Archive for the ‘Notes from the Ryukyus’ category

Irei no hi 2022

June 23, 2022

Today is ‘Irei no hi’, a public holiday in the Ryukyu Islands. This year is the 77th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa in which more than 241,000 died. Most were Okinawans murdered by the U.S. and Japan.

There is no public holiday for this in Japan where it really ought to be a day of shame. I am also getting tired of writing about it every year as it’s always the same.

Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo

As usual, Japan’s Prime Minister – this time Fumio Kishida – came to Okinawa Peace Memorial Park near my home in Itoman and delivered a speech full of platitudes and lies about how Japan cares for Okinawa. This was met with some heckling. The reality is very different and unless Ryukyu regains independence is unlikely to change.

Only 340 were allowed into the ceremony itself but many gathered in the park to pay their respects to the dead and there were also some protesters (photo above). For today we remember all those who died and were sacrificed by Japan in the Battle of Okinawa.

When time heals nothing

June 1, 2022

In April I wrote a piece anticipating the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. This has now been updated and expanded. The new article ‘When time heals nothing’ is published today by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in the June issue of their Number 1 Shimbun.

The front pages of the Ryukyu Shimpo on the 50th anniversary of reversion, and on 15 May 1972, with almost identical headlines.

The article can be read online here:

https://www.fccj.or.jp/number-1-shimbun-article/when-time-heals-nothing

The 50th Anniversary of Reversion

April 8, 2022

In just a few weeks, on the 15th May to be precise, the 50th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan will be commemorated. I am reminded of ‘Jidai no Nagare’ (The Passage of Time) a song associated with Rinsho Kadekaru. Its opening lines (in English translation) are:

From rule by China to rule by Yamato

From rule by Yamato to rule by America        

How astonishing the changes in this Okinawa of ours!

Claiming rule by America was wrong          

Rule by Yamato returned                   

Which is better? One never knows for sure   

One thing we do know for sure is that reversion to Yamato (Japan) promised many things that have not come to pass, not least the hope that American bases would finally disappear, Okinawans would get their land back, and the islanders would be treated as equal citizens by Japan. None of this has happened and so the war still isn’t over for Okinawa.

As I’m almost tired of saying… not much has changed under the colonial rule of Japan, with the use and misuse of land stolen by US occupation forces for military bases. Accidents and incidents, crimes, and environmental degradation, all continue with the tacit approval of a Japanese government that has no intention of doing anything to seriously relieve Okinawans of their burden.

Only last week at Naha military port, an American soldier pointed a gun at a Ryukyu Shimpo reporter who was just doing his job. The chilling photo (below) says a lot about the reality of life under virtual occupation.

Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo

Returning to ‘Jidai no Nagare’, a newer version of the song contains these lines:

Long ago the hills and forests were ours      

Where we picked oranges freely         

Now as bases they are American                 

Long ago the seas were ours too                 

We could have a dip at any time         

Now the resorts keep us out                         

Change after change is our fate         

But bases on the island never change 

When will things become better?

It would be very optimistic to imagine things will soon become better. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that people on these islands are not yet calling for independence, since the prospects of ever achieving any kind of autonomy under Japan are extremely bleak. This is especially so in view of Japan’s slavish following of America and support for its wars.  

A few years ago, a referendum for independence in Scotland was a close-run thing and may yet come to fruition. By contrast, regaining independence has been almost a taboo subject in Okinawa. In my local community it’s not something that’s discussed, while some students at the university where I lectured were shocked at the idea. For younger Okinawans the Battle of Okinawa and its combined 240,000+ deaths, is something from the murky past and they have grown up used to the bases and the American war machine.

There is a sense of Stockholm Syndrome in all this. Many fear the unknown of going it alone and live in hopes they will somehow be treated better by their oppressors. There is, however, more enthusiasm for autonomy among some Uchinanchu Americans and others outside the islands, judging by what I read daily on social media: perhaps being away from it all they can see something that those closer cannot. They are also able to view it in the broader sense of a struggle by indigenous peoples worldwide.

