Archive for the ‘Book Feedback’ category

The Japan Times: Okinawan chronicles

September 17, 2016

The Japan Times newspaper has featured a number of books about Okinawa in English in its ON SUNDAY section for the past two weeks. Under the heading Okinawan chronicles: the many sides of life in ‘paradise’, the second of these editions on September 11 includes this mention of The Power of Okinawa.


The Power of Okinawa: Roots Music from the Ryukyus

John Potter


Nobody who has spent any time in Okinawa can fail to notice the primacy of music in the lives of islanders. English music journalist John Potter, who has made Okinawa his home, is eminently well placed to guide us through the history, key figures and new developments in an ever-evolving music scene.

Potter’s passion for his subject, his tireless research into the origins of the music and its bifurcating forms, has resulted in a study that is both accessible and hugely satisfying – a book that even those with only a passing interest in the topic will enjoy.

Potter demonstrates how Okinawa has long been fertile ground for the kind of instrumental fusions, genre blends and collaborations we now call World Music. The writer was instrumental in bringing together the American pianist Geoffrey Keezer and the Okinawan singer and sanshin player Yasukatsu Oshima, who would go on to create a studio recording with a small number of jazz musicians.

“The Power of Okinawa” comes with an appendage of recommended albums to assist further explorations of this vibrant musical scene.

Thanks to the The Japan Times for this generous review.


The Phantom Coast

June 3, 2015

The new July 2015 edition of the magazine Eye-Ai contains a six page feature on Okinawa entitled ‘The Phantom Coast’. The article focuses on the southern coast of the island and its author Stephen Mansfield includes a few paragraphs about his interview with me last year. Eye-Ai is a magazine introducing ‘Japanese Entertainment and Culture’ and is also available outside Japan in Hawaii and California.


The part about the author’s visit to see me is reproduced below:

“While I was in the war-scarred south I wanted to drop in on Englishman John Potter, an unlikely resident of this area. John lives in the coastal village of Odo, his two-story home, shared with his wife Midori, located on well-appointed slightly elevated ground with views of the East China Sea. “The house didn’t cost much” John confided: “Not everyone wants to live here. There are many bones still lying just below the surface of the earth.” The spirits of the dead are restless it seems, phantoms still haunting this coastline.

A journalist specializing in the indigenous music of the islands, his book, ‘The Power of Okinawa: Roots music from the Ryukyus’, stands alone as both study and resource. A highly readable work, augmented with portraits and performance images, it provides both historical background and insights into contemporary developments in what is, without question, the most vibrant and diverse folk-based musical region in Japan. John keeps his ear to the ground, sounding out new trends, traveling through the islands, and supplementing the last edition of the book with regular updates on his website.


Interestingly, his name appears on the credits of the 2012, Claude Gagnon film Karakara. Contacted by the director to advise on the Okinawan music content of the project, John was asked if he would be interested in taking on the role of a taxi driver. His performance might appear to audiences as the work of a seasoned pro, but this was his first acting stint. Perhaps it was the relaxing air of Okinawa, putting people at their ease, that helped him breeze through the audition.

One of the most pleasant places to relax in Okinawa is on residential balconies, which are often surprisingly deep and long. John’s balcony has become an extended living space, reading room and study, as well as an al fresco venue for meals. It was here that Midori served up an early, pre-sunset dinner, one enriched with local herbs and vegetables.

Okinawan interludes like this were moments when I could begin to sense an authentic state of lassitude, an almost unthinkable condition in mainland Japan. It was something to rejoice in.

I hope it isn’t too nitpicking to point out that the view at Odo is actually of the Pacific Ocean not the East China Sea. And the character I played in Karakara is not in fact a taxi driver, though much of my time on screen was spent driving a car!



Okinawan music in the news

May 10, 2015

Today’s edition of The Japan Times newspaper has a feature on Okinawan music. The article is an overview of the music scene in relation to the current situation in Okinawa. It also contains a smaller feature on Okinawan-Peruvian singer Lucy Nagamine. The Power of Okinawa also gets a mention in the main article.


‘Sound waves: the music of Okinawa’ can be read online through this link:


Misako Oshiro article

July 13, 2013

Today’s edition of the Japan Times newspaper has a feature on Misako Oshiro by writer/photographer Stephen Mansfield who visited her minyo club Shima Umui during a recent trip to Okinawa.


