Pride before the fall

Posted August 25, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

One of the deciding factors in buying our house in Okinawa was the deep spacious balcony with a view of the Pacific Ocean that runs around two sides of the building. These large balconies are common features in the concrete houses built all around the island as people began to rebuild their homes and lives following the devastation of the Battle of Okinawa.

Our balcony has become an important place for us to relax, to eat al fresco, and to sit with a glass of awamori while listening to music in the evenings. However, the way I shall think in future about my prized balcony has changed forever following the events of the afternoon of the 10th August.

I was visited that day by an old friend from Kobe who used to edit Kansai Time Out magazine many years ago when I first began writing about Okinawan music. I hadn’t seen him for at least 18 years and had never met his wife who was with him on a rare trip to Okinawa where they decided to look me up.

It had been raining heavily that morning but I was eager to proudly show off the balcony so it wasn’t long before we went up there. Foolishly, I chose to wear a pair of worn out old slippers. The accident waiting to happen soon did as I slipped, skidded across the wet balcony and crashed unceremoniously onto the concrete gashing my head and cutting my fingers and elbow, but this was almost nothing compared to the excruciating pain coming from my left leg. Soon an ambulance was called and I made the half hour journey to Tomishiro Chuo Hospital where after an examination and x-ray (and more excruciating pain) it was determined I had a bad fracture of my thigh bone close to the hip.

Tomishiro Chuo Hospital

Tomishiro Chuo Hospital

So I have gone from complete helplessness: having to suffer the indignity of painkillers being shot up my backside, and of being taken to the toilet by nurses and then washed all over by them, to a position where my progress is apparently better than expected. I have graduated from a wheelchair to a walking frame to crutches, and now I’m hobbling around at home with a rather elegant cane.

During my two week stay in Tomishiro Chuo Hospital I soon discovered that the amiable Head of the hospital Dr Arakaki is a keen student of English and he paid me regular visits most mornings for no other reason than to practice his English conversation at my bedside, much, I suspect, to the amusement of other doctors and nurses. This culminated in a more than one hour evening session when he asked me to go to his room and correct the English for his Power Point presentation lecture in Tokyo next month. I now know more about knee replacement surgery than I will surely ever need.

My hospital stay was originally predicted to be three weeks so I am lucky to be out early. The process of rehabilitation will continue for a long time with visits to another hospital and there is a lot to be done before I can hope to be back to anything like normal. At the moment just a good night’s sleep would be very welcome but I’m not allowed to sleep in certain positions for fear of dislocating the new bone. While I hated being hospitalized I have to admit that the doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital were without exception extremely kind, hard-working and attentive.

Despite the progress made it’s very unlikely that I will be fit enough to travel to Kansai for our 30th wedding anniversary trip next month. (And I’d already bought the tickets for the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis concert in Osaka!). I suppose everyone in this situation thinks of what might have been. None of this would have happened if my friend had chosen a sunny day for his visit; or if I had ignored Midori’s advice to put those old slippers on the balcony and had just thrown them out instead. But in the end it’s my own fault for being too proud of my balcony and too eager to show it off. It has made me think about all kinds of things to do with my life and the future…but for now I just want to get better.

Hajime Nakasone: Ten

Posted August 2, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Hajime Nakasone’s new album Ten is his first for four years. The singer and sanshin player from Okinawa made his earliest recordings when he was only 12 and still has such youthful looks that it’s hard to believe he’s already 28. Not so with his voice. Nakasone’s mentor for many years was the late Seijin Noborikawa and he still retains the remnants of a singing style modelled on Seigwa’s which makes him sound like a much older man.

On the new album his purpose was to choose and present some old songs in order to show the roots or essence of his music and alongside these he includes nine original songs that he has written or co-written. There are some accompanying musicians on a few of the recordings but mostly it’s kept very simple with just the vocals and sanshin as the main focus.


The aim to acknowledge his roots begins with the opening track ‘Tunbaru Nakuni~Yaka nu Hama’. Later on there is also another version of ‘Nakuni’, this time played as a duet with his grandfather Seikou Nakasone who also appeared on the previous album. This second version is one of four ‘special tracks’ at the end, making in all a lengthy 70 minute running time with 16 tracks.

