Archive for the ‘Okinawan Life’ category

7th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival

November 1, 2022

The 7th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival began yesterday in Okinawa and goes on for five days. The taikai or festival is usually held every five years but because of the global pandemic it is six years since the last one.

Those with roots in the Ryukyus gather from all over the world and it’s expected that a total of 8,500 people will take part.

On the eve of the festival (30th October) there was a parade of participants from the Okinawa diaspora. This took place on Kokusai-dori in Naha. These photos (plus several others) appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Mainichi Shimbun.

Photos: Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan


Irei no hi 2020

June 22, 2020

Tomorrow (23rd June) is a public holiday in Okinawa known as Irei no hi. This is the day every year when the end of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 is commemorated. Ceremonies are held around the islands to remember those who died in a battle that raged for nearly three months on Okinawa causing misery and devastation and claiming more than 240,000 lives.

This year is especially important as it is the 75th anniversary but, because of the current coronavirus situation, the main ceremony at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Itoman has been scaled down. It will not be open to the public but only to around 200 invited guests, including of course Okinawa’s Governor Denny Tamaki. There will be video messages from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and from a representative of the United Nations.

The Cornerstone of Peace at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park where tomorrow’s ceremony will take place.

The ceremony is annually attended by Japan’s Prime Minister, but this year Shinzo Abe will not be coming. No doubt this will be a relief for him as his attendance is always controversial and usually provokes some protests and heckling of his speech despite very tight security.

It is already five years since Okinawa’s previous Governor, the late Takeshi Onaga, spoke these words at the ceremony, but they are just as relevant today:

“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.”

As ever, Japan’s government continues to ignore the democratic wishes of the Okinawan people and has recently restarted landfill work aimed at the construction of the new American military base at Henoko.

Tomorrow’s ceremony in Itoman begins at 11:55 and will be televised live as usual in Okinawa.

Choho Miyara Music Award 2019

December 12, 2019

Last night I was invited to the 17th annual Miyara Choho Ongaku Sho (Choho Miyara Music Award) ceremony which was held at Ryukyu Shimpo Hall in Naha. It’s nine years since I last attended one of these ceremonies and the time has passed very quickly. This year, as always, there were two awards. The main one is the Ongaku Sho which is usually given in recognition of a lifetime’s work. The other is the Tokubetsu Sho or Special Award.

Yoshikatsu Bise (left) receiving his award

This year’s Ongaku Sho was given to Yoshikatsu Bise, better known to everyone on Okinawa simply as Bisekatsu. For many years he has been a massively important figure in the promotion of Okinawan music. As well as running Campus Records, his own shop and record label, for almost half a century, he is a promoter, record producer, songwriter, and a walking encyclopedia of traditional music from these islands.

Bisekatsu’s acceptance speech

For at least the past couple of decades Bisekatsu has also been enormously generous and helpful to me personally. (My 2005 interview and feature on Campus Records for fRoots magazine can be found in the Features Archive of this blog). The Ongaku Sho award comes in the year that he became 80 years old and it is richly deserved.

Recipients of the Tokubetsu Sho last night were the Okinawa Dansee Gashodan (Okinawa Men’s Choir) who began in 1972 with just four people and now have 54 members. They have also travelled overseas to sing in several different countries.

Kazutoshi Matsuda

Okinawa Dansee Gashodan

After the ceremony there was a party with music on stage from Okinawan singer and sanshin player Kazutoshi Matsuda and others, and the evening ended with a performance by Okinawa Dansee Gashodan.

Mitsuaki Iwago’s World Cats Travelogue

September 5, 2019

Mitsuaki Iwago’s photo exhibition, Neko, came to Okinawa two years ago and I wrote about it at the time. It was a wonderfully rewarding show for anyone with a love of cats or an interest in photography. Starting tomorrow, the same photographer returns with a new exhibition at the Urasoe Art Museum featuring cats from around the world.

Iwago was born in Tokyo in 1950 and is a renowned wildlife photographer and filmmaker. He has a special relationship with our feline friends and has travelled all over the world to capture images of them in a long career stretching back more than 40 years. He will be attending the exhibition in person on Saturday (7th).

Mitsuaki Iwago’s World Cats Travelogue is sure to be worth a visit. The exhibition opens on 6th September and runs until 27th October. Full details are on the museum’s website.

Autumn in Okinawa

November 8, 2018

It’s autumn in Okinawa and today is bright and sunny with the temperature at 28 degrees. Just the sort of day to have a picnic in the park and so that’s what we did. Here are some photos taken this afternoon after our lunch at Itoman’s Heiwasozo no Mori Koen (Forest Peace Park).


A Weekend in Itoman

June 24, 2018

It has been a busy weekend in Itoman. Yesterday (23rd) was Irei no hi – a public holiday in Okinawa to mark the 73rd anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa. As usual it was commemorated at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman with a ceremony attended by several thousand people.

Among those in attendance was Prime Minister Abe who made the usual insincere speech full of platitudes about how much Japan cares about Okinawa. It received a certain amount of heckling from some members of the audience who suggested that Abe should go home. Sadly, nothing changes and after all these years Okinawa is still overburdened with American military bases fully supported by Abe’s government against the wishes of the Okinawan people.

On a brighter note, today was the annual Itoman Hare (or dragon boat races) when thousands flock to Itoman’s fishing port for the all day event. The races were introduced from China at the end of the 14th century and the festivities continue to this day. It was another hot day with the sun blazing down and a temperature of 31 degrees. Below are some photos taken during the races this afternoon.


Neko – An Exhibition by Mitsuaki Iwago

August 16, 2017

Today we visited the exhibition Neko at Urasoe Art Museum, Okinawa. This is an exhibition of 180 photographs by Tokyo photographer Mitsuaki Iwago who has been taking pictures for more than 40 years. He has travelled the world in search of cats and the results include feline photos of many different kinds and from diverse locations around Japan and in Europe, Africa and Asia. The Neko exhibition also includes a few photos from Okinawa.

Iwago’s photos reveal many aspects of the lives of cats and they don’t just focus on their more obvious cuteness. It’s a thoroughly rewarding show whether you are a cat lover or a devotee of photography. The exhibition began in July and runs until 3rd September so there is still time to catch it if you are in Okinawa. Entry is from 9:30 until 17:00 and admission is 800 yen for adults. Neko is sponsored by the Okinawa Times and is one of the events organised to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

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: