Saturday, June 19, 2010

Missing Okinawa

It's crazy hot out here in Atlanta. It's the summer; that's natural.

During the summer months in Okinawa it's much, much hotter. 虫暑い (mushi atsui, literally means even the bugs are sweating). It's hot, the ocean is like bath water, you put on your jimbe or your kariyushi wear (as part of the mainland's "cool biz" practices, kariyushi  wear is supposed to be understood as professional/business summer attire).

This is appropriate because kariyushi in Okinawan, or ウチナーグチUchinaguchi, means "harmony with nature." And it's very important to be appropriate in Okinawa because when the Ryukyu Kingdom 流球 still paid tribute to the Chinese dynasties the small islands were known as shurei no kuni (the Land of Propriety). This message was sent to the Ryukyuans on a tablet as a token of gratitude for the historic kindness the Ryukyuans have shown visitors as well as their commitment to Confucian education in Naha. The inscription was later added to the Shureimon Gate leading to Shuri Castle, the ancient home of the Ryukyu Kings.

Any how.

In the summer comes Obon, similar to Dia de los Muertos, where the living celebrate their ancestors. In Okinawa this is the best time to see and be a part of the eisa エイサ festivities. Eisa began as a more solemn Buddhist affair but over the last fifty years has become increasingly flashier and livelier.
Here's a short clip of the Uruma City traditional eisa dancers during the 2008 10000 Drummers event in Naha on kokusaidori in Naha (apologies for the quality of the recording):

The traditional eisa performances, I was told were (as was the playing of the sanshin 三線) supposed to be done to the rhythm of one's heart. Today it's much faster, less contemplative, and tends to encourage dancing. Here's a great performance from the 53rd 全島エイサ祭り(zento eisa matsuri All-Island Eisa Festival) in Okinawa City:

I had the great fortune to perform at this festival with the Okinawa City International Association's eisa team. At the end of the long hot day everyone was invited to join on the field and dance.

My wife and I loved visiting Ikeijima 伊計島 off the coast of Uruma うるま and Gushikawa 具志川. Sometimes we'd go running along the kaichu dori 海中道路 bridge that connects them to the honto島 (main island). One summer night we went running and when we got to Henza 平安座島 we heard the beating of those big eisa drums. It was a beautiful night; it was crazy hot, of course. But there was a nice enough breeze from the ocean every now and again. I remember the moon was out. It was beautiful to be in such a lovely place.

This song from BEGIN is very reminiscent of that night. Although this video isn't filmed at Katsuren 勝連城 (which is near Ikei and Henza), it was filmed at Nakagusuku 中城城 (the two castles fought against each other in the 15th century).

I just wanted to write about Okinawa a little.

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