Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Peaceful New Earth Celebration" in Tokyo spotlights Okinawa, indigenous cultures, sustainability, & global networking

This past Sunday afternoon, the normally boisterous outdoor stage area in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park was silent except for the sound of a Native American flute. The slow, penetrating melody was soon joined by rhythmic drumming and chanting, which gradually rose to an energetic crescendo. The musicians—all Japanese people with intimate connections to North American indigenous cultures—were purifying the space with a Lakota Sun Dance ritual in preparation for the day’s event: Peaceful New Earth Celebration.

Supported by Peace Not War Japan and Spring Love Harukaze, the celebration was the inaugural event for the Neo Ryuku Arc Network. The organization was recently formed in response to the critical issue of the Japanese and U.S. governments declaring plans to construct military facilities in Okinawa and Tokunoshima—both part of the Ryukyu archipelago—despite the strong objections of local citizens. The day’s events included a morning peace parade through Tokyo’s busy Shibuya district, followed by a lineup in the park of talented musical performers and talk sessions on militarism and peace-related issues.

Sun Dance ceremony performers Arakawa Shizuka, who lived among the Lakota and married a medicine man, and Nonaka Katsumi, who has close connections with the Hopi in Black Mesa, Arizona

“The purpose of the Sun Dance is to give thanks to the sun and the universe, and to pray that all living beings may live together in peace,” explained performer Arai Norihito. An ecologist, Arai was invited to join the Lakota tribe as a family member following a chance encounter in South Dakota, United States where members heard him singing. “Since the Sun Dance is traditionally performed during the summer solstice, the timing could not have been more perfect to coincide with this event’s call for peaceful relations in Okinawa, Japan, the Asia-Pacific, the United States, and elsewhere.”

“My own roots are from Jewish settlers who came to Japan, which is, in fact, not at all a homogenous country, as some would claim,” Arai remarked following the ceremony. “I believe that this diversity represents the potential for us all to unite together in peace—both within Japan and beyond.” Arai's own organization, Peace Seed, promotes seed-saving and biodiversity programs, and also supports sustainable community gardening on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota through its "Lakota Peace Garden" project.

Peace Seed's Arai Norihito

"Recent events have made it clear that anyone could be targeted by the U.S. military at any time," commented Neo Ryuku Arc Network organizer Akazaki Hitomi following the ceremony. "Standing up to the United States government is no small undertaking, and so we must put our strengths together with other peace movements overseas. In doing so, we must use the positive energy of the indigenous cultures from our islands—where we have lived in harmony with nature for centuries—to help us ensure a peaceful future.”

Akazaki Hitomi

Peace Not War Japan’s Fukui Hiroshi spoke next, explaining the reasoning for the festival’s timing:
Humanity is now at an urgent crossroads: Will we continue to relate to each other within the framework of militarism, or will we make the shift to more sustainable, ecological, and peaceful ways of living?

The situation in Okinawa is at the center of this question, and it is therefore critical that we utilize our democratic rights at this time to continue speaking out for peace.

We must also reach beyond the limitations of the mass media to forge connections with peace movements in places such as Guam and Hawaii, where similar struggles against U.S. military bases are also taking place.
After a spirited performance from roots reggae singer Ailie and Native American flautist Masago Hideaki, seasoned activist Sakata Masako from the Kenju no kai (an organization to protect Mt. Takao) gave an impassioned, heartfelt speech drawing connections between the anti- military base struggle and her own lifework to save the mountain (located an hour from Tokyo) from highway tunnel construction.

Ailie, Masago Hideaki,and a belly dance performer

“When governmental ministries prioritize the perceived need for things like military bases and highways over the lives that stand to be annihilated as a result, it shows how far they have become disconnected from the existence of life itself,” she asserted. “Military bases are used for the purpose of war, which translates into the reality of wounded and maimed children in other lands—just as tunnels through mountains spell death for countless living beings. We must never forget this fundamental truth.”

“As the host nation for the COP10 conference coming up in October, it is an absolute contradiction that Japan has plans to destroy the biodiversity existing in places like Henoko and Mt. Takao,” she concluded. “This represents an enormous opportunity for our movements to take a giant step forward.”

Sakata was then joined onstage by two representatives from Yuntaku Takae, a Tokyo-based group offering support to the sit-in movement to stop the construction of U.S. military helipads near Takae Village in Okinawa’s Yanbaru “Broccoli” Forest.

“In an attempt to spread fear within our movement, the government sued members of our nonviolent sit-in protest movement—including an eight year-old child and the spouse of a protester, who was not even on the scene at the time—and forbid us from doing any further activism or blogging,” explained one of the speakers. “We have managed to continue our sit-in, but since the government is threatening to resume their watch over our actions beginning in July, we need all the assistance we can get. We gratefully welcome supporters to Takae to come join our movement.”