The Power of Okinawa gets a generous mention about halfway through the article:

Japan Times feature on Taketomi Island

June 17, 2012

A travel feature “Easy does it on Taketomi” by Stephen Mansfield is in today’s edition of The Japan Times newspaper and it contains the following paragraph:

“The music of the Yaeyama Islands appears to have developed along its own trajectory. According to Okinawan music specialist John Potter, who hails from England but now calls Itoman on the main island of Okinawa his home, the relative poverty of the Yaeyamas precluded all but the wealthy from owning musical instruments. This led to a culture of unaccompanied vocalizing, typically while working in the fields. The flutes and drums used in the sacred festivals of the Yaeyamas — islands whose links to Taiwan and trading nations like Vietnam and Malaysia were as strong through history as those to mainland Japan — are apparently the same as those used in Southeast Asia.”

Blue heaven: Ishigaki Island forms the horizon from Taketomi

Thanks to Stephen for the mention and also for recommending The Power of Okinawa: Roots Music from the Ryukyus as “the definitive work on the subject.” The full feature can be read online here at The Japan Times website:

Ryukyu Shimpo interview

January 1, 2011

Last month I went to the Ryukyu Shimpo offices in Naha to be interviewed about The Power of Okinawa. The article was published in the 31st December 2010 edition of the newspaper and focuses on the 2nd edition of the book and on my general interest in Okinawa and its music. For those who can read Japanese the article is reprinted below.

沖縄音楽、英語で紹介 英国出身ポッターさん、今年の本ベスト20に2010年12月31日


英国出身の音楽ジャーナリスト、ジョン・ポッターさん(62)=糸満市=はこのほど、英文の沖縄音楽本「The Power of OKINAWA(沖縄 の力)」(琉英企画、2000円・税別)を出版した。255ページにわたり、沖縄音楽を中心に歴史や文化、米軍基地についても触れている。創刊113年の 歴史があり、日本で約6万部を発行する英字紙「ジャパンタイムズ」の英語で書かれた本ベスト20にも選ばれ、注目を集めている。
ポッターさんは関西で発行されていた英字情報誌「関西タイムアウト」で、長年音楽記事を執筆。沖縄音楽についても多く書いていたことから、同情報誌の出 版社(神戸市)から「沖縄の本を出してみないか」と勧められ、2001年に同じタイトルで初版を発行した。その初版本に今回追加取材し、加筆修正。表紙や 本のサイズもひと回り拡大しリニューアルした。
沖縄音楽との出会いは1989年ごろ。妻・みどりさん(51)が持っていた「喜納昌吉&チャンプルーズ」のファーストアルバムだった。「このアルバムが わたしの人生に大きな影響を与えた」と振り返る。以来、毎年沖縄に通うようになり、昨年3月、教員をしていた大学を退職、みどりさんと糸満市に移り住ん だ。
音楽家・喜納昌吉さんについては1章を割きインタビューなどを掲載。若手民謡歌手・鳩間可奈子さんをはじめ、知花竜海さん、よなは徹さん、古謝美佐子さ んら幅広く紹介している。本は県内書店で取り扱っているほか、ポッターさんのホームページでも購入できる。

Books of the year

December 20, 2010

In a feature entitled “Final word on the year’s best reading” the Japan Times newspaper yesterday included The Power of Okinawa as one of its books of the year for 2010.

Stephen Mansfield writes:

“Okinawan music authority Potter has made Okinawa his home. The affection is obvious, his empathy for the islanders expressed through a book that is not merely about the sounds of Okinawa but also about the spirit of the place.

The definitive guide to its unique music, the author explores the island’s history and musical roots, profiling the masters of the genre past and present. A personal favorite from his Recommended Albums is “Zan,” a solo recording from Tomoko Uehara, an extraordinarily innovative set of songs featuring distinctive vocals and guest musicians, including Irish fiddler Nollaig Casey and African guitarist Mamadou Doumbia.

In understanding the music of these troubled islands, we come a little closer to the soul of Okinawa.”

Far Side Radio interview

October 23, 2010

Earlier this month I was interviewed by telephone from Okinawa on Paul Fisher’s weekly Far Side Radio programme which goes out every Wednesday on London’s Resonance 104.4fm. Paul is an old friend with a similar interest in Okinawan music. We have known each other for many years, ever since we first came into contact during the 1990s when we were both living in mainland Japan. Paul is now based in the UK and is involved in many aspects of the music business. He also runs his own website, Far Side Music, which is an online resource for music from East Asian countries.

