Waga Umui, Uya nu Uchinaa, As We Think Of Our Ancestors’ Okinawa

Matayoshi kanjeeku, National Living Treasure, inspirational and humble.
Matayoshi kanjeeku, National Living Treasure, inspirational and humble.

Great connections have been made so far, as we were privileged to meet with Matayoshi kanjeeku in Shuri.  He is the 7th generation of silversmiths who made hairpins for the royalty and aristocrats in Shuri.  His humble words to us about him not wanting to sell his “jifwa” or women’s hairpins, because lack of understanding about it and that many people use it just as decoration.  He said that when he makes any now, he just wants to give it to people or places that knokw the spiritual value of it so that his legacy can be left in those areas or with those people.

Connecting and sharing at the conference in Gushikawa
Connecting and sharing at the conference in Gushikawa

The conference in Gushikawa brought discussion and people from different parts of Okinawa.  The majority of ideas and feelings expressed was that it is a dangerous and vital time in Okinawa right now to preserve and pass on the culture and history.  There was also some expression that Okinawans are comfortable with the language clubs, and events they have, and the boom in popularity of the performing arts.  However, they are not realizing that those things are just providing a shell right now and not the spirit or soul of the language and arts.img_0081 The evening ended with a koryu kai or fellowship dinner with the Gushikawa people.  It was a night of unexplainable connections, music, laughter, and aloha.

The next day we started with a historical journey which connects us to the legend of Morikawa no Shi.  This legend says that an angel came down to this spring to bathe.  Before going into the waters she took her wings off and went down.  As she was bathing, Morikawa comes by and sees her in the river.  He falls in love with her and finds her wings.  He hides it and disables her from going back to heaven.

Mori no Kawa no Kawa
Mori no Kawa no Kawa

The story goes on to explain that the two eventually got married and had two children.  The son was beleived to become the first king of Ryukyu.

From Morikawa, we left with a special  guest on board the bus.  Professor Satto is from the Okinawa Kokusai University.  He lead us to and explained the terrible US helicopterimg_0096

crash in which the US military broke international laws when they occupied the university property for 2 weeks and removed vital evidence.  They never even reprted what happened to the pilots of the helicopter.  This was to show the dangers and also the continued stress and problems Okinawans are dealing with, and how the two powers, Japan and US are still abusing the Okinawans without the respect they would be olbiged to give in their own laws and land.

Can you see military presence in this katachiki pattern? Airples, parachutes, etc

We conntinued by bus to the Sakima Art Museum, which is on the boundries of Futenma  US Marine Air Base.  It was very interesting to see the art there that depicted Okinawa’s war struggles, bothe now and in the Battle of Okinawa.  The Sakima Art Museum is funded by the Sakima family who have decided to use their income from family land on base, to send a message about the importance of Okinawa’s preservation and to not forget the war.  Also, to educate on the current situations in Okinawa pertaining the the bases and the effects they are having on the local people.

img_0097Mr. Sakima has connections to Hawaii through the late Akira Sakima.  He has been continuously working to bring in art from various artists, which depict Okinawa’s strive for peace and the understanding of the war and base issues.  We were very lucky to have him be our guide through the museum, as he explained the varoius art pieces and their symbolism and meanings.

img_0101The last room of huge murals depicted the life and suffereing during the battle of Okianwa and the life people experienced in the caves.  As you look close into the depth of each work, you can clearly see that every kind of suffering and age was depicted in the dark ghostly images that told the story of the long days and nights of uncertainlty and pain.  It gave everyone a time to think and reflect about how much our ancestors went through and agian reminds us of why we are doing what we are and why we went on this tour.img_0102

After a day of heavy and thought provoking places, we relaxed with the /gushhikawa kasshin Daiko group’s advisors at a minyo club in Kita Nakagusuku.  The well known singer, Mr. Tsuha, was our host, along with his wife, who cooked up a great pread of Okinawan food.  We were told that it was just going to be pupus, but it was actually dinner….including…of course…”shima” or awamori.

img_0103The next morning we left central Okinawa to go north.  Our first stop was to the village of Kijoka at Ogimi son. Here we met with Toshiko Tiara sensei, who is the National Living Treasure for the preservation of the “basa/ bashofu” banana fiber art.  We watched as this spry 90 year old ladt gave us a tour of the facilities and process of the basa.  She walked just as fast and wasy as some of our group members!  The intricate and time consuming work left everyone in awe.  At the beginning of our tour, the

