Thursday, 26 January 2012

Five Great Ryukyu Island Songs

Heya here's a written post for a slight change.

I was actually going to do a different post but that annoyingly and mysteriously deleted itself.....and I was almost finished so scrapped that idea for another day when I can be bothered to rewrite it.....

Instead, I'll do an easy one where I don't really have to write that much.
If you are somewhat familiar with Japanese geography, you may know of the Ryukyu islands. They are a series of islands located in the southern seas of Japan, between Taiwan and Japan. The most famous is Okinawa and is now a popular place for vacations for it's warm climate and beautiful beaches. It is kind of like a Japanese Hawaii, but with no volcanoes.

During the second world war, Okinawa was an important strategical point and so many battles were fought on it's lands, especially against the Americans towards the end of the war. Like all wars many innocent villagers lives were taken by the advancing Americans, and many even forced to commit suicide by the military when it was just about certain that Japan would lose there.

After the nuclear blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered, America put an army base in Tokyo. Once many years of peace was restored and relations became much more friendly they relocated the base to Okinawa. So now there are many American people there and many mixed race people.

The Ryukyu Islands have not always been part of Japan however. Once upon a time they were their own independent kingdom, the Ryukyu Kingdom, and so have their own customs and traditions, which have been influenced greatly by Japan and China.

I don't want to go into a long history lesson so see wiki for Ryukyu Kingdom and other link on that page.

So, now to what the post is supposed to be about....Songs by people from Okinawa, or about Okinawa.
Here we go.

This is a song called 'Nada Sou Sou' by Natsukawa Rimi. The title means 'Tears falling' in Okinawan and

it's actually a cover song originally written by the Ryukyu born group, BEGIN and Moriyama Ryoko. This version was hugely successful song in Japan and was in the singles chart for three years. It was also used as the theme song for the film with the same name starring Nagaswa Masami and Tsumabuki Satoshi.

This is a song called 'Hana' which means flower by Shokichi Kina and his band 'Champloose'. They became popular after their first album in 1977 for their fusion of ethnical Okinawan music with Western rock. This is a a shamisen version so sounds more like a traditional style Okinawan song.

Another famous song by them is 'Haisai Ojisan. Haisai means 'hello' in Okinawan whereas 'ojisan' just means old man. It is sung in Okinawan so most Japanese people don't know what is being said but it is still loved for it's uptempo and cheerful island feeling.

I was thinking of putting her song 'Wadatsumi no ki' here but I had already put that up on a different list so here's another song by her that I like. She's not from Okinawa but another Ryukyu Island called Amami Oshima. This song is called 'Haru no Katami' which means 'Memento of the Spring'. She sing in the traditional style from her island which you might notice?

This is the song 'Satokibi batake' which means 'Sugarcane Field' by Moriyama Ryoko, a singer who is considered as Japan's Joan Baez. It is a song about the battle in Okinawa during the Second World War and goes originally for a whole 10 minutes. Strangely enough it doesn't feel that way though (for me anyway). There are many sugarcane plantations in Okinawa, and the word 'Zawawa' that she says often in the song is a word that signifies the sound they make in the wind.

The Boom was a band that became hugely popular in the early 1990's for this song and several others. They're not from Okinawa, but got the feeling of it with this very good song.

According to some interviews with the singer Miyazawa Kazufumi, these are the origins of the lyrics (from Wikipedia)

In a 2003 interview for fRoots, Miyazawa explained that he got the idea for the song after speaking with Okinawan survivors of the US invasion of Okinawa during World War II.
...for the first time saw a deeper side of Okinawa. I saw some remains of the war there and visited the Himeyuri Peace and Memorial Museum and learnt about the female students who became like voluntary nurses looking after injured soldiers. There were no places to escape from the U.S. army in Okinawa, so they had to find underground caves. Although they hid from the U.S. army, they knew they would be searching for them, and thought they would be killed, so they moved from one cave to another. Eventually they died in the caves. I heard this story from a woman who was one of these girls and who survived. I was still thinking about how terrible it was after I left the museum. Sugar canes were waving in the wind outside the museum when I left and it inspired me to write a song. I also thought I wanted to write a song to dedicate to that woman who told me the story. Although there was darkness and sadness in the underground museum, there was a beautiful world outside. This contrast was shocking and inspiring.
In another interview, Miyazawa explained that most Okinawan casualties were not caused by American troops, but by Japan's instructions to commit suicide rather than surrender.
When the United States were about to invade Japan during the Second World War II, the country was instructing people telling them, 'before USA has you, kill yourself'. In Okinawa 200.000 people died. And most of them weren't killed by USA... They hid under the earth.
While the song does not specify who the people being separated are, Miyazawa stated in the 2002 interview, "It is about the separation of a man and a woman, a separation that they couldn't control, and didn't want."


  1. I Like this BETTER!!

    1. Haha, I knew someone would mention that. It is a great version.

    2. I'm assuming that is also a Okinawan song as well?

      But I like Nada Sou Sou. I guess it's popular for a reason XD.