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.

Sunday Sessions at Chakra

Posted July 5, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

Last year Shoukichi Kina held an ‘8 Days Live’ event at his ‘live house’ Chakra on Naha’s Kokusai-dori in order to celebrate his 50 years of making music. It was a remarkable series of evenings with Kina inviting guests to perform their own music and to join him on stage. His expulsion from Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) and subsequent failure in the election for Okinawa Governor seemed to have reinvigorated his desire to make music again.

The new relaxed Kina is already planning the latest in his intermittent series of Niraikanai Festivals which is scheduled for November this year in Ginowan. In the meantime he is reawakening the spirit of those live shows from last year by staging some jam sessions at Chakra every Sunday evening.



The one we attended last Sunday featured a wide range of music and musicians and also a performance by belly dancers. The music spanned Okinawan traditional and contemporary but there was also jazz and rock and hints of Arabic, Irish, and even flamenco. Anything goes. Kina himself sang a short set with his band Champloose which included a lovely version of his original song ‘Omoibana’ while ‘Haisai Ojisan’ brought the entire audience to its feet with arm-flinging kachashii abandon.

Miyako singer and sanshin player Hirara is a regular at these sessions and she sang and played some songs from her islands very movingly. The photos here come courtesy of Hirara and also Norwegian photographer Heiko Junge who has been visiting Okinawa again.




Entry to Chakra for these Sunday sessions is just 1,000 yen.

Irei no hi 2016

Posted June 23, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

It’s another scorching hot June 23rd and a public holiday (in Okinawa only) for Irei no hi, the memorial day for all those who died in the Battle of Okinawa. This year it’s the 71st anniversary of the end of the terrible battle which devastated the island and killed over 240,000 people. The large gatherings of people around the Ryukyu Islands come just four days after 65,000 joined a rally in Naha to protest against the US military bases following the rape and murder of a 20 year old Okinawan woman earlier this year.



This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve attended the main ceremony in Itoman at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park. The speeches by representatives from Okinawa are always heartfelt and they always call – in vain – for better treatment for these islands from Japan and the USA. It should be well-known by now that Okinawa (even after all these years) is still suffering from the war and is still forced against the wishes of its people to bear the burden of the vast majority of American bases.

As the Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, Masaharu Kina, put it in his speech today: “Okinawa, which is only 0.6% of the total land mass of Japan, has been compelled to host 74% of the exclusive US military facilities. Okinawans have suffered incidents and accidents exactly because of the presence of the US bases, and therefore, have been forced to live with fear and potential dangers.”


In his Peace Declaration which followed, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga repeated much of what has been said in previous years and called once again for better treatment for Okinawa. In a speech which was interrupted twice by loud applause he went on:

“Are freedom, equality, human rights, and democracy, guaranteed under the Japanese Constitution, equally assured for the people of Okinawa who have no choice but to live with the burdens of both the Japan-US security arrangements and the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement?”

“In order also to establish a basis for peace in a real sense, we strongly urge both the Japanese and US governments not to postpone efforts in reducing the excessive military base burden, but to immediately realize their mitigation by fundamentally revising the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement as well as realigning and reducing the US bases, and reducing the number of Marines.”

“We would like to emphasize that the plan to relocate MCAS Futenma to Henoko cannot gain understanding from the Okinawan people. We cannot tolerate at all the viewpoint that the current plan is the only solution.”

Special issue of the Ryukyu Shimpo

Special issue of the Ryukyu Shimpo

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe once again made the usual speech full of platitudes and vague assurances that he is thinking about Okinawa. This was met with silence from most of those around me who know lip service when they hear it, before Abe was whisked away to the airport and back to the safety of Tokyo.

Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Kettei-ban

Posted June 20, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Albums

Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Kettei-ban is a new album of classical Ryukyu songs featuring the singing and sanshin playing of Hironobu Nohara accompanied by fue and koto. It was recorded in April this year in Koza. Nohara was born in Haebaru, Okinawa in 1950 and has won various music awards as a member of the Nomura-ryu Hozonkai Denshosha.

The album’s seventeen tracks include an interesting version of the well-known ‘Kajadifu Bushi’ which has a long history of being sung at weddings and other public events and celebrations. The lyrics of many of the songs tell of Okinawan people’s lives and feelings. The album booklet also includes both musical notation and kunkunshi for the songs.

Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Kettei-ban

The album is released by the Tokyo record company Respect and one of its stated aims is to rediscover and present this music for those outside Okinawa and to show people the attraction of Ryukyu classical music as only a few of these songs are known in Japan.

Its release comes at a time when interest in this music is still high in Okinawa. A younger generation of musicians such as Toru Yonaha has also been involved in the recording and release of classical Ryukyu songs and Yonaha is currently touring the Ryukyu Islands in support of his own new album of roots and classical songs.

Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Kettei-ban is released by Respect on 27th July.

Songs Connecting Islands

Posted June 17, 2016 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

Last night I went to the Songs Connecting Islands live show at Arte Sakiyama in Shuri. This was a ‘welcome performance’ linked to the International Small Island Cultures Conference currently being held at Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts.

An-chang Project

An-chang Project

It was very good to see An-chang Project making a rare but very welcome appearance in Okinawa. Members Jun Yasuba (vocal, sanshin), Yoshiko Higa (vocals, percussion) and Maki Hishida (vocals, flute) are all based in Tokyo but fourth member Yu Tamura (vocals, drum) is currently living in London and was able to join them on a visit back to Japan. An-chang Project showed great enthusiasm and some excellent harmony singing on songs from the Ryukyu islands of Amami, Miyako, and Yonaguni, as well as from Taiwan and the Pacific island of Kiribati.

Mio Matsuda

Mio Matsuda

The evening ended with a performance by Mio Matsuda who is well-known for her great fluency in singing in many different languages and especially for her work in Portugal and Cape Verde. She was accompanied by guitarist Ryoji Yamaguchi and they ended the evening by inviting the other musicians on stage to join in with Matsuda’s trademark song ‘Saiko’.

Also performing last night were the young sanshin and guitar duo i-dushi and Ogasawara-based singer and ukulele player Homare Nishimoto. Mio Matsuda and Ryoji Yamaguchi appear again in a ‘Special Live’ performance tonight (17th) at Conte in Naha starting at 19:30.


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