Sunday, September 30, 2007

my eyes are stinging a bit today. must be from all the sun and the swimming in the salty water of the sea. yep. just another late september day. i think late september and october are basically the best months on Okinawa. just calm, sunny with a light breeze and cool water. paradise, indeed.

went to two of Ogimi's four elementary school undoukais today. All four schools hold their sports day on the same day but making it to all four would have been quite a task. Plus i sort of slept in so only showed up to Kijoka's (my village) undoukai around 11am. Walked there with hopes of getting a free lunch but those hopes weren't too high. Walked to the pitch, a sweet woman who works at the BOE and always looks after me walked me over to the tables under the shady tents, pointed to a chair, brought me a cup of cool tea. Just as i was sitting down, a junior high school student was passing out the bento lunches to everyone seated under the tent. K-san motioned for the student to place a bento in front of me as well. I looked shocked but inside happy that my plan worked out perfectly. :) ha ha seems rather shallow, eh? but really this is just how it works and after two years of these events i know what to expect. but there is no such thing as a free lunch in japan either and so after watching a relay of parents and their elementary school kids, i was invited to participate in the rope pulling event: men vs. women, though they politely referred to us as team "red" and "white." The women won the first time, then we switched sides and the men won the second time. The whole thing was quite fun. After lunch the kids performed a beautifully choreographed and brilliantly executed eisa routine. Junior high kids from Kijoka helped out as well as the fathers who were dressed in Ogimi's eisa costumes and were dancing with the poll of Kijoka. If you live here or have lived here that might make sense, if not. sorry. it's hard to explain. but i'll post pics later on.

I went to Ogimi elem. school's undoukai after Kijoka's eisa. Got there just in time to watch adult vs. elem. kids vs. junior high school kids relays. Kids won out every time. Then it was the finishing the dance with everyone on the pitch, including me. Then it was off home to grab beach stuff and go lounge about for a couple of hours after a refreshing dip in the sea. The water is perfect right now. Chilly at first but under the blazing sun, a welcoming sensation on the sweaty skin.

Yesterday I joined two hundred people or so from Ogimi village in the protest against the proposed changes to the Japanese history textbooks. The protest took place at the park near the Ginowan Convention center in the south of the island. Hordes of people were walking to the sight with placards and signs. It was my first such gathering--not counting the anti-war protest Shelly and i walked into while in New York...and quickly walked out of.
I walked with the superintendent of Ogimi schools and he explained to me the situation, so i'll relate it to you hear as i understand it. During the battle of Okinawa numerous atrocities against the peaceful Okinawan civilians took place and most of them were perpetrated by the Japanese military that came and occupied the island drawing American forces away from mainland Japan and to this tiny chain of islands. One of the atrocities that are well documented was the forceful way in which Japanese military encouraged Okinawan citizens to commit suicide if the arrival of American troupes was imminent. Men and women were given grenades to use on themselves and their families in case the Americans landed on their islands. This happened on Zamami and Tokashiki island and hundreds of people died. This fact is currently written in the Japanese textbook but sometime last year the Ministry of Education proposed to cut out the part of the history which paints Japanese soldiers in the bad light. The bit will be re-written so that suicides are mentioned but the role the Japanese military played in those suicides is not. And that outraged many on Okinawa, an island that is still dealing with occupation of American forces and feels that Japan still treats them as second-rate citizens whose opinion is not worth knowing.
The protest has been in the works for 4 months. Village, town and cities governments were asked to send people to represent themselves at the gathering. 120,000 people were at the park yesterday and the sight was awesome! I didn't understand every word of the speeches but I understood the feeling behind them. My favorite speech, though, was by two senior high school students. I did understand their shouts of "We want to learn the truth, so write the truth!!"
The whole two hour event was seemed really powerful to me so I really hope it causes a few heads to turn in the Japanese Ministry of Education and the proposed changes are abandoned.

i'll finish here.
but here's a BBC article i got after googleing "okinawa and textbook and protest"
Huge Japan protest against textbook
am sure you can find more if you have time. i'm off to my adult conversation class. ta ta


Friday, September 14, 2007

on the agenda:
the lack of posting
my addiction to green mikan
the typhoon threatening to tear down my curtains and flood my balcony
studying Japanese
needing the school to block Facebook

so where should i begin? the Facebook issue. all right. that's a bit of a disaster zone. i am hooked on the walls and the "home" updates and adding and deleting of applications (thought i've gotten much better about that by just not adding any), and the instant notifications in inbox. Maybe that's what i should irradicate. Perhaps if i politely ask the Facebook system to stop sending me e-mails any time someone signs my wall or comments on one of my photos, i'd be less likely to spend twenty to thirty minutes (ahem hours) nosing about in there and would just go through my inbox and get off the school computer as i'm sure most teachers would want me to do.

mikans are the wonderful citrus fruit that is like a tangerine but slightly more tart. They'll ripen in winter months, but right now they are sold green and i'm addicted. i love the sourness that just overwhelms the budding sweetness within. you might ask, what is so wrong with being addicted to mikan, a fruit jam-packed with vitamin C and other unknown beneficial substances, but what will i do when the season of the green mikan is over? or worse yet, what if i develop an allergy by eating too many and won't be able to enjoy them again?
my addiction is not being helped by the generous presents of principals from neighboring schools who in lieu of the upcoming undoukai (sports day) have gifted boxes of these delicious, green, juicy, little fruits. We've also been given a box of giant apple/pears that are quite expensive and the former principal who is now at one of Higashi's schools has brought enough pineapple to share with the whole student body at lunch for dessert. Undoukai. Craziness itself.

Which brings me to the typhoon that is quite inconveniently ruining the undoukai plans for the weekend. That and also most likely canceling the Okuma festival, second year running. It will be rescheduled, i'm sure, but i doubt the same acts will show up and the crowds will be much fewer, as was the case last year. But the biggest concern for the school is of course the sports fest on Sunday. It's Friday night now and the typhoon is supposed to touch down in a couple of hours; it's a not very strong one but i'm certain it will rain all night and most of the day tomorrow. The hope is that it'll miraculously stop overnight Saturday to Sunday, the school field will dry up and we'll be able to set up without a problem early Sunday morning and have a wonderful display of student and teachers' 2 months worth of planning and preparation.
This being my last undoukai, i'm quite sentimental going into. It was almost like the other two, but this year I was able to jump in and help with eisa practices and that felt really good. Nice to be involved from the inside and not always as a welcomed outsider.

I haven't posted in a while 'cause it's been busy and every night when i come home and think I should write post, i instead watch a movie or read and then only have an hour to play on computer before bed time and that's never enough to write a substantial post 'cause there's Facebook to distract me. So luckily, the typhoon has extended my weekend and i don't have to go to bed early and so here I am, ready to upload some pics to share with you my last two weekends.

and a note on studying Japanese. it's a ridiculous uphill battle