Here are some photos taken today in glorious sunny December weather. The pictures are all from Yaese and Nanjo on the south-east coast of Okinawa.
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.”
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.
Last month I was visited by journalists from the quarterly magazine Okinawa Ichiba who interviewed me for a two page feature in their upcoming summer edition. We talked for a long time and among other things I was asked to select a personal choice of recommended Okinawan albums.
The new edition is out now and is in bookstores throughout Okinawa. Unlike many other glossy magazines Okinawa Ichiba is reasonably priced at 550 yen. The summer edition (in Japanese only) has a music theme and among the other articles is one on singer Kanako Horiuchi.
Television presenter, radio DJ and author Peter Barakan is well known throughout Japan. Last year he visited Okinawa to talk about music and his show was sold out. Yesterday he returned to Okinawa to give another of his popular music presentations, this time in front of a full house at Okinawa University.
His talk this time focused on roots music and was titled Roots to Okinawa. For almost two hours he gave a fascinating presentation on some of the most interesting roots music from around the world. This was illustrated with some powerful audio and video clips which began with an old recording of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and went on to cover music from America, Africa and Europe.
After the interval, I joined Peter Barakan to take part in a one hour Talk Session. This began with a short presentation in which I talked about my discovery of Okinawan music and played some recent recordings from Shoukichi Kina, Unaigumi, and Satoru Shimoji. In the discussion which followed with Peter we covered a wide range of musical topics.
One of these was the revival of interest in the old songs, stories and music of the Appalachians through the duo Anna & Elizabeth, and Peter showed a video of their performance at NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. We also managed to squeeze in a brief discussion of Basque music before taking questions from a very responsive audience which included several musicians from Okinawa.
Peter Barakan has a calm, warm and thoughtful personality and his wide-ranging knowledge and passion for roots music was very much appreciated by everyone. Let’s hope it isn’t too long before he returns to Okinawa.
An exhibition Shashin to Eizo de Tsuzuru: Kina Shoukichi – Hanseiki no Kiseki is currently on show at the Okinawa Times Building in Naha. The exhibition of photographs and film is to celebrate half a century of work by Shoukichi Kina.
As well as being a singer, musician and songwriter Kina is well-known as a social and political activist who has travelled to many parts of the world. His work also includes books and paintings. The show runs until 7th November and admission is free.
Some photos from the exhibition:
Today, the 23rd June, is a public holiday in Okinawa and the day when the end of the Battle of Okinawa is commemorated as Irei no hi. It always seems to be a time of extreme heat and humidity and today was no exception. I attended the main Memorial Service which was held around lunchtime at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman. This year was a rather special ceremony as it marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and even more people than usual gathered in the park.
As usual, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the ceremony and made a familiar speech full of platitudes while not really addressing the current situation in Okinawa at all. His speech, delivered in a monotone, was met with lukewarm applause and some heckling along the way. In contrast, Okinawa’s Governor Takeshi Onaga made an impassioned speech which included the following:
“To begin with, regarding Futenma Air Station whose land was forcibly expropriated from us against our will and which is said to be the most dangerous base in the world, the indefinite use of MCAS Futenma must not be endured. To the people of Okinawa, the notion that ‘Futenma will be relocated to Henoko to eliminate the danger posed by Futenma’, and that ‘if Okinawa does not like the Henoko plan, Okinawa should come up with an alternative plan’ is totally unacceptable.”
“We cannot establish a foundation of peace unless the central government impartially guarantees freedom, equality, human rights and democracy to the people.”
“I strongly urge the national government to break with its fixed ideas, decide to stop the work to relocate Futenma to Henoko, and review once again its policies to reduce the base hosting burden shouldered by Okinawa.”
Not surprisingly, Onaga’s speech was halted several times by spontaneous applause and finally received an ovation. His sentiments were endorsed by Masaharu Kina, Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, who said:
“During the Battle of Okinawa, both the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and the people of Okinawa were too powerless as they were left in the dark without being notified of what was happening. Reflecting on the lessons we learnt, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, this year once again, hereby makes a pledge to pass down to our offspring the real facts of the tragic Battle of Okinawa, together with the many participants here, to prevent the war from occurring again. We also pledge to return to the roots of democracy by asserting that it is the people of Okinawa who should decide matters for Okinawa, and we swear to stay faithful to the people of Okinawa as we do our utmost to work together to create a bright and peaceful future for Okinawa.”
The Golden Week holiday is celebrated at this time in May throughout Japan and this includes Okinawa. Today is the last day of the holidays and many people were out and about on the island enjoying the good weather and temperatures of 27 degrees.
We visited Yafu-batake which describes itself as an outdoor cafe. It looks out onto the Pacific Ocean from high up on the south-east coast. The cafe is housed in a number of open buildings and includes a play area for children and a small factory next door where brown sugar is produced.
Some photos from today: