Archive for the ‘Okinawan Life’ category

Irei no hi 2017

June 23, 2017

It’s the 23rd June once again and so it’s Irei no hi in Okinawa which is a public holiday throughout the Ryukyu Islands. For the eighth year in succession I attended the Memorial Service for all the war dead in the Battle of Okinawa which ended on this day 72 years ago at a cost of more than 240,000 lives. As always, the main ceremony was held at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Itoman.

The rainy season is finally at an end in Okinawa and today, like all the other Irei no hi ceremonies I’ve attended, there was blazing sunshine and sweltering heat.

As before, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an appearance that was about as welcome as a fly in your soup. Tight security ensured that his visit went off without incident but his speech on the need for peace and assurances that he was thinking about Okinawa seemed hypocritical at the very least. His actions and those of his government have been completely at odds with his words today.

The current situation in Okinawa was better addressed by Yonekichi Shinzato, Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, who said:

“Although 72 years have passed, there are still vast US military facilities in Okinawa, and people still suffer from incidents and accidents due to their presence. The reduction of Okinawa’s excessive military burden has repeatedly been called for. However, considering the number of military related incidents in Okinawa such as parachute drop training in Kadena Air Base despite local opposition and frequent military aircraft flyovers, I have to say the situation has been regressing. Therefore, I firmly request, again, reducing our military burden.”

This was taken up by Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga in his Peace Declaration:

“Especially regarding the relocation of Futenma Air Station to the Henoko area, we cannot tolerate that the construction has been forcibly begun, ignoring the will of the people of Okinawa. I am determined to work closely with the Okinawan people in order to block the relocation of Futenma Air Station to Henoko.”

Onaga went on: “This year marks the 70th anniversary of enforcement of the Japanese constitution and 45th anniversary of its application to Okinawa Prefecture. Considering this milestone, we must reaffirm the principle of pacifism of the constitution and every individual has to firmly pursue lasting peace for the world and make efforts to realize it.”

“Masahide Ota, former governor of Okinawa, passed away last week. He wanted Okinawa to become a foundation for creation of peace and peaceful co-existence. As a vow to prevent the re-occurrence of the horrors of war, he decided to establish “The Cornerstone of Peace” to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa, regardless of their nationalities.”

“We, as citizens living in Okinawa, will strive to pass on our hope for a better tomorrow which is built into “The Cornerstone of Peace” to the next generation. In addition, we are determined to continue making efforts to create a society full of joy, where our children and grandchildren, who hold the fate of the future in their hands, will be able to live in peace and safety.”

Heiwasozo no Mori Koen

May 21, 2017

A few days ago I stumbled upon Heiwasozo no Mori Koen (Peace Forest Park) not far from my home on the south coast of Okinawa. I’d seen it signposted before but had never thought to seek it out and have never met anyone who has even mentioned its existence.

Entrance to the park

Many areas named ‘parks’ in Okinawa (and mainland Japan) are no more than small patches of ground not much bigger than my own garden so it came as quite a surprise to discover a green and spacious land that really deserves the name.

On a sloping hillside with great views of the ocean, the park contains a fountain, pond, woods, and areas for walking, play and rest. Amazingly, on this lovely morning there were no other visitors and I had the entire park to myself.

A visit to Kyan

May 12, 2017

Kyan is a village on the southern tip of Okinawa Island not far from my home. This morning we visited its castle ruins, its cape, and its small fishing port. It was a windy day but already hot with the temperature at 30 degrees by mid-morning. The Gushikawa castle ruins are on coastal cliffs overlooking the ocean. Nearby is Cape Kyan, a precipice about 30 metres high that divides the Pacific Ocean from the East China Sea.

Here are some photos taken around Kyan this morning:

Okinawa’s south-east coast

December 11, 2016

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.

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Irei no hi 2016

June 23, 2016

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.

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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.”

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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.

Okinawa Ichiba

June 7, 2016

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.

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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.

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http://www.okinawa-ichiba.jp

Peter Barakan’s Roots to Okinawa

February 14, 2016

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.

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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.

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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.