects and his work with singers in the Miyako Islands have attracted much attention in recent years.

What actually happens on Saturday is anyone’s guess but it seems likely that the pair won’t just be talking. They also have guests from Okinawa who will be playing live. The guest artists are Shoukichi Kina, Tetsuhiro Daiku, and Banjo Ai. It’s hard to imagine that Kina at least won’t have something to say if he gets half a chance.

Shoukichi Kina

Banjo Ai

Harry & Mac’s Road to Okinawa is presented by Takara Records and starts at 19:00 on 24th June at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall A). Tickets are 3,000 yen in advance and 3,500 on the day.

http://www.sakura-zaka.com/

Home thoughts from abroad

Posted June 6, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

I am a stranger to the ballot box. Not through choice but because I’m not entitled to vote in elections either in the UK or in Japan the country where I have permanent residency. And although I have no plans to take it up, it would also be nice to have the right to return with my family to live in my native country if we ever wanted to but under current British government laws this is apparently forbidden to us on economic grounds.

Over the past decade or so I haven’t much cared about never being able to take part in the democratic process, especially since the available options through the UK ballot box always seemed so unappealing and lacking in real diversity. However, for the first time in ages it appears that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party offers a glimmer of hope for a better and more inclusive society for everyone and not just for the few.

To my surprise I found myself actually being impressed with the answers of a political leader last week when I watched Corbyn on BBC TV’s Question Time. What was disappointing was the reaction of some, mostly older, members of the audience who expressed indignation that he prefers to talk with dangerous people he doesn’t like such as ‘terrorists’; he is very reluctant to use nuclear weapons; and is wholeheartedly in favour of multiculturalism.

It is encouraging that most of the younger people I’ve listened to have been more positive and open-minded about many issues and some of them are puzzled as to why their elders are so keen to have the nuclear option at all. Young people are often portrayed as naive or irresponsible but many of those I’ve heard have talked more sense than some of their seniors who are more concerned with retaliation and blowing everyone up than with reasoning and understanding.

In Okinawa, where people have suffered invasion and occupation, innumerable deaths and destruction, attitudes are different and it is usually the elderly who are the most vociferous in condemning all forms of violence. They must know from bitter experience that killing people doesn’t make things better and there are only losers in war. Despite this sad history – which continues to this day with American military bases forcibly imposed on Okinawa by Japan – Okinawan people have generally welcomed outsiders and taken pride in their mixed champloo culture. While most Okinawans happily embrace pacifism, the macho British see nothing incongruous about holding military parades at football matches and using any opportunity to celebrate the armed forces.

So I won’t be voting this week and am not optimistic about the outcome of the UK general election, given some of the attitudes I’ve seen among the British public and the reluctance of people to change their ways. Too many also would rather close borders and pull up the drawbridge. But stranger things have happened in the world, not least with the election of the terrible Trump, so I don’t expect, but cautiously hope for a Labour victory.

Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya

Posted May 29, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Malian singer Oumou Sangaré is one of the biggest stars in African music. She is also an icon for feminism and women’s rights in her country and her songs have challenged and cajoled on a number of social issues close to her heart. Now she returns to the recording studio with her first album since the magical Seya which was released all of eight years ago.

This is in many ways a very different album from its illustrious predecessors. Sangaré was previously with World Circuit but has changed record labels and is now with the French company No Format! The new album was recorded in Stockholm and Paris together with members of a Parisian music collective. This stripped back approach is heavy on rhythm giving this a more driving, direct and accessible sound than we’ve previously heard.

What has been achieved very well is the difficult balancing act between the rock guitars, keyboards and synths, and Sangaré’s powerful vocals and stylish presence and she is very much upfront throughout and always in control. Her music roots from the Wassoulou region are never far away either and instruments such as the traditional kamelengoni are present throughout. The female backing singers complementing the lead vocal are also an essential ingredient.

It’s a relatively short album at around 40 minutes (though my copy also contained a bonus remix track) but packs a considerable punch. Of the nine songs the upbeat ‘Djoukourou’ drives along superbly while ‘Kounkoun’ achieves the perfect blend of old and new. Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen features on ‘Yere Faga’ while ‘Minata Waraba’ is a tribute to Sangaré’s mother. The haunting title song ‘Mogoya’ (it means ‘people today’) is much slower with strings and guitar.