Far Side Radio programmes also go out online and are eventually archived on Paul’s website. The one hour programme featuring my interview can be listened to again by going to the 6th October 2010 link here:

On the show I was asked about my book The Power of Okinawa and I also got to choose some selections of Okinawan music to listen to. I was relieved to find that the phone line seemed to be working well and the eight hour time difference meant that it began at 12 noon in London and at 8 pm here, so it was a very convenient time.  I hope the interview is of some interest.


Japan Times review

September 27, 2010

This review of The Power of Okinawa is by Kris Kosaka of The Japan Times newspaper and is reproduced here with permission. An edited version of the review will appear in The Japan Times next Sunday, 3rd October.

THE POWER OF OKINAWA: Roots Music from the Ryukyus (2nd edition), by John Potter, Ryuei Kikaku, 2010, 255 pp. 2,000 yen (plus tax).

Reviewed by Kris Kosaka

A breeze wafts by near the sea shores on the mainland of Japan, and in the gently fading summer heat, you can almost hear the strains of the sanshin, the far island’s traditional instrument. With the recent controversy over Futenma, most of Japan once again turns its gaze towards Okinawa and the rest of the former Ryukyu Kingdom of islands.

It is a complicated issue, and many in Japan harbor various misconceptions about Okinawa, including the origins of the sanshin. Take a bit of summer reading with you into autumn, and debunk the myths of Okinawa through its music: pick up The Power of Okinawa by John Potter.

Although primarily a chronicle of the roots music from the Ryukyu Kingdom, the first third of the book provides fascinating background to Okinawa, required reading for anyone confused about the islands and its peoples. You learn the origins of the sanshin (not an off-shoot of the Japanese shamisen, as many believe, but evolved from the original Chinese instrument, the sanxian, which the Chinese brought to the Ryukyu Kingdom as early as the 15th century), the many cultural influences active in the Ryukyu Islands (China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, America – to name a few) and why Okinawa has justification to ask for independence from Japan. (Caught for centuries between the larger powers that surround them geographically, The Ryukyu Kingdom maintained its independence all the way until 1879, when Japan forcibly invaded). In a straightforward, conversational tone, Potter explains the cultural and historical heritage of this island chain, with many anecdotal asides that make for enjoyable reading.

Potter does not back down from the controversy. There is an entire chapter devoted to Shoukichi Kina, musical activist and prominent Okinawan politician. From his early success with “Haisai Ojisan”, to his rebellious years and time in an Hawaiian jail to his musical success with Champloose and move into activism, Kina’s story itself pairs well with sun, water, and your own growing awareness of the myriad of influences at work in the Ryukyu Islands.

The book ends by detailing the international artists influenced by the ‘Okinawan Sound’, and by describing the foreign artists who have made the Ryukyu Islands their adopted home. Potter includes interviews and comments from a wide-range of musicians, and one finishes feeling the beat of an entire world within Japan – previously mostly unknown or misunderstood as a vacation paradise or centre for American/ Japanese tensions. As Potter explains, “The everyday existence of Okinawan music still pervades the lives of Okinawans in a way almost unthinkable in the rest of Japan. Stories of taxi drivers in Okinawa carrying a sanshin in the back of the cab are by no means fanciful. And on the mainland, the many Okinawans living in Osaka defend their culture fiercely.”

The reference at the end includes recommended CDs and websites to satisfy your burgeoning taste for Okinawan music, books for extended reading, and even live venues in the Ryukyu Islands to consult when planning your next trip.

As The Power of Okinawa teaches, “by the end of the seventh century, the Chinese had been searching for several hundred years for the supreme secret – the secret of everlasting life. They believed that somewhere out there in the Eastern Seas was a Land of Happy Immortals…in the year 608, the Chinese finally reached a land which they believed was the place they had been searching for.” Potter surmises the mystical island was Okinawa or the islands just to the north of it. Modern research supports the longevity of the Ryukyu peoples, and perhaps these relaxed peoples, eager to lend a song or friendship, once convinced visiting Chinese envoys they had discovered immortality. You can taste a bit of it yourself, along with a cold one at the shore, by dipping into their music in the waning heat of summer.

Songlines review

July 31, 2010

‘The Power of Okinawa’ is reviewed in the new Aug/Sept 2010 issue of the UK world music magazine Songlines. Here is a scan of the review: