Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nippon Extremities: Okinawa III

February 25, 2003

I wiled away my morning at Starbucks, reading and writing along to Sinatra's croon.  I was picked up at 11:00 for a whirlwind day.  We first headed out to an utaki on the outskirts of Naha.   We were the first to arrive, so we cleaned it a little before the others arrived.   The area below us was fed by a stream, and there a homeless guy was washing his clothes.  This place was dedicated to the male gods. 

When the others arrived, including all the members of Champloose, we knelt or sat behind the old shamaness, who prayed awhile.  Suddenly one of them began to sing, the phrasing familiar to me from Okinawan music, but the words were a direst message to Shokichi about how next to proceed on his path to peace.  (Apparently this event today was related to his safe return from Iraq.)  As the message went on, many people were crying, including the main shamaness, who shook violently.

A similar scene was repeated at the next utaki, for the gods of women and the earth.  Here, they said prayers for my son, Ken.  As this went on, I sat with eyes closed, yet even without realizing that I was crying, tears poured out.  Whatever was going on moved me, significantly, even if I didn't speak the language.  Later, the shamanes said something about Georgia, which Shokichi related to Martin Luther King, Jr.  I am still unsure about the connection with Ken.

Next was an utaki at the base of a large volcanic rock standing beside a Shinto shrine.  Below us ran a system of caves.  Shells and bits of coral were spread amongst the gravel.   Here, at a place for the god of the world (society?) the message from the gods was again about peace.  When we finished, we all ate cup raman with waribashi, while sitting in the Buddha's area.  (I'll keep my cynical comments to myself.)  Shokichi asked me a few questions about Ken's death.  Earlier, when he first saw me, he looked suspicious.  I suppose that all famous people are leery of strangers and their needs, and here I was intruding on something very personal.  He wanted to know why I had come to Okinawa, and I said something about wanting to find a bit of Okinawa's heart.  Though completely casual and unthreatening, it felt like a mild challenge, and no doubt all anthropologists are challenged when encountering a people and their rituals. At this particular moment,  I definitely felt out of place.   

Everyone left, but Keiko, Hiromi, and I carried on with the shamanesses.  First, to a small grove between apartment buildings, the roots of the trees smashing through concrete, and their branches sheltering cats.  Next, to a small room in a small house in the city's former red light district, which contained three altars, three cats, and three very skittish dogs.  In both places,  the gods remained silent.

Last, we did three "services" back at Chakra.  The first was surprisingly at a small shrine in the parking lot.   Next up was in the band's offices, kneeling on a small, raised tatami platform placed between a small garden filled with birds, and a huge book collection composed primarily of spiritual works.  These time, we seemed mainly to be chanting sutras.  Last up was in the bar itself.  Here the god's message was for me, but before I knew that fact, I had felt a major power surge in my chest.  The words, "New Jersey" came out,  a place unknown to the shamaness, but the place where I'd grown up.  She said that my being here today had a serious significance. She also told me a little about Ken's death.  Christianity today is concerned mostly with heaven, and Ken (middle name, Gaia) falling from above was a way of reconnecting with Earth.  She told me that his zodiac sign of Tiger represented water, yet she didn't know the details of how he died.  All of this is really strange and mysterious and wonderful, and I really wish that I could figure it all out.

After a quick meal of yakisoba, Keiko and I headed up to Okinawa City to see some live music.  There were a lot of military bases up that way, and I spotted a number of GI's.  The roads up here were wide and lined with foreign shops, Indian tailors, US fast food.  Keiko told me that twenty years ago this area had been hopping, but had since lost its spark, a fact apparent by the quiet streets at 10 pm.  We went to Nantahama, a livehouse featuring Yohen Aiko.  We were the only customers, so rather than play, she chatted with us for awhile, mainly about the slow death of Okinawan music, the few young hopefuls, and how media support and coverage is weak.  We also discussed the Okinawans underlying fear of terrorism against all these military bases they 'hosted,' once the Iraq war inevitably began.  

Next, we were able to catch the end of a set by Ganeko Yoriko over at her club, Hime.  Afterward she came to greet us, asking Keiko, "Is this your son?  Boyfriend?"  Keiko by now had a set intro, saying that I was American but had been living in Yonago for eight years.  A quick disclaimer.  Yoriko was incredibly friendly and funny, years of performing had made her movements flamboyant and graceful, the perfect image of a geisha.  We talked about the relationships between men and women and how Okinawan women generally take good care of their husbands,  Both she and Keiko desparately wanted boyfirends, and I was fascinated to listen to two famous women talk about mundane things such as men, looks, and illnesses. The woman behind the bar was having a conversation with a couple of customers about her being used to Americans and not being afraid.  When I chimed in, she was surprised that I could speak Japanese.  It is funny that I've heard America and its politics mentioned more in three days in Okinawa than I'd heard it in eight years in mainland Japan...

On the turntable:  Muddy Waters, "Floyd's Guitar Blues"


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