Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sherry Nakanishi: "Music vs Militarism: OKINAWA"

"Music vs Militarism: OKINAWA" by BY SHERRY NAKANISHI

In total, 150,000 Okinawans died during the final battles of the Second World War, a third of the civilian population. The number exceeded the total of American and Japanese dead during the same period.

Things start off quite innocently. I receive two tickets from a colleague at school. On them is printed “Okinawa LIVE.” On the appointed day I arrive at the venue, Higashi Honganji, a large Buddhist temple in midtown Kyoto.

My husband, child, and I cross the vast pigeon-thronged gravel spaces of the temple precincts, reach the correct hall and are greeted warmly by monks...

The auditorium is large, and filled. Hundreds upon hundreds of people have come to hear the Okinawan message. On center stage, a man stands alone, holding a sanshin, the traditional Okinawa three-stringed instrument. “We can only fight through our music, it is all we have,” he says. And an hour and a half passes by as the truth of Okinawa’s recent history spills out, accompanied by intermittent notes played on the sanshin — sounds of nodding agreement.

The speaker is Chibana Shoichi, an Okinawan. Labelled an “anti-base activist” by Time Magazine [April/May 1997], perhaps he is more of a peace activist; one who out of love tries to protect the children, the people, the land, and the sea from being misused and ill-treated....

In ancient times Okinawa was independent, and known as Ryukyu Onkaku, the Ryukyu Kingdom. Before being annexed by Japan in 1865 this peaceful kingdom had no army. Looking into Ma-chan’s youthful face, I recall Chibana telling me how young Okinawans are picking up the traditional instruments, shamisen , jamisen, and sanshin, and proudly carrying on their culture. Okinawa has remained connected with its ancestral soul through its music, and this is how it has responded to an unimaginable military onslaught — with songs that are the spiritual poetry of peace, prayers for nature and for people.

We bow again, he departs; I am left holding the hope of Okinawa — the ancient teaching of the sanshin, the music and song of Okinawa; its gift to the people of Honshu, and the world.

I have a friend in Kyoto, a former soldier whose mind remains disturbed by his intensive military training. He knows he’s crazy, and travels the world sporadically, soul- searching for the truth. I tell him what I have learned about Okinawa, and ask for his response. He says:

This — as all things —
does not exist to be changed,
but for us to change.

His words send a shiver through me.
“I didn’t say it — it came from up there,” he says, pointing to the sky.
Read this rest of Sherry Nakanishi's beautiful essay at Kyoto Journal.

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