Mogoya is released by No Format!

www.noformat.net

Heiwasozo no Mori Koen

Posted May 21, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

A few days ago I stumbled upon Heiwasozo no Mori Koen (Peace Forest Park) not far from my home on the south coast of Okinawa. I’d seen it signposted before but had never thought to seek it out and have never met anyone who has even mentioned its existence.

Entrance to the park

Many areas named ‘parks’ in Okinawa (and mainland Japan) are no more than small patches of ground not much bigger than my own garden so it came as quite a surprise to discover a green and spacious land that really deserves the name.

On a sloping hillside with great views of the ocean, the park contains a fountain, pond, woods, and areas for walking, play and rest. Amazingly, on this lovely morning there were no other visitors and I had the entire park to myself.

45 Years and counting

Posted May 16, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

The excellent British film 45 Years is set in my home county of Norfolk and features scenes in the city of Norwich where I grew up. The title refers to plans for a 45th wedding anniversary party that are overshadowed in unexpected ways by events from the past. Watching it again in Okinawa last week I was reminded of another anniversary that in very different ways is also haunted by past events. For it was 45 years yesterday since these islands were returned to Japan from rule by America.

The Japan-based award-winning investigative journalist Jon Mitchell wrote an article for the Japan Times five years ago on the 40th anniversary of the reversion. The article ‘What awaits Okinawa 40 years after reversion?’ was recently retweeted by Mitchell and it makes depressing reading as everything he wrote then is just as relevant today while Japan continues to discriminate against Okinawa.

In the article he outlines how the invasion by Japan and abolition of the Ryukyu Kingdom played out:

“Thereafter, Tokyo set about bringing the islands into the homogeneous embrace of the homeland. To do so, over the next decades it suppressed Okinawa’s culture, degraded its native languages as mere dialects of Japanese and disproportionately taxed the population — contributing to a famine in the 1920s that killed thousands and forced still more to seek survival as far afield as Hawaii, Peru and Brazil.”

Keep out: A fence topped with razor-wire separates the U.S. Iejima Auxiliary Airfield (right) from Japan.
(Photo: Jon Mitchell)

He continues: “Japanese disdain for Okinawa reached a climax in the final months of World War II, when the Imperial Army sacrificed it as a suteishi — a throwaway pawn — to bog down the Allies and make them think twice about invading the main islands….During the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945, more than a quarter of the civilian population died — including many in military-enforced mass suicides, and those shot by Japanese soldiers as suspected spies for speaking Okinawan languages….Then in July 1945, the U.S. military declared Okinawa under its control — and since then it has never left.”

Given the ongoing situation regarding the disproportionate number of US bases still on Okinawa more than 70 years after the war ended, it might be surprising that there hasn’t been a more vociferous campaign for independence for Okinawa up to now, but until recently this has been virtually a taboo subject. However, representatives from Okinawa went to Scotland to observe and learn from the independence referendum held there and the topic is no longer something only debated by ‘extremists’.

As the article points out: “Four centuries of Japanese and American misrule have foisted an endless series of tragedies and misfortunes on these tiny islands, leaving them economically, environmentally and emotionally despoiled. In spite of this, Okinawan people have stood up to these injustices with compassion, resilience and nonviolence — three principles upon which any fledgling nation state could be proud to found its future.”

“Critics are quick to predict that an independent Okinawa would be a failure as a state. But it is difficult to see how a self-ruled Okinawa could make a bigger mess of things than the U.S. and Japan have done. And even if its initial steps were faltering, at least for once any failures would be its own.”

I agree with Mitchell that “the time is way overdue to allow Okinawa to decide its future for itself.”

Here is a link to the complete article at the Japan Times website:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/05/13/general/what-awaits-okinawa-40-years-after-reversion/

 

A visit to Kyan

Posted May 12, 2017 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

Kyan is a village on the southern tip of Okinawa Island not far from my home. This morning we visited its castle ruins, its cape, and its small fishing port. It was a windy day but already hot with the temperature at 30 degrees by mid-morning. The Gushikawa castle ruins are on coastal cliffs overlooking the ocean. Nearby is Cape Kyan, a precipice about 30 metres high that divides the Pacific Ocean from the East China Sea.

Here are some photos taken around Kyan this morning: