Okinawa Hands On NPO Group Bringing Language and Culture to Radio

IMG_0181A young group of Okinawans, directed by Mr. “Tuba Kachin” Agena, have been creating and working hard in Okinawa to promote Okinawan culture, language and history through the airwaves in Uchinaa.  “Okinawa Hands On” is a non-profit organization that first started out to give English language support to students that needed to study more for school or testing in Okinawa’s middle and high schools.  They have now grown to focus on the need to also educate the students in Okinawan language, culture and history while incorporating English and having the students get involved in radio program hosts and “kami shibai” or story plays.

The Ukwanshin tour met up with the leaders and some students, and we were also lucky to be hosted by them for a day with a Shimakutuba Tour.  This was one of our highlights to actually hear our native language being used live and for education.

Hands On hosts various radio programs such as Shimakutuba news and talk on FM Yomitan, FM Yambaru, FM Nirai, and a comparative cultural talk show on “The Roots”.  The organization is supported by sponsors and is always looking for help.  If you would like to support this great work please let us know.

Here is the schedule of radio programs.  If you would like to watch live, adjust the time and remember that we are 5 hours ahead, one day back.  You can also access their recorded programs if you can’t make the times.

Tuesday:10am-10:50 Yanbaru shimakutuba news at FM Yanbaru(nago:FM77.6Mhz)
(radio personalities are Paru”,Seibin shinsii, Jinkichi shinsii and Naoko shinsii)
※paru” is haru but nago area, some uchina-guchi sounds are changed.
ex:Hiijaa(goat in uchina-guchi)→Piijaa. Hago-san(dirty in uchina-guchi)→Pago-san.

Tuesday:6pm-7pm Chimuganasa shimakutuba news at FM Nirai(chatan:FM79.2Mhz)
(radio personalities are taruga-ni Kishimoto , Nakamura nu Yocchan ba-chan and Fumiko shinsii)

Thursday:2pm-2:45pm Yuntanza shimakutuba news at FM Yomitan (Yomitan:FM78.6Mhz)
2:45-2:55pm Sadako Tamaki’s Iyasassa Kurashiki kara (coordinate okinawan folk singer)
(radio personalities are Haru”, and Yoshiko sinshii or Sei-san or Yomitan’s guest)

Friday:4pm-5pm The roots at FM Nirai(chatan:FM79.2Mhz)
(radio personalities are Maki Nakamura, Tuba Kacchin(Mr.Red Agena) and kathryn)
※tuba kacchin is Mr.Agena’s grand’pa’s nick name.
Maki-san exprain in Japanese, Mr.Agena using uchina-guchi, and Kathryn speaks in English.


Deigo Musume Raising Money to Put Words In Stone

On our visit to Okinawa, we were lucky to spend time with some friends who are from the Okinawa folk music group Deigo Musume.   These four sisters of the Higa family of Yomitan made popular, a song written by their father, about the war.  Its vivid description and heavy emotions are overshadowed by the up tempo beat that disguises the song’s true story.  The song is titled “Kanpo nu Kwe-nukusaa”(Leftovers of the Warship), and refers to the surviving Okinawa people being the scraps of leftovers after the war had eaten their parents and islands.  Its been around for decades, but now, Deigo Musume, along with Yomitan Village and many other supporters, are raising money to put the words into stone as a memorial to the war, and so that the story will not die and to always remember how bad war can be so that we can always strive for peace.  The group has produced a 5 song CD to help raise money for the cause.  It’s a fairly reasonable amount at 1,000 yen.  The words are in Uchinaaguchi.  When you hear it and listen to the words, you can look at the English translation, but the power of the Okinawan language comes out as no other words can describe how the nuances of the language affects the song and meaning.  Ukwanshin will support this cause and if you would like to order CD’s please let us know so we can get them from Okinawa for you.  We will also be collecting donations to send back after Christmas, for the building of this peace memorial in Yomitan.

Here are the words and translation to the song…

This up tempo song sounds happy, but when listening to the words it brings tears and makes us think about the horrible suffering Okinawans experienced during the war. This group Deigo Musume sings this and their father wrote the song. It tells his story and experiences of the war. Their father was later killed by an American military serviceman who ran him over.
This song also stands for what Okinawa is experiencing today as Okinawans are still fighting for peace that has not come as the war still continues for Okinawa. We were told that you can see the people in this video holding back tears and being strong as they need to in everyday life so they can continue with life among the discrimination, bases and other things. That is why the song was written in an up tempo so as not to be so depressing and to remember what happened, but be strong to go on with life.
The title of the song is “Kanpo nu Kwe-nukusa”(leftovers of the Warships). The song says…

Wakasaru tuchine ikusanuyu, wakasaru hanan sachi yu-san
`yan, gwansun, uyachoden, kanpo shageki nu matuninati
Chirumun, kwe-mun, muru neran, su-ti chya kadi kurachanya.
I was young when war came, our youth was interrupted. Our houses, grandparents, parents and siblings, the rain of bombs and artillery from the ships destroying and making the land unrecognizable and hard to look at.Our clothes, food, everything gone, we had nothing so we ate the poisonous seigo palm.

*Unjun Wannin, Iya-n Wannin, Kanpo nu kwe-nukusa.

Kamin, hutukin ayuraran, haruya kana ami jin naran.
`Ya-gwa ya kaji nu uttubacchi, senkwa katamiti subikatti.
Ucche, hicche mutabacchi. Chimuya makutu du yatashigaya.
To the gods and to our ancestors, we couldn’t even cry for help, the fences came and our land taken away, we lost our money and livelihood. The tent houses we lived in blew away from the typhoons, we scrounged for food and stole war rations and got caught. They beat and dragged us, but our intentions were not of malice, we were just trying to survive.

Duru nu nakakara tachiagati, chine-matumiti tuji tumeti.
Nashigwan nmariti me-nin nashi, jinan, san nan, chinan bi
Awarinu nakanin warancha-ga, warai gwi-chichi, chimutumeti
From the dirt and rubble we stood back up, I looked for my parents, children and wife, but they all perished. Later, I had other children, oldest, second, and others. In all the despair the laughter of children”s voices brought comfort to my heart.

Heiwa nati kara ikutushika, kwanucha-n magisa natiwushiga.
I-yan rataru yama shishi nu, waga ku umuyurugutuni.
Usumiji matatu ndi umure-, yuru nu yunagata mikufayusa.
When peace comes, how long will it last? The children have all grown now. I remember how we hunted the wild boar for food, but also now think about how it must have been for it’s babies that were left to fend for themselves when we killed the mother. I don’t want my children to taste that bitterness. The thought keeps me up at night.

Wa uya kwattaru anu ikusa, Wa shima kwattaru anu kanpo.
Namari kwatin, washirariyumi, Ta-ga anu jama shi-njachaga.
uradi-n, kuyadin, akijaran, shisun machide igunsana.
My parents were eaten by the war. Our islands were eaten by the warships. For the future generations we cannot forget this. Who caused and started this problems? Nothing can compare to the suffering and sadness we experienced, so we must make sure that this story is told.

Click this link to see and hear the song.

Ukwanshin Tour: Last Activities Day

Our last day together for activities today was hosted by the Hands On NPO group.  They came to pick us up and took us to historical places, as well as locations mentioned in local folk tales.  We passed by the American gravesites where some of Commodore Perry’s crew is buried, and then went to the shrine of Akainko, who is believed to be the person who brought the sanshin to Okinawa.  Norman’s voice was not at its best as he had gone out the night before, and also had caught a cold.  He tried his best to offer the uta sanshin music at the shrine, and while we were doing the music, another group appeared at the area.  When we were done with the song, we turned around and saw it was a group of sanshin, odori and taiko sensei and others who we knew from before.  They came with the Okinawa Times Newspaper tour and were making their rounds to places connected with music and dance.  The were so happy to see us and asked us to join in the gassho of sanshin. It was like the ancestors had sent them to help Norman make a good offering of music with the help of this group from the Nomura Ryu Hozonkai.  It was such a nice surprise.