One of the originals is ‘Kuishi Nmarijima’ sung here by Nakasone’s own pupil Hiroki Itokazu from Kudaka Island. When Nakasone sang it in 2015 it won the annual Miuta Taisho award for new songs. Another standout among the newer songs is ‘Ichihata nu Kui’ co-written by Nakasone and performed as a duet with young singer Narise Arakaki.

The four special or bonus tracks include a live recording of ‘Yomitan Uta Ashibi’. Perhaps the most intriguing song comes right at the end. This is ‘Kahakai Chijuya’ a Nakasone composition inspired by the story of immigrants from Okinawa who went to Hawaii in 1899. On this successful Hawaiian and Okinawan mix he plays the sanlele: a hybrid of sanshin and ukulele. Apart from this there are no big surprises just a solid album with a mix of old and new from an accomplished performer.

Ten is released by 2Fee Records.

Manami: Odore Tida

Posted July 28, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Here’s another mini-album from Okinawan singer Manami, the third in a line that follows on from Jungolden Night (2013) and Shangri-La (2014). All three contain songs used in Orion Beer commercials. This time there are five songs plus an instrumental version of the title track. There isn’t much of what could be called roots music here, though one song ‘Horizon’ mixes in some East Asian sounds that recall the work of Ryuchim Band.


Odore Tida is mostly straightforward pop with positive lyrics by Manami and some uplifting music composed by her younger brother Daisuke Nakamura. In fact, it’s Daisuke who is the unsung hero of everything Manami does with his apparently effortless knack of composing, arranging and programming all the catchy tunes. This release is no better or worse than its predecessors and comes nicely in time for summer.

Odore Tida is out now and is released by Sorafune.

Jim Moray: Upcetera

Posted July 26, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Tales of heartache and death, exile and execution. It must be another album of English folk songs. In fact, Jim Moray’s new release Upcetera, his first solo album for four years, began as a collection of Child Ballads but then broadened out and also includes two originals by Moray that slip in nicely at the heart of the album. Both of these songs – ‘The Straight Line and the Curve’ and ‘Sounds of Earth’ – are unusually inspired by science and scientists and sit well among the older stories of misery.

As expected, the traditional songs are presented in anything but traditional ways. Moray plays a plethora of instruments and is credited with guitars, piano, bass, drums, vibraphone, ukulele, banjo, lute and organ as well as vocals but it doesn’t end there as several other musicians including a string and woodwind section are drafted in. It all works beautifully.


Outstanding among the reworked traditional songs is ‘William of Barbery’ (we know we’re in good hands as soon as the drums kick in) while ‘Lord Franklin’ is tackled with confidence to underline that there aren’t any definitive versions of these songs as Moray gives us a different insight into a familiar big ballad. Meanwhile ‘The Foggy Dew’, usually sung as a bawdy comic song, is turned here into something more weighty and compelling.

The arrangements of the songs and the cast of musicians means the sound is often so dramatic and emotional that it’s easy to forget what the stories are about but this isn’t a criticism as you wouldn’t really want it any other way. Moray has a wonderfully plaintive, expressive voice which gets to the emotional core and it’s just these kinds of ballad that suit him best.

In his Low Culture podcast (highly recommended, by the way) Jim Moray talks each week with guests, most, but not all, connected with the current UK folk scene. In the last podcast of the first series he reveals that when planning Upcetera he was thinking of something more like “English fado, dramatic torch songs”. This is very evidently his great strength and it’s exactly the feeling that comes through.

Upcetera will be released on 30th September but is already available as a download from Jim Moray’s website where his podcast can also be found.

Islands of Protest

Posted July 19, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

Many people who come to Japan discover a way into the culture through such diverse things as anime, Zen, martial arts, Japanese cuisine and the tea ceremony. In Okinawa it’s more likely to be music or marine sports. In my case, when I first arrived in mainland Japan, long before I moved to Okinawa, I was keen to read Japanese literature in English translation and devoured most of the novels that were available.

There wasn’t a huge choice at that time but there were a fair number of books by established authors and I was soon discovering novels by Tanizaki, Kawabata, Shiga, Mishima, Endo and others. I liked the comedy of Natsume Sōseki’s  ‘Botchan’; was impressed by Abe Kōbō’s mysterious ‘The Woman in the Dunes’; and equally depressed by Dazai Osamu’s ‘No Longer Human’. And, of course, I read Murasaki Shikibu’s long classic ‘The Tale of Genji’.

In Okinawa, where the climate and culture is very different from Japan, the performing arts have been paramount and I hardly need mention again the importance of music. But there is also a unique and distinct tradition of Okinawan literature which grew rapidly in the late 20th century and is concerned with themes of memory and identity and with the aftermath of the Battle of Okinawa.


I’ve been reading the new book Islands of Protest: Japanese Literature from Okinawa. It’s an anthology published this year and it contains some of the best of this writing in the form of short stories but also a few poems and a play. The earliest story is from 1911 but most of the selections are much more recent. The newest is Toma Hiroko’s poem ‘Backbone’ (2005) which contrasts the white beaches and red hibiscus of Okinawa with “wire fence, fighter jets” and the man’s playground of “streets bright with neon”.

I was already familiar with the work of Okinawan writer and activist Medoruma Shun. His very short story ‘Hope’ (1999) opens this collection and is still as shocking today as when I first read it. Sadly, it is still all too relevant to the ongoing political situation. The ironically titled ‘Hope’ describes the murder of an American child by the story’s Okinawan narrator, the connection between the two, and the complexities of everyday life on an island still burdened by US military bases. It’s powerful and thought-provoking way beyond its slight length.

There are also two other stories by Medoruma in the anthology which concludes with ‘The Human Pavilion’ (1978) a drama by Chinen Seishin, This alludes to the infamous occasion when Okinawans were exhibited as primitive and exotic specimens dressed in their native costumes to paying audiences at the Fifth World Trade and Industrial Exhibition in Osaka in 1903. Chinen’s drama shows the dehumanizing prejudice and discrimination that Okinawans have had to endure from Japan.

There are many other good things in this anthology which is edited by Davinder L. Bhowmik and Steve Rabson and published by the University of Hawaii Press. As the blurb on the back cover rightly says, the book offers an entry into a culture “marked by wartime decimation, relentless discrimination, and fierce resistance, yet often overshadowed by the clichéd notion of a gentle Okinawa so ceaselessly depicted in Japan’s mass media.”

Pink Dot Okinawa 2016

Posted July 14, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

The annual Pink Dot Okinawa gathering takes place this weekend in Naha. The main events will be on Sunday (17th July) in Tenbusu-mae Square from 13:00 until 17:00 and will begin with an Eisa show by Nahadaiko. There is a live set from singer/songwriter Atsuko Hiyajo and this year the duo Sakishima Meeting (Yukito Ara & Isamu Shimoji) will join the event and are on stage at 16:10.

pink dot okinawa

Pink Dot Okinawa aims for a more tolerant and inclusive society for LGBT. It is supported by the municipal government of Naha who last year announced its Rainbow Naha Declaration outlining the city’s respect for gender and sexual diversity. All are welcome and attendance on Sunday is free but participants are asked if possible to wear something pink.

Tatsumi Chibana: Uminari No Shima

Posted July 10, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

This new two track single is the first release by Okinawa’s Tatsumi Chibana since his successful solo album Atarashii Sekai nearly four years ago. Chibana has been busy in the meantime as both a musical collaborator and producer of other artists.

Unlike his album which had songs with all Japanese lyrics, these songs, ‘Uminari no Shima’ and ‘San’, are mainly sung in the Okinawan language, Uchinaguchi. This wouldn’t be unusual if they were traditional but both are originals written by Chibana with a lively pop and Latin influence.


Chibana is backed by Okinawan band Hikaritokage on guitar, bass, keyboards and drums and their heavy sound is reminiscent of Soul Flower Union. The lyrics of both tracks explore Okinawan issues and identity, and the American bases with all their noise and danger are referenced as well as a plea not to forget the feelings of those who died on these islands in wartime.

While these songs are not as musically adventurous as some on his last album the message is as strong as ever. Let’s hope it’s not too long before he comes up with another full-length recording.

Tatsumi Chibana plays two dates in mainland Japan in July at Tokyo, Ryukyu-kan (28th) and Kanagawa, Okinawa Soba Yuntaku (29th).

Uminari No Shima is released on 13th August by Akagawara.


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