On Saturday 30th April starting at 14:00 there will be a Kenmin Taikai or People’s Gathering at Onoyama Rikuyokyogijo in Naha. Its purpose is to protest about the American bases and to tell the younger generation about the problems of the last 50 years. It’s hoped to attract 10,000 participants. This is unlikely to lead to any significant change but that’s not the point. What is important is to show the unfairness meted out to these islands as Kadekaru’s song continues to resonate.  

Roots Round-up 2021

December 8, 2021

It’s that time again when everyone chooses their best albums of the year, so here are some of my favourites.  

In 2021 several new Okinawan releases came my way but best of all was Utayui by Chihiro Kamiya. This was her first full-length album for nine years and it really confirmed her place as one of the great singers from these islands with a set of songs mixing both old and new. The review of Kamiya’s album (and of all the albums here) can be found on the Power of Okinawa blog.

Next in my top three is the debut album Churaumi, Churashima by Miyako singer and sanshin player Tadayuki Matsubara who is following strongly in the footsteps of his mentor Genji Kuniyoshi who died earlier this year. Matsubara captures the mood of his islands perfectly on an album of traditional songs that would surely have made Kuniyoshi himself proud.

My third choice must be the double CD Mo Ashibi Magic recorded live in Tokyo in 1999 by Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman and released for the first time this year. As I wrote in the review: “For anyone familiar with their original albums this will be an unexpected and essential bonus. It also serves as a wonderful reminder of one of the most successful collaborations in any musical genre.”

Of the ‘Roots Music from Out There’ recordings to reach me, here are three favourites, in no special order:

Spiers & Boden’s Fallow Ground was a very welcome return for the Bellowhead pair working again as a duo with a great mix of songs and tunes. The two Englishmen made an intoxicatingly vibrant noise to prove they are still at the top of their game. While mainly an upbeat set, the instrumental track ‘The Fog’ is possibly the best thing John Spiers has ever done.

Meanwhile from America there were two recordings that I listened to more than any other. The first was the Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno self-titled album which contained a lovely selection of original songs, typified by the melancholy ‘Love and Chains’ (see video). It’s a remarkable album made with great skill, care, and love by young musicians already steeped in a tradition way beyond music fashions.

My other favourite was Joe Troop’s solo debut Borrowed Time a collection of self-composed protest songs plus a couple of instrumentals. The dominant sound is that of Troop’s voice and banjo and to this he adds some gifted musicians while slipping effortlessly between English and Spanish vocals. 

With the persistent pandemic affecting live shows there weren’t many trips out but I did see a terrific set from the Okinawa Americana duo Merry and David Ralston at Mod’s in Chatan last month.

This was with their full band line-up for the CD release of their second album Tachi. The earlier digital release was reviewed here some time ago. There’s another chance to see them when they play on 24th December at Stage Coco in Itoman. I’ll be there to start the Christmas celebrations.

Cover Story

November 24, 2021

I read this month of an exhibition of the ‘world’s worst album covers’ in Huddersfield, England. It was all the work of a record collector who assembled the showcase after going on a lengthy mission to find disastrous LP covers. He wasn’t just interested in bad cover designs: his first rule was that the cover had to make him laugh.

This got me thinking about Okinawan covers and I wondered if there were any from these islands that might have been contenders. There’s one in my own collection that has always struck me as being so hastily put together that it never fails to provoke merriment in our house. This is Satukui Chijuya, a duet album by Koutoku Tsuha and Satoko Oshiro.

Now don’t get me wrong. Koutoku Tsuha is one of the greatest singers and sanshin players of the first generation of Okinawan recording artists. His partner here, Satoko Oshiro, was originally one of his pupils. It’s a fine recording. But unless Oshiro is a giant of a woman – or Tsuha has shrunk alarmingly in his later years – they have clearly not been photographed together. It looks more as if Oshiro is leading her prematurely aged little boy safely through the sugar cane field.