Sakata Masako (center) with Yuntaku Takae representatives (photo left) Information from the struggle to protect Takae Village (above)

Next onstage was Tei Kazuma, a singer/songwriter from Tokunoshima Island. Introducing his opening number, “Hito no hatake” (“Peoples’ Farms”), he explained, “I wrote this piece as a tribute to people whose farms have been in their families for generations—including my own—but are now being threatened with destruction by U.S. military facility construction plans.” A video of Tei performing the song, which includes footage from protest demonstrations on Tokunoshima and stunning scenery from the island, may be viewed here.

Tei Kazuma

Tei’s performance was followed by a talk on the military base issue from an ecological perspective given by Hoshikawa Jun, the director of Greenpeace Japan. “The reasoning behind recent lawsuits has held that military base construction—with all of its resulting destruction to the dugong and the region's biodiversity—would never be allowed in the United States, and so by the same logic, it most certainly should not be permitted in Okinawa either,” he commented. He also explained the activities of the Japan-US Citizens for Okinawa Network (JUCON), of which he is a member. JUCON's counterpart in the U.S., Network for Okinawa, recently released an official statement on the U.S. military base relocation issue that may be read here.

Hoshikawa, who was born in Tokyo but identifies as a Ryukyu islander after having spent more than thirty years living in the region, has a fascinating background as a translator and writer on topics such as peace and Native American spirituality. “View from Two Ground Zeros”, his deeply thought-provoking 2004 piece on the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and anti-American sentiment, may be read on here.

Hoshikawa Jun (right), who was joined onstage by Arakawa Shizuka and Arai Norihito

The next talk session, “Okinawa, Gaza and Militarism,” featured journalists May Shigenobu and Shiva Rei, both of whose work has focused closely on Palestinian-related issues. Both were invited to speak at the event in light of the recent deadly attack by the Israeli military on the Freedom Flotilla humanitarian aid ship traveling to Gaza.

"The recent attack represents only the surface level of much deeper lying issues represented by Gaza and the Palestinian occupation itself, which must continue to be addressed," explained Shigenobu. “We must also understand the occupation as a fundamental violation of human rights. Would we tolerate the idea of Tokyo being put under lockdown, with no food or supplies being allowed inside? If people can imagine this happening to themselves, they will understand the urgent need to act against the injustices that are now being committed against Palestinians.”

Shiva Rei commented next on the similarities between the Okinawan and the Palestinian experience. “While the day-to-day realities are obviously extremely different, comparisons may be drawn simply with regard to the shared status of living under occupation in a militarized region,” he explained. “We must go back in history and look at how both the Ryukyu people and the Palestinians have been oppressed by their occupiers in the process of establishing these systematized inequalities.”

“It is obvious that that the U.S. remains in Okinawa not because its military bases are necessary, but because it is such a cozy operation for the U.S., with Japan heavily subsidizing its presence,” continued Shigenobu. “The fear-based policy that the U.S. government has perpetuated since 9-11 has enabled it to engage in massive military spending, while also painting North Korea as a threat. The real truth, however, is that the U.S—with its endless appetite for wars and its history as the only nation on earth to have used the atomic bomb—is the country that people should be afraid of.”

Shiva Rei and May Shigenobu

The event included several more performances, including an unscheduled reading of US for Okinawa member Rob Pott’s catchy, piercingly worded hip-hop poem “Okinawa o shiranai” ("Unknown Okinawa"), before finishing with two more Ryukyu-themed musical acts. Asazaki Ikue, a traditional folk artist from Amami-Oshima island, first sang a lineup of gorgeous, ethereal, several centuries-old songs that she herself has described in past interviews as “trance-like” and “touching us in a place so deep that only our souls can remember.”

Asazaki Ikue

The event concluded with a spirited performance from Japanese chindon (street performance) band Jintaramuta, who were joined for the final lineup by the Shisas (from “shisa”, the mythological Ryukyu lion-dog), including a folk song that was written by someone whose entire family had been killed in the Battle of Okinawa.

Jintaramuta and Shisas

Peace Not War Japan’s Hiroshi Fukui reminded attendees that with constitutional elections coming up on July 11th, people have an opportunity to choose politicians who will implement the ideals of peace and sustainability that underscored the day’s event. “This is our democratic right—and we have the responsibility to exercise it.”

The event finished with video messages from Okinawan singer and popular peace icon Kina Shoukichi, as well as Ginowan City Mayor Iha Youichi and several mayors from towns on Tokunoshima Island. A powerful message of solidarity was also read onstage that had been received from Hawaii activist Kyle Kajihiro on the occasion of the recent Spring Love Harukaze event , underscoring the network's commitment to collaborating with peace networks overseas.

Peaceful New Earth Celebration was followed on hundreds of Twitter reports throughout the day, and was also recorded and broadcast live on UStream--reportedly being Sunday’s top watched program in all of Japan.. The stream is available here.

The Neo Ryuku Arc Network is planning several upcoming events, including one in Tokyo to coincide with the Peace Music Festa to be held in Henokohama, Okinawa this coming October. Watch for details!

US for Okinawa's Rob Pott performing “Okinawa o shiranai

Masayan, whose traveling shop features his own handmade crafts using all natural materials, such as bracelets using woven grass, natural dyes of persimmon and indigo, and hand-picked mountain seeds

- Text and photos by Kimberly Hughes

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