|Location and Climate of Okinawa Prefecture|
| Okinawa Prefecture is composed of very small islands lying in the Pacific
Ocean at the eastern end of the Eurasian continent. Okinawa Prefecture
is located in the westernmost and southernmost parts of Japan, occupying
the southern half of the Ryukyu archipelago. The 160 islands of Okinawa,
of which only 60 islands are inhabited, lie scattered in a total sea area
of 1,000 km from east to west, and 400 km from north to south.
Okinawa has mild temperatures throughout the year. The annual average temperature in the capital of Okinawa, Naha City, is 22.4C with average summer and winter temperatures of 25.1C and 20.1C respectively.
Because of the mild temperatures, the traditional four seasons are sometimes hard to distinguish. One season that all Okinawans take care t notice, however, is typhoon season, which runs from July through September. Okinawa is approached by an average of 7-8 typhoons yearly.
|History of Okinawa|
|The Age of the Ryukyu Dynasties
In the age of the Sanzan Dynasty on the mainland of Okinawa during the 14th century, there were three kingdoms: Hokuzan based upon Nakijin Castle; Chuzan (Urasoe Castle); and Nanzan (Ozato Castle). In the 15th century, Sho Hashi of Chuzan subjugated the northern and southern kingdoms and thus founded the kingdom of Ryukyu.
Shuri was chosen as the seat of government for the first Sho Dynasty. Sho Hashi established trading and diplomatic relations with China. However, after his death, the dynasty weakened and fell to a palace revolution in 1469.
The second Sho Dynasty began with the ascent of Sho En to the throne. Later, King Sho Shin promoted enduring basic governmental structures. The kingdom flourished as did Okinawan culture.
However, relations with Japan were deteriorating, a trend which culminated in the invasion of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Shimazu lords of Satsuma, now Kagoshima, in 1609. Ryukyu fell under the thrall of Japan's feudal structure.
Damages from World War II and the problems of US bases
Perhaps the most striking modern history of Okinawa can be said to be the Battle of Okinawa, which took place during WWII. Okinawa was the only part of Japan to experience ground warfare. US forces landed on Okinawa on April 1, 1945. The Battle of Okinawa placed civilians on the front lines. The south of the main island of Okinawa, especially, saw very heavy fighting. Many Okinawans were killed at the hands of both American and Japanese military forces during WWII. Towards the end of the war, many civilians committed suicide because they were afraid of the Americans.
From 1945, huge US bases were built on Okinawa. The land was forcefully requisitioned by "bulldozers and bayonets." Today, 74.8% of all US military facilities within Japan are here on Okinawa, occupying 1/5 of the main island. This compares with an average of less than 1% in other prefectures, except for Shizuoka and Yamanashi. The high concentration of US military facilities on Okinawa has caused much tension and resentment as well as other problems for many of the Okinawa people.
An often-heard complaint among the Okinawan populace is noise from military aircraft. Aircraft noise makes life unbearable for those unfortunate families living anywhere near a flight line. In addition to the noise, air congestion due to military aircraft causes many near misses as well as disrupting civilian air schedules. On the ground, live-fire exercises destroy vegetation and leave a large part of Okinawa inaccessible. Crime, bar fights, and car accidents committed by US military personnel add to the feeling of hostility toward the military on Okinawa. In addition, people often resent that military personnel live in spacious housing with lawns, taking up valuable land that could be used for local development. With the high cost of land and utilities off base, Okinawans are often shocked to see how military personnel live, with their spacious housing and free water and electricity.
To be honest, crimes and so forth are the actions of the few, not the majority of the US military personnel. In truth, though less noted in the media, many US military personnel contribute to the well-being of Okinawa and its citizens. The military helps in internationalization, just by being here. Home stays with US families on base give a taste of American culture at a very low price. Culture-exchange groups, teachers, and volunteers contribute much to giving Okinawan citizens hands on experience with another culture. One example of volunteering that comes to mind is that every year US military families volunteer their time to clean up the beaches of Okinawa. On a more economical note, the US bases supply a large number of jobs for Okinawans. In addition, US military personnel are a source of demand for the local economy in such areas as restaurants, cars, entertainment, and much more.
However, even though we are able to point out some beneficial aspects to the US military presence on Okinawa, overall the people's lives are overshadowed by the fear of continued US military incidents. In addition, concerning the positive economic arguments noted above, those arguments can be used to show a negative economic and moral effect. By relying on the military for job creation and market demand, Okinawa loses a sense of self-preservation and independence. Okinawans become the followers, not the leaders that an economically strategic island needs to have in order to succeed in today's world.
3. Characteristic of Okinawan culture
Traditional Ryukyuan DanceEisa Dance
Bon Odori (the dance for the spirit of the dead) is called Eisa in Okinawa.
The word Eisa derives from the sound of the cheer, "eisa, eisa, sassa", used by dancers during the performance. The origin of Eisa is a ritual of segaki, a practice in Buddhism to take care of the souls of munen-botoke (a soul who does not have relatives) who are believe to visit the earth from the other world during Bon festival.
Eisa developed as a performing art based on this concept.
Okinawan classical music
Okinawan classical music is usually called uta (songs)-sanshin. This genre of music developed in Shuri, where the legislative government was located during the Rykyu Kingdom period. The classical repertoire exceeds two hundred pieces and is contained in four volumes of the Kunkunshi (Okinawa's own musical notation with Kanji characters) anthology. The most representative one is "Kajadifubushi".
Ryukyuan Musical Scales
Regarded as one of the traditional Japanese scales, the Okinawan is represented as DO, MI, FA, SO, TI. This scale is often used for songs such as "Tanchamee" and "Tinsaguna hana". It closely resembles the Indonesia belock scale. However, Okinawa has others including the Ritsuon and Ro scale.
Okinawan folk song
Folk songs are "anonymos songs which have been sung by people from generation to generation". In Okinawa there are a great variety of traditional folksongs. They have been handed down from olden times and are still sung by people today.
Some of these songs are sung to the accompaniment of a Sanshin and some are
sung with drums or just hand clapping. Others are sung without any accompaniment at all. However, when people think of "Okinawan folk-songs", they often have an image of melodies sung with pathos on the unique Ryukyuan musical scale accompanied by the Sanshin.
The Sanshin is a three-stringed instrument that loosely resembles a banjo and has a unique and exotic sound. The Sanshin body is made of snakeskin while the neck is of wood. When played, by plucking the strings, a singer usually accompanies the Sanshin during traditional ceremonies and festivals.
The Sanshin and the Shamisen share the same origins from China. On main land Japan, they have the Shamisen which is similar to the Sanshin but with apparent differences. While the body of the Sanshin is made of snakeskin, the Shamisen is made using cat or dog skin. Another difference between these two instruments is the pick. The Sanshin has a pick shaped like a large hollow fang. You play the Sanshin by inserting a finger in the pick and plucking the strings. The Shamisen has a pick resembling a small paddle.
The Taiko drum adds ferocity to musical rhythm unlike any other instrument. The Taiko drums have a history that spans 2000 years and is still widely used throughout Okinawa and Asia. This Taiko is 8.5 inches in diameter and about 1lbs.