Uchina Tabi nu Umukutu ~ Reflections on Okinawa

Well, after 6 short days, I’m back in Hawai`i and glad to be back in cooler weather. However, there is lots more out there for us in Okinawa. This trip was very short. I was reminded that things cannot be rushed in Okinawa as there needs to time to get to know someone and also to talk. You can’t just go somewhere and schedule time if you are going to talk to someone or find out something. This also goes with business and shopping sometimes. There needs to time to create rapoire. Later, as for my research, the conversation gets more deep and more information is given as the person feels comfortable.

The taikai rally for the preservation of the information in history books was a sign of hope as the people of Okinawa stood in unity against any changes. The 120,00 gathered in Ginowan, 3000 in Miyako, 3000 in Yaeyama, along with all those watching live on the TV and radio boradcasts showed firmly that Okinawa was not going to stand for any tampering or erasing of history. The thousands of young Okinawans there also showed their commitment to preserving history, and hopefully will be a stepping stone to perking interests more in their history and culture.

The many place and things I’ve seen this time around was truly inspiring and hopefully will be more fuel to our fire for Ukwanshin to share with others in our education field. The elders I’ve talked with all expressed urgency to learn what we can before the keepers of this treasured time are gone. All of what I got to learn and experience is truly the best kind of omiyage I could bring back. It was disappointing, however, to see more changes in the music and dance. Change which I think is for the worse as the degradation of tradition is clear, and focus on money, fame, and power is taking a front line stance in performances and treatment of students. Titles such as the “national treasures” and “Iemoto” are clouding the thinking of its bearers to the point that they no longer think Okinawan, or have clearly forgotten where they have come from. For example, I was disappointed when I called my sensei to pay respects to her, and she abruptly reprimanded be about not focusing more on dance. I had told her I was there for study of culture etc., and to support Okinawans there with my solidarity in the School Text Incident. I wondered why she did not acknowledge my efforts to do field study and research on my own with things having to do with culture and history, and which definitely connects to dance and music. Even the highest ranking in the dance school doesn’t do this kind of thing. Clearly, after receiving a “teaching certificate” a person under this Iemoto system is still bound to the commands of its leader. Unlike the Hawaiian uniki or graduation to kumu, where the cord is cut and the student becomes independent with the well wishes of its head kumu. The structure of the “big sensei”, Seigi, Nozo, Shimabukuro, Kin, Majikina, etc., is gone and seems to be forgotten. During their time it was more of a parent-child relationship with the focus on preserving the dances and music without any focus on becoming rich, or for power. It was so disappointing to hear that not many from the performing arts went to support at the rally. It seems their priority is themselves. Going to Ishikawa and seeing first-hand how the performing arts groups pacified and comforted the people after the war, volunteered, and saw the importance of being part of the community. In music also, there is a change to the traditional notations of the pre-war senseis. However, elders in Gushikawa despise the changes and are trying to keep the old ways as much as possible. They are upset that current generation have the audacity to change and say that maybe the older sensei are wrong, and it should be this way or that way. They town elders also wonder why dance and music sensei don’t come to seek advice, stories, old dance/music/ and history from the elders. Instead they are trying to create their ow Okinawa music and dance. For the performing arts to be purely Okinawan or LooChooan again, the western theories including the Japanese system has to be thrown out. The Iemoto system need to be abolished, and dojo’s need to return to being Kenkyu Kai or Kenkyu jo…places of study. If not, many traditions will die and Okinawa will be left with a shell.

More visits to Okinawa brings more sights of commercialization and selling of culture in the wrong way. In visiting a souvenier/gift shop, “ishigantou” pendants and jewelry were seen all over. Obviously, the meaning of this is oblivious o the creator and also anyone who buys such rubbish. The pottery town in Naha was full of colorful shisa instead of traditional. Ryukyu jewelry of minsa design, fusa yubiwa rings, jifwa, juri-gwa rings, etc. are all being sold on the streets as local arts. The surface of Okinawa is showing great movement and life. As for the inside, the real history, culture, dances and music….it is suffering and needs to be revitalized again. Maybe I’m an ultra traditionalist, but to watch a culture slowly die, is bothersome, especially if its is your own and you can try to do something about it. The breath of Okinawa which has the life of the true culture and people is still there. It’s still looking for more to give life to so it can spread. I guess there still is hope.

In the spring, Ukwanshin is anticipating to go to Okinawa again to present another performance, and also take another study tour. This tour will cover areas the group has never seen, that connects to the history. Also workshop and panel discussions with elders of their war experiences, feelings of current Okinawa etc. If there is anyone interested please make sure to contact us as there will be limited space available.

I would like to also acknowledge Hitoshi Kinjo for his hospitality at Naha’s Sun Palace Hotel. If anyone needs accommodations on your personal trip to Okinawa be sure to give him a call or contact the hotel. Ask for the Hawaii rate.
Also special thanks to Yukari, Tarumi, Uehara-sensei, Kawano-san, and Kasuga Hotel. I’m looking forward to my next chance to study and research again.