Exquisite rolls of banana fiber from Taira's Kijoka workshop

Haebaru kasuri amazed everyone on the work involved, but this process was more intense as they make everything from growing the fiber trees, to the threads, and finall y weaving the cloth.  It was very hopeful news that she has 20 apprentices weaving with her at this time to keep up the art.

img_0107AFter the walk thorugh tour of the workshop, we were given a chance to watch the video of the banana fiber process. While watching Taira sensei asked me why some of our members had pictures of older people on their bags and stuff.  I explained to her that it was because we were returning in place of our issei who could never make it back to Okinawa after dreaming that they could make money and return back one day to continue their living.  I told her that our tour focused on making connections to what our ancestors left behind, and a connection to our identity.

A true living treasure: Toshiko Taira

We then presented her with something very traditional in our identity as Okinawans.  Besides some omiyage from Hawaii, Norman sang “natsukashiki Furusato”, which expressed our aloha to her and through the words expressed that we are always worrying or thinking of the okinawa people , as they may be of us.  Taira sensei broke down in tears and so did everyone else.  The connection of the heart and true “chimugukuru” was experienced then.  It was unexplainable.

Taira sensei then said, “Theres many problems Okinawa people face right now.” She worries about Futenma, and sees that everyhting is becoming focused on money, as people are forgetting the values. She said that the music brought memories of when she returned to Okinawa after the war and how people connected and helped each other.  There was a strong sense of caring….especially for the elderly, and she felt that with us.  She is an amazing lady.  Despite being a National Living Treasure, her humbleness, love and wisdom outweighs that title, and makes her much more valuable than any title can give her.  We thank her from our hearts and wish her many more healthy years to come.img_0118

Barbed wire stretched across the beach to keep local Okinawans out of their own places to gather seaweed and fish.

After leaving Taira Sensei’s place we headed to the east side of Nago to visit the sit in area of Henoko.  For over 10 years, the locals…led by the elders of the area, have been fighting for the presrvation of the ocean there as well as the wildilife and their land.  The plans to build a reef runway offshore and to expand Camp Schwab into the waters there, will have a great effect on the wildlife, especially the Dugong, or Okinawan Manatee.  It is here again that we saw the laws that the US fights for outside, img_0115

being broken, by the US itself.  The ocean and land here is the life of the people, as they still farm of the land and the sea for their survival.  They can go the the stores and department vendors, but they have chosen to keep the life that was passed down to them.  For the elders, this is the only life they know, and they don’t care about the money. They are happy just the way they are now


Norman playing sanshin at Henoko

The last day of the tour together, we left Kanucha to start going back south by way of Nakijin.  The Nakijin Castle has now been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Area.  From just 3 years ago, they have expanded and built new parking area, a bigger museum, and and area of shops and toilet facilities.  Continued archealogical work is being done as many former walls of the castle have been restored.

img_0104In some ways there is alot of good that has been done through the designation by UNESCO. but also the draw back is that many native practices and rituals are prohibited due to the UNESCO regulations.  Locals are restricted from using incense at prayer places in these areas, and rituals etc have to be reported prior to doing it.  There is also an admission fee applicalbe to all…even if you are a local or going for s spiritual purpose.  Maybe Okinawans can try to get the same priviledges as Hawaiians, who are free from admission and ritual prohibitions at places like the National Parks in Hawaii.

img_01111Our luchtime at Drive In Hawai`i.

Yokoi san presenting the katachiki banners to Young Okinawans of Hawai`i

We stopped on the way at the Okashi Goten, or Porsche Sweet Potato Confectionary on our way back to Naha.  Everyon’s mind went to try and finish shopping as we were leaving the next day.

many people came to the hotel to rop off gifts, and talk story for the last time, and the katashiki artist, Yokoi cam by to drop off the katachiki everyone worked on at his place at the beginning of the tour.  The pieces were amazing, as everyone’s artwork took on an identity of the maker.  Everyone did a great job!  He then presented the Yound Okinawan’s Of Hawaii with two banners he had done, that represented the clubs eisa.  That was a great and unexpected gift to the 4 members of YOH.  A great finally to the tour for them.