This isn’t the only Okinawan example of photos taken at different times and pasted together but it’s the one that makes me laugh. There are a few other covers that could, I suppose, lay claim to being either disastrous or funny. One in the former camp is the cover for the album Challenge by Akane Murayoshi that came out ten years ago and was reviewed here at the time.

This went a bit overboard with its garish design which does the singer no favours. Sadly, the album itself is no great shakes either. It took a while but to her credit, Murayoshi has completely recovered from this and went on to contribute to one of my albums of the year when she appeared on Ushinawareta Umi e no Banka 2019 along with Hirokazu Matsuda, Seibun Tokuhara, and Mika Uchizato.

My other example is the cover for the compilation Okinawa Sobayasan no BGM. It was released by Respect in 2006 and this is a case of intentionally funny artwork so, in fact, it succeeds very well. The album contains a selection of songs related to the joys of eating Okinawa soba with diversions into the delights of mango and awamori. It also includes the wonderfully tacky ‘Goya Bushi’ by Yoko Yokota.

There may be others, but these are the ones that came to mind, though it would be harsh to say any of them would find a place in an exhibition of ‘worst’ covers. Whether intentionally or not they did make me smile though.

Dreamtime for the Ryukyus

October 20, 2021

I read a news report this week about the Marshall Islands, a nation comprising more than a thousand islands in the north Pacific. Because of rising sea levels, some of the islands are likely to disappear completely as they go underwater. Majuro, the islands’ capital is projected to find 40% of its buildings permanently flooded. Marshall Islands’ status as a nation would even come under threat.

It’s not such a stretch to imagine a similar scenario eventually arising in parts of the Ryukyus. As if there wasn’t already enough for the islanders to contend with along with colonisation by Japan and land taken without the people’s consent for American military bases.

Dreamtime…with shisa

This is all a far cry from the tropical tourist paradise frequently portrayed, or the ‘healing islands’ image of mainland Japanese: an image that never fails to annoy me. Apathy among the electorate in Japan also means this month’s election won’t change anything for Okinawa. Those who do vote will return a government that has no interest in democracy or the will of the Okinawan people. Sadly, many Okinawans are disillusioned with politics too and see resistance as futile.  

Outside these islands (and even within Japan) there is little or no awareness of the history of the Ryukyus and of their ongoing problems. However, there have been several books recently published in English by ‘outsiders’ who through their writings have tried to draw attention to what goes on here.

Welsh investigative journalist Jon Mitchell has done painstaking work, in the face of much opposition, to uncover secrets the American military would rather we hadn’t found out. Akemi Johnson has written an excellent book drawing on the stories of women connected in various ways with the bases; and Elizabeth Miki Brina’s superb memoir Speak, Okinawa seamlessly blends a summary of Ryukyu history with her own experiences of coming to terms with her Okinawan heritage.

All these books have been mentioned before on the Power of Okinawa, but now there’s a new addition to this small but distinguished group of publications that in their different ways have all focussed on the predicament facing Okinawa. This time it comes in the form of a novel by English author Venetia Welby whose new book Dreamtime is set largely in the Ryukyu Islands. 

This is Welby’s second novel and she spent considerable time travelling in the Ryukyus while researching the background for her book. The story is set in a dystopian near future and its protagonist is Sol, a young American woman who emerges from rehab in Arizona to embark on a journey, together with friend Kit, that takes her to Okinawa in search of her absentee father who was stationed on the island as a marine. All of this takes place against a backdrop of global climate meltdown.

In what is also something of a road novel, there are scenes in Naha, Chatan, and Yomitan, as well as the outer islands of Ishigaki and Iriomote. These locations along with the characters and cultural depictions from the Ryukyus are convincingly represented and it’s clear that Welby has done her research thoroughly.

But this is a novel, not a factual account, and is all the better for it. It should first be appreciated as literature and as such is a very satisfying read. The story is fast-paced, and the genre defies categorisation. It’s science fiction set in a near future (Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a relative). At the same time, it looks back to the history of the Ryukyu Islands. Important issues are addressed such as climate change, the evils of colonisation, and the continual dangers arising from hosting military bases. There’s also a love story at its heart.  

Welby has done a fine job of creating an unusually compelling and prescient novel that should be of great interest to all readers, not just those with a particular interest in Okinawa. Perhaps it will also help to awaken the outside world to what is happening in the Ryukyus now and what might happen in the future.

The Fragility of Life

September 13, 2021

Okinawa is still in a so-called ‘state of emergency’ because of the pandemic. Despite this, the beach near my home is more crowded than ever with weekend visitors, swimmers, snorkelers, and surfers. Few seem to take much notice of the crisis. But last week all this was overshadowed for me by news of how fragile life can be when I learned of the very sudden and unexpected death of my friend and neighbour Nao Nishimata. 

About ten years ago I was contacted for the first time by Nao. She had heard of my interest in Okinawan music and got in touch to introduce herself. It turned out that not only did she live close by, but she was living in the very same street just a few seconds walk from my home. 

Shortly afterwards, Nao introduced me to the Okinawan-Peruvian singer Lucy Nagamine and the two of them came to my house armed with sanshin, guitar and sanba to perform a live set in my own living room. Nao was a great organiser and as well as playing guitar for Lucy she was important in promoting her career in Okinawa. I once asked if she was Lucy’s manager, but she always insisted on describing herself simply as a ‘supporter’.

Nao (left) and Lucy at my home, February 2011

She arranged for me to interview Lucy that year for the UK’s fRoots magazine (now in the Features Archive of this blog). And in August of that year, she invited my family to a beach party in Nanjo where a photo session took place for the release of a new Lucy album. We are all there, captured on the CD inlay photo, dancing on the beach. Later that evening she and Lucy played at our local festival.

Three years ago, when Basque singer Mikel Urdangarin came to Okinawa for the Basque Ryukyu Project, Nao came to my aid again with ideas for venues for him to play, and she invited Mikel to be the guest on Ichariba Amigos! the weekly radio show she hosted so expertly. After playing music together on the show, she and Lucy then spent the rest of the day with him introducing him to all things Okinawan.

In her unobtrusive way Nao was also part of many other activities involving Okinawan music and the performing arts and she had connections everywhere. This was brought home to me at her funeral ceremony last week attended by so many people, some coming from mainland Japan. Apart from all this, she was the finest neighbour it’s possible to have. She is already greatly missed.

But the sadness of last week doesn’t end there as just three days after Nao’s passing came the news that English singer-guitarist-composer Michael Chapman had died at his home at the age of 80. Michael had been one of my teenage heroes ever since I first saw and met him at the Jacquard Folk Club in Norwich back in the 1960s. I’ll repeat (from a previous blog post) how this came about on the evening I went to see the Incredible String Band:

“… a small man with a northern accent appeared with a guitar and asked if he could play. He went on and performed to a very enthusiastic response. This turned out to be Michael Chapman. He almost stole the ISB’s thunder with his songs and guitar skills and a couple of weeks later was booked to play as guest at the club. He soon became a regular visitor to the area and his second album Fully Qualified Survivor contained ‘Postcards of Scarborough’ a song that to this day brings back many memories – even though I’ve still never been to Scarborough.

Chapman soon became a fixture on the folk circuit and went on to a long career with numerous albums. In the 1990s I finally ran into him again in London when I went to see him play at a small club and he was just as good as ever.”

Michael Chapman

That London meeting – in 1995 – was the last time I saw him in person. We talked during the break, he remembered me from the folk club days, and he was curious about why I was living in Kobe at the time. The city had just been struck by a major earthquake. He gave me a copy of his novel Firewater Dreams which he signed and inscribed “To John after all these years”.