We then continued to a sacred place in Kadena, where folklore has it that a giant serpent lived in the lake there.  It is here that once upon a time, a boy was to be offered up to the serpent so that there would be no trouble in the village.  However, his sister decided to go instead, and as she was about to be sacrificed, a saint came down from heaven to save her.  This area is also said to have been the birthplace of Amawari

What was so interesting and great about this tour was that it was being conducted in Uchinaaguchi by young Uchinaanchu from this NPO group.  They are striving to help grow interest in Uchinaaguchi among the students, and to offer programs as well as assistance for academics, especially to students of single parent families.  It was so amazing and heartwarming to see the dedication and passion of this organization.

Our last stop was the symposium at Okinawa International University, where we discussed the importance of Uchinaaguchi and how it is connected to us through our roots.  Everyone also presented the current programs which have been started to try and revitalize.  It was the first time in Okinawa that numerous organizations were gathered in the same place to share and discuss this issue.  There were over 100 people in attendance.  Ukwanshin also did a mini concert at the end which also included hula and eisaa demonstration from Ryuku Kajimaya of the Okinawa International University.  Brent and mana from our group did Ulupalakua, Hatoma and Meekata.  The Parents and children of the Ninufwa immersion school joined inwith Tinsagunu Hana, and Akata Sundunchi, and the Hands On students presented a Kami Shibai, folktale in Uchinaaguchi.  It was a great event.

The night ended with the Hands on group taking us to dinner, and at the end, the tour members shared their emotions and experiences of their visit to Okinawa.  Tears flowed again as everyone shared, including the Okinawa staff of Hands On.  Although we only spent a day with them, we felt we knew them for a log time, and we promised each other to work together and create an exchange with Hawaii and Okinawa.


Norman Performs At The Nomura Ryu Kochi Kamechiyo Concert In Urasoe

Tonight we were hosted by the Nomura Ryu Ongaku Kyoukai at the Tedako Hall in Urasoe.  This was the 116th anniversary of the birth of Kamechiyo sensei.  Norman is the grandchild student of Kochi sensei.  The show had a cast of 1000, and Norman was chosen to have one of the solo songs in this performance, as he represente Hawai`i.  He did a great job and promised to continue on the legacy of Kochi sensei.  Thank you to Norman and Nomuraryu Kyoukai for this nice evening.

Ukwanshin Tour: Day 8

Today we headed for the north end to Ogimi son, to the area of Kijoka, which is known for the revitalization of “basa” or banana fiber.  The National Living Treasure, Toshiko Taira, met us and gave us a tour of the place, along with an explanation of the process.  We then thanked Taira sensei for her hospitality by having Brent and Mana do a hula, and also Hatoma Bushi.  We then sang Tinsagu nu Hana.  Taira sensei cried and said the night before she was watching a program about the pigs that were sent to Okinawa. She saw how much work it was and the dedication of the people who were involved and was so grateful and still feels the thanks.  She then looked at the back of my Ukwanshin T-shirt with the Mamuti words and ran to get a paper to copy it down.  She cried again as she told us thank you for our love for Okinawa.  I told her we are thinking of Okinawa daily, especially in this dark time that Okinawa is in.  She gave us pieces of banana fiber thread for each of us, and said, with this token she would like to symbolically have us forever connected over the vast sea that separates us.  She also said that although that there is this separation, we are connected through who we are.  As we were leaving she ran to the back and came back out with an envelope.  I told her we couldnt accept it, especially since we are the ones who should be thanking her for all what she has done.  She said, she wanted to do this for us as we always come to visit her and that she knows we support Okinawa in its problems from the past to the present.  She made everyone cry.  She said that she wanted to give this to us since she doesnt know when she will leave this world, and that we would like us to promise to visit her everytime we come.  She said that she would wait and be strong anticipating out return.  This was something that no words can explain and that showed the true heart of what it means to be Uchinaanchu.  She is truly a living treasure.

