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.”