He had just made the album Navigation which was a huge return to form. Much more was to follow and in his last years he made two of his best albums 50 recorded in America and True North (both reviewed on this blog) and was discovered by a new younger audience. We stayed in touch for a while after that last meeting and I tried unsuccessfully to arrange some dates in Japan for him in the 90s which is something I always regret not being able to do.

Michael Chapman was never a big star, but he was uncompromising in his musical honesty and integrity, and he managed to create and sustain a living as a professional musician for more than half a century. His unique guitar style draws on elements of blues and jazz as much as it does on the folk tag that was often erroneously given to him. He leaves behind a large body of recorded work – I’m listening again to some of it now – and there won’t be another like him. I just wish we could have met again.

Forever Chemicals & Okinawan Spirit

August 18, 2021

“A situation is arising in which people from outside the islands, such as yourself, can inspire Okinawans to understand their own culture and identity.” These words were spoken to me by iconic Okinawan singer and activist Shoukichi Kina several years ago during an interview included in The Power of Okinawa book. (Well, he said it in Japanese, and this is the English translation).

We were talking about independence for the Ryukyu Islands and how the younger generation of Okinawans were too influenced by Japan nowadays to give much thought to such matters. Years later not a great deal has changed regarding independence which is still not a vital issue in most people’s minds. Equally though, not much has changed (or is ever likely to) while the islands remain under the colonial rule of Japan, with the use and misuse of large swathes of stolen land by US occupation forces and their military bases.

Accidents and incidents, crimes, and environmental degradation, all continue with the tacit approval of a Japanese government that has no intention of doing anything to seriously relieve Okinawans of their burden, let alone grant more autonomy. Prime Minister Suga follows the same path trodden by his predecessor Abe and is only remarkable for his self-professed ignorance of Okinawan history, his disregard and lack of empathy for the sufferings of the Ryukyu people then and now.

Kina surprised me a bit by his optimism and belief that change – or at least more awareness – could come from the outside. This might come from non-Okinawan ‘allies’ interested and concerned about these islands, and equally from those in the large Okinawan diaspora who have family roots back in the Ryukyus. 

Maybe Kina had a point. Welsh investigative journalist Jon Mitchell is one ‘outsider’ who has worked tirelessly on Okinawan issues. His book Poisoning the Pacific was a thoroughly researched, eye-opening record of the US military’s secret dumping of chemical weapons. He has also co-directed a 24-minute video report with an Okinawan TV station which is essential viewing. (The video now has English subtitles). Forever Chemicals is a shocking look into how the US military contaminated the water for 450,000 Okinawans:

Watching the video (as I hope you will too), it was most disappointing to see the indignation of local people met with such apparent indifference from their own government officials all too keen to avoid making a fuss or fighting for their rights.

The American-Uchinanchu activist Byron Fija has written of Okinawans being the victims of Stockholm syndrome, unwilling to free themselves from attachment to their Japanese and American oppressors and even sympathising with them. This term came to mind again when I read the short story ‘Gubeikou Spirit’ by Te-Ping Chen from her book Land of Big Numbers published earlier this year.

In the story a group of passengers are delayed on the Gubeikou station platform by a late train. They are told to stay in the station until the problem is fixed. However, the delay goes on for hours, then days, then weeks. Food, drinks, and other supplies are delivered to them by station employees. They are even given t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘Gubeikou Spirit’ and praised for their patience and resilience. Gradually the stranded passengers come to accept their predicament, and they begin to prefer it to life outside. It’s an allegory that could well have been written about Okinawa.

The logo for the Ichariba Choodee podcast

But to return to those engaged in discussions about the Ryukyus, there is an entertaining and informative new monthly podcast named Ichariba Choodee. Subtitled ‘Okinawan Voices and Stories’ its purpose is to explore various topics, from identity to language revitalisation. Episodes feature guest speakers who are usually involved in a specific subject connected to Okinawa. In the latest episode there is a discussion of hajichi, the traditional tattooing that was eventually banned after Japan took control of the islands. A second part on this topic is coming soon.  

The hosts are Mariko Middleton, Erica Kunihasa, and Tori Toguchi who are all based in the USA but with Uchinanchu family roots in Okinawa. What is so engaging about the discussions up to now is that the three bring such a lightness of touch to the proceedings as they chat freely about their own heritage.

They are concerned, in their own words, with “celebrating and preserving our culture, connecting the diaspora, and both proudly and humbly educating and learning along the way”. The title of their podcast, available in all the usual places (website link below), is the Ryukyu saying sometimes translated as: ‘When we meet, we become brothers, sisters, family’.

There are others outside the islands who have done important work recently in drawing attention, in their own different ways, to Okinawa and its issues through their writing. Among them are the authors Akemi Johnson (Night in the American Village) and Elizabeth Miki Brina (Speak, Okinawa) whose books have already been discussed elsewhere on this blog. 

Shoukichi Kina has always been fond of talking about the need for great ‘Okinawan spirit’. It’s become almost his mantra. Perhaps his idea that those outside the islands can help inspire Okinawans to a greater understanding of their own spirit, culture, identity, and indeed rights, will come true after all. I hope so.

https://www.shimanchupodcast.com/

More Notes on Nenes

July 24, 2021

It’s almost two years since I wrote the first ‘Notes on Nenes’ for this blog. It’s still there so you can look it up. At that time, my interest in the original Nenes quartet had been rekindled by a meeting with Henry Johnson who was visiting Okinawa from New Zealand where he is Professor in the Department of Music at Otago University.

I’ve only met Henry a few times when he has been let loose on one of his research trips to these islands, but – apart from us being fellow exiled Brits – we always have plenty to talk about and he’s obviously a very fine chap. He is the music expert while I’m just the music enthusiast, so it’s always good to learn more by asking him lots of theoretical questions.

His further planned visits to Okinawa have had to be curtailed owing to the dreaded pandemic so I don’t know when we’ll see each other again. However, on our last meeting he talked of a book he was working on about the Nenes phenomenon. This year the book sees the light of day as part of the Bloomsbury Publishing series of short books on popular music albums.

The Nenes book is published under Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Japan series. These are in-depth examinations of Japanese albums of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (so Okinawa is shoehorned in). Among the titles already published are studies of albums by Perfume and Shonen Knife.

At under 200 pages, the new book is titled Nenes’ Koza Dabasa and subtitled ‘Okinawa in the World Music Market’. As its name suggests it is focused on an analysis of Koza Dabasa the fourth album by Nenes released in 1994. The album received critical acclaim (not least from me) and is widely regarded as their best with contributions from several American musicians including Ry Cooder and David Hidalgo.

This is much more than just a study of the album. What the book also does is to place Okinawan music in relation to Japan and the world. An early chapter on ‘Uchina Pop and Chanpuru Culture’ explains much of the background to the music of these islands. This is followed by a chapter on the members of Nenes and their related personnel such as mentor Sadao China, arranger Kazuya Sahara, and the guest musicians they have worked with.

Another chapter on ‘Island Culture’ discusses the concepts of shima, hometown, and shima-uta, with a detailed look at their recording of the traditional song ‘Kurushima Kuduchi’. Later, there is another close analysis, this time of an original song, ‘Amerika-dori’. This forms part of the chapter ‘War and Peace’, where there is a discussion of history and the relative lack of focus on war and military base issues in much of the Nenes repertoire. Generally, their song lyrics prefer to celebrate the positive aspects of island life. ‘Amerika-dori’, for instance, is a joyful song about the mix of people and cultures in Koza and it steers clear of both the conflict between Okinawa and its military occupiers America and colonial oppressors Japan. It is suggested, however, that it’s possible to read the song in a slightly different way if you scratch beneath the surface.