After that emotional morning, we had lunch and left for Motobu, to see how indigo dying process is done.  Mr. Maeshiro showed us the process and preparations.  What was so powerful about this visit was seeing the kimono that his father made right after the war.  There was nothing left after the war so he gathered scraps of rope and undid threads from socks thrown or left by soldiers.  He got the blue dye from carbon paper, yellow from Malaria medicine, and red from melting lipstick.  It showed the fight to continue life and the will to live. It was really something to see.

After that we continued through Motobu mountain area and visited friends from long ago who do Okinawan pottery.  Yonaha san explained the use of the Okinawa style kiln and how the items are placed in it.They prepared some great snacks for us.  We had fresh squeezed shiquasa juice, jiimami dofu, saata andagi, kuzumuuchi, and fresh baked kuruzato cookies.  Before we left we thanked them with hula and Hatoma Bushi.This was I think, the most emotional and thought provoking day yet.  So far, this tour had really been a learning experience for everyone I think and the unexpected happenings and emotions are really what strengthens our foundations of being Uchinaanchu.  

Ukwanshin Tour Day 7

Today we started our day at Shikina En, Royal Gardens.  This area was heavily damaged during the war, but was reconstructed to its splendor.  The quiet gardens and pond gave the feeling of going back nto time as you could imagine the royal family relaxing and entertaining their guests with the court music playing int the background. It seemed as if this was a much needed visit as it took us away from the hustle and bustle, and just gave our minds and spirits time to reflect and relax.

We then went to one of the highest points in Shuri.  Bin nu Utaki is a sacred site that is mentioned in many songs and dances, such as Kudai Kuduchi.  This Utaki was visited especially after returning from a journey.  Here we came to pray and give thanks for having a safe journey back “home”, and to also look at the restored gate and walls that was done through the help of Uruma seinenkai of Hawai`i.  This was another connection to our Hawai`i ancestors that helped us to realize the concern and love for Okinawa by our issei, although they were separated by the vast Pacific Ocean.  It made us think of how we need to keep our connection like them.

We then left for a special visit to Matayoshi Kanjeeku.  matayoshi san is the only silversmith left that makes traditional LooChoo accessories through his lineage of 6 generations. He has been designated as a National Living Treasure, by the Japanese government, and strives to preserve and pass on his knowledge of his art and the history and stories behind it.  He is very concerned that he does not have a apprentice that will continue his work. He is 81.  Matayoshi san gave us very good insights and heartwarming stories, as well as a message to keep our traditions alive through passing things on and remembering our past.  This was one of our most valuable visits which connected us to LooChoo’s great art of making hairpins, “jifa”, and jewelry.

After lunch we continued to a wholesale folk craft shop and then to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum where we saw exhibits on history and traditional arts.  Our day ended with a performance at Naha Tenbusukan, given to us by Atsuko Tamagusuku Sensei and her students. Norman and Eric also participated in the performance, but the highlight was when we called up Brent and Mana from our group to dance Hatoma Bushi.  The crowd went crazy and the heeshi from everyone was almost deafening ad the boys danced.  Many of the Okinawa audience cried as they watched, and said that they could see the love for the culture and how much the boys want to do the best they can to represent Okinawa.  Couple of the audience we met after, said they were embarrassed that Okinawans here don’t give off the kind of energy and dont dance form the heart like Brent and Mana.  It was really something to experience and also a great experience for the guys.

Connecting with Okinawa’s Most Sacred Sites

Our tour reached the half way point today as we visited the most significant sacred sites and historical places in Okinawa.  We all woke bright and early to leave for the Azama Pier and board our boat to Kudaka Island.  This island is said to be the place where the gods descended to create the first Okinawa people and also brought the 5 sacred grains which still sustain the Okinawa people today.  We were guided by a “kaminchu”, or spiritual leader of the island to a few sacred areas on the south end of the island.  Unfortunatelly we couldn’t visit the north side because of the beginning ceremonies and prayers for an observance which signaled the arrival, mating and laying of eggs of the irabu, sea snakes.

