Thursday, February 07, 2013

Nippon Extremities: Okinawa I

"There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."

--Leonard Cohen

 February 23, 2003

Early flight south, camera affixed to the nose of the plane, which filmed a two-hour long establishing shot of water and clouds far below.   Coming from the perspective of a frigid San-in winter, how wonderful it was to land in heat and humidity.  American military bases flexed their muscles at my bus as I rode in from the airport.  I checked into my box of a hotel room with its bamboo furniture, then hit Kokusai-dori, following it up and down for hours, ducking down alleys and exploring arcades.  I probably did about 15 km in all.  This was still Japan, but more exotic in my eyes.  By the end of the day, I was starting to distinguish who was "Yamato" from who wasn't.   Those with more 'purity of blood' ironically look more Asian.  The feel of the place reminded me of Korea's Cheju-do.

My first stop was a taco stand, deep fried of all things, then dropped in at every shop selling music or sanshin.  I wandered toward a park and found a series of ruins of something, multi-leveled and burgeoning with stone steps.  Nearby was a small shop filled with instruments from all over the world.  I chatted awhile with the owner, an attractive, and incredibly fit woman in her 60's.  What I had been admiring was the leftovers from her husband's vast collection, with all the really good stuff in a New York museum.  She and her husband had lived in the city for eight years, time enough for her to have picked up a degree at NYU.  Very interesting person.  She showed me a flute made from a human femur, and told me that the bones of criminals have the most power.  Meaning, I guess, that to blow through this thing is to open the door to some pretty unpleasant mojo.  

A little later, I came across a peace protest in a small park.   My first live music on the island.  One woman, singing alone with a sanshin, had unbelievable power.  Her second song was to the accompaniment of a tape, which continued even after she had stopped playing for a moment in order to tune.  A trio played next, followed by a group of kids led by a dyed-haired young woman with a walker.  A couple of mentally handicapped guys and clapped, while the rest of the crowd, all passersby, waved their arms and sang along.  A very hip crowd. I talked awhile with one of the organizers about this event, its message being that war hurts kids most of all.    

A little further up the road, I met an artist selling his stuff.  At first I thought that he was copying the work of Aida Mitsuo.  I asked, "Is he still alive?" then he looked surprised and said, "These are mine!"  By this time, I had already told him that a former girlfriend had given me a book of these prints six years ago.  He probably thought me insane. 

I dropped into a Indonesian restaurant for some nashigoren, which I'd always wanted to try.  Across the street for a quick cappucino, then a few doors up to Chakra, Kina Shokichi's bar.  I admired the photos on the wall of he and other famous celebrities.  I was tired for my flight and had dropped in mainly to find out when the band would be playing this week, intending to go back to the hotel early.  But the woman at the front said that I may as well watch the show since I was already here, and a minute later I was sitting at a table directly in front of the stage.  

While waiting for the show to start, we were shown a video biography.  First on stage were a couple of old women doing a traditional dance with various props like a folding fan, clappers, and finally, a scroll.  The footwork was amazing for their age, the movements revealing elements from martial arts and farming.  Next up a a four piece band composed of three generations of musicians, doing famous bushi.  The two women had their hair piled on top, swept around, then pulled through again.  It looked a bit like a yarmulke pierced by a letter opener. Then finally, the main event.

When Shokichi came on stage, I could've touched his shoes I was so close.   The show absolutely ripped.  During the opening song, I couldn't decide whether to look at Shokichi wailing away on his sanshin, or at his sister Keiko beating the hell out of the sanba clappers.  He would spice up the music by talking politics, especially about what he had learned on his visit to Baghdad a week before. (This was a few weeks before the 2003 US invasion.)  Here I was, a citizen of the country of his obvious ire,  sitting directly in front of him.  I dreaded that he might turn his notice to me, but the only attention I got from him was an "OK!" sign after I danced my ass off to "Haisai Ojisan."  

After the show, I milled around a bit, looking at the CDs.  Throughout the show, I had had a hard time taking my eyes off Keiko, and suddenly she was here talking with me.  She had to play another set, but insisted I stick around. Afterwards, we and a few others went to another bar one floor up.  She and I had a long conversation, connecting on one level or another.  Later, I was to find that something had drawn her eyes to me, sitting in the front row. When she found out that I was interested in Okinawan power spots, she began to change my plans for the week...

On the turntable:  Steve Reich, "The Cave"
On the nighttable:  Norman Sherry, "The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 2"

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