Koza Dabasa was, of course, a product of the original Nenes line-up, but the book doesn’t shy away from addressing the fact that the group has continually changed its members since that time and has evolved into a kind of music franchise under the direction of Sadao China. His energy is now mostly channelled into promoting live performances at their home venue in Naha where they cater mainly to audiences of tourists.

The appendices to the book gather details of all the recordings and include a run down on members of the ever-changing Nenes line-ups. I also learned some interesting nuggets of peripheral information along the way. I had no idea that Japanese band Shang Shang Typhoon had guested on Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 album Sisters of Avalon – an album I’ve listened to many times. I was also initially surprised that Four Sisters had toured overseas – until I saw the reference to this was from my own book The Power of Okinawa. Thanks for the reminder.

Nenes’ Koza Dabasa is well-written in a readable and clear style. For such a relatively slim volume it covers just about everything you need to know. It may be primarily an academic book, but it will be of great interest to any general reader, myself included, who is an Okinawan music enthusiast. It will be especially valuable to those who would like to know more of the story behind Nenes.

That story continues up to the present day and since the completion of Nenes’ Koza Dabasa there has been yet another new Nenes album release. (Or rather Nenez, as the romanisation of their newest incarnation now appears). The album was released last month and is titled Gajumaru. It is being promoted as music to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Nenes album.

Much like one of its recent predecessors Reborn, the Gajumaru album contains re-recordings of 14 songs from previous albums. Whereas Reborn was a reworking of some of the classic Nenes songs of old, the new release contains what is described as recordings of songs ‘carefully selected’ by Sadao China from four albums by the post-original line-ups: Chura Uta (2002), Shu (2004), Sai (2008), and Okurimono (2010).

The cover image is created in the same style and in similar red colours to the Nenes debut album Ikawu (1991). This would seem to be one for completists only though it may well satisfy tourists and some uncritical Okinawans. For the rest of us, it’s perhaps better to read Henry Johnson’s book and give ourselves a treat by listening again to Koza Dabasa when the original Nenes were at their very best.

Irei no Hi 2021

June 24, 2021

23rd June is a public holiday in the Ryukyus. This is Irei no Hi, the day when all those who died in the Battle of Okinawa are remembered. The total number of dead is currently 241,632.  Yesterday was the 76th anniversary and there were ceremonies throughout the islands.

The main ceremony was held as usual at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park near my home in Itoman. In recent years there has been very sunny weather but this time the rainy season lingers on, and the televised ceremony took place in wet conditions. The pandemic also shows little sign of abating and with Okinawa still in a state of emergency, the event was drastically scaled down with only around 30 invited guests.

The 2021 ceremony at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park (Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo)

Fortunately, this meant there was no appearance from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who must have been relieved not to face the Okinawan public again. Instead, he sent a video message. His face appeared on a large screen, and he talked of the wounds of the Okinawan people and the need to ease their base burden. It was an emotionless speech of hypocrisy and insincerity from someone who has claimed not to know about the history of Okinawa, or want to talk about it, because he was born after the war.

Much more impressive was the peace poem recited (also partly sung) by Miharu Uehara, aged 13, from Miyako Island. Her poem ‘Mirukuyu no Uta’ (Songs of Peacetime) was chosen from 1,500 entries from schoolchildren around the islands.  

It’s sadly ironic that while people gathered here to remember the dead, just up the road on the Itoman coast the digging continues. This is where remains of the war dead are almost certainly mixed in the earth used as landfill for the unwanted new American base at Henoko. Even Okinawa’s governor Denny Tamaki seems unwilling, or else unable, to put a stop to it. Meanwhile, news this week reported on the continuing danger of many unexploded US shells from the Battle of Okinawa.

While Irei no Hi is a public holiday here, it is just another day in mainland Japan. In a survey conducted this month, and just published in the Okinawa Times newspaper, it was reported that 75.5% of Japanese had never even heard of Irei no Hi. This underlines just how far from justice and fair treatment Okinawa remains, with a large part of its main island still occupied by US bases, and the ‘prefecture’ a colony of Japan.