We learned from the “kaminchu” that the head “guru” or priestesses of this island in the Hokama and Kudaka areas, were the most powerful and lead the ceremonies and rituals which date back to the three kingdom period of LooChoo.  These two priestesses were the ones who initiated other guru, including the high priestess Kikoe Okimi of Shuri.  The Hokama and Kudaka nuru were successors of their family line as to where other nuru came and learned their practice at Kudaka from the nuru on the island.  So this was actually the central place of training and education for priestesses and where even the Shuri king came to get advice.

After that we returned to the main island and continued to Sefa Utaki, which is connected to Kudaka Jima as a spiritual center.  Up to 400 years ago the center of spiritual power and training was on Kudaka.  After that they moved it to Sefa Utaki.  It was a big difference at Sefa Utaki, in that there were bus loads of tourists, and the way that they have fixed up the place since it has been designated a s a sacred site made it seem like any other tourist place.  We were told that the Japanese tourist have made it a main “power spot” to receive power.  This “power spot” belief has gotten very popular with Japanese and some online and tour companies have also made “power spot” tours to go to these sacred and private areas that only the locals used to go to.

A Reflection on Okinawa Experiences So Far

A few thoughts by two of our young members of the tour about their experience so far.

You may think that connecting with our ancestors by simply learning of our history is an easy thing to do, but this tour is truly an eye opening experience.  Walking on the same paths, standing in front of the royal mausoleum, hearing the stories from the elders are things you can only feel while in Okinawa.  Also, visiting Okinawa is more than just an experience, it’s builds a link to our past by the interactions and connections we make to the elders whom have lived through the tragedies and hardships of war, oppression, and day to day struggles.  At the end of this trip, I’ll still be proud to say I’m Okinawan, but more importantly I’ll be able to explain why.  


So far, I guess I find it quite eye-opening as a mere observer: I come to Okinawa not seeking anything or anyone, but I come with a open-mind. I have been told of the plight of the first and second generations by Senseis Eric and Norman, and all of the suffering they endured for the sake of their offspring and the hope of a better future. Although I trust their knowledge (and by no means question them), there is an added element when you listen and interact with the survivors of these horrific tragedies.  A fellow participant said that this trip was a “confirmation” of everything we have heard and learned from the Seneis. I couldn’t agree more.  Each day that passes, I have come to realize that Okinawans themselves are quite ignorant of the elements which have defined them as a unique culture. Other than Shisas (they are lions, NOT lion-dogs) that are situated on prominent spaces on residential and commercial properties, I see more of a Japanese and American culture here as oppose to a beautiful Okinawan one. Well, I’m just speaking as a mere observer. We’ll see what the rest of the tour has in store. 

Ukwanshin Tour :Day 4

Our morning started with a ride out to central part of Okinawa, to the well known village of Yuntanja, or Yomitan.  This area is known for the sweet potato as well as the Pottery village and Hanaui textiles.  We first went to Yachimun Satou, or the pottery village, where everyone was able to see the traditional noborigama, or kiln that is used to fire Okinawan style pottery.  Everyone also was able to buy some souvenirs and then we headed to the Hanaui textile center.  There we witnessed and learned about the process of this famous Okinawan textile and it’s very intricate designs which have it’s roots in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Aotearoa, New Zealand.  Being able to see the process was the most important, as it helped everyone to understand and appreciate the art and value.  It’s very easy to understand why Okinawans have so much patience.  The beautiful work of their various arts seem to almost require such patience.

After experiencing the beautiful arts of Yomitan, we left for lunch at Kadena Michi no Eki where we also were able to learn about the history of the Kadena and Chatan areas at the useum there, and also were able to view the vast expansion of Kadena Air Base, which sprawled out for miles.  We were also hoping to experience the take-off and landings of the aircraft, which causes much problems of noise to the surrounding community.  However, we were told that because of the recent forced Osprey deployment, rape of the Okinawan woman, and more recently, the break-in and beating of a middle school boy by a US air force member, the US military was laying low and even has stopped and limited the flight of Ospreys.

From Kadena we continued to Ishikawa History Museum where we were met by Kumiko Iha of the Four Sisters, and Mr.Tamanoha.  The museum holds various rotating exhibits on the history of Ishikawa, in connection to the time after the war and the returning of the people to the villages.  It was in Ishikawa that the surviving population was gathered before going back to their hometowns.  Mr. Tamanoha spoke to us about the miyamori Elementary incident, where the US jet crashed into the elementary school and killed 6 people at home, and 11 students at the school.  almost 200 other students were seriously hurt along with teachers.  Kumiko Iha was a 5th grader at the time, and Mr. Tamanoha was a teacher. He told us that immediately after the incident, he had the responsibility to greet the grieving parents of the students killed and to hand over their remains.  He described that that was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life and still feels the guilt of not have been able to be a better guardian to his students as he feels that it was his duty as a teacher.  Because of this, he has committed to spreading the story of this incident in hopes that it will bring a better understanding of what war does, and that it can work for peace, not only for Okinawa, but also for the world.  His talk to us brought everyone to tears as he especially added ” We are all connected through our blood, although separated by an ocean and distant lands.  We all have the same ancestors and we have the obligation to help each other out.  I am forever grateful for the people of Hawaii for the assistance they gave us with the pigs after the war.”

Everyday, we have been blessed to experience or hear the Okinawa people’s voices.  Everyone we have met so far has experessed their hope for a peaceful Okinawa, but also have expressed that Okinawa is still suffering from the war.  They ask for our help and to be continually conne

Ukwanshin Okinawa Tour: Day 3, Haebaru, Itoman, Tamagusuku

Day 3 for the tour took us first to the town of Haebaru, which is known for it’s weaving of Ryukyu kasuri.  We arrived at the Haebaru Kasuri Kaikan and watched a video on the process of weaving the fine and valued material that has made this area so famous.  Wallking in the village below the weaving center, you can hear the rythm of looms as the women of the village create masterpieces of splashed patterns.  Okinawa has gained the reputation of having some of the finest hand woven textiles in the world.  Everyone was amazed at the intricate and intense preparation even prior to the weaving, and then everyone could understand why the prices for this fabric is what it is.  Almost all of the members of our tour bought something from the vast array of souvenir items for gifts to maybe keep for themselves to remember their visit, and to have something that shows the famous Haebaru textiles.

We then left for a short ride to the Haebaru Bunka(culture) Center.  Here we got to see the replica of the famous Haebaru cave that was used as a Japanese military hospital .  Other stories of accounts during the war, especially from Haebaru, was displayed all around, along with pictures. This stop brought back some of the heaviness we felt when we went to the Tsushima Maru Museum, however, we also could see the connection from the other day and today.  There was also another part of this exhibit that showed the life cycle events in the life of an Okinawan prior to the war.  It went from birth to death, and also had photos of everyday life, equipment, and stories.

We then took a break for lunch in Itoman at a bed and breakfast  that is owned by the cousin of Atsuko Tamagusuku sensei.  They prepared the kinds of food that you would only have at a special occasion and we were thinking on going for more salad, then the ice cream, however, the time for anyone to

The food was so delicious, “ma-san”.

After lunch we headed down to the Mabuni hill and the Itoman area where the casualties of war was over 100,0oo.  That sadness and connections to the heart were obvious when we all saw the photos and articles of the war, but its these small detailed morning , which helped to connect the Tsushima Maru .

We then left to Tamagusuku as we travel to Yusuke Yokoi’s house for the “katachiki,’ workshop..  Families and friends who survived the war, when it will happened.  Our day ended with sanshin playing and dances by Brent and I.  Everyone was so intense during their weaving, and it took some lot on the tour.  the Yusuke’s also tried to find the drinks.  By the time the end of the day , everyone was kind of wiped out and apprehensive about how it will look, so we headed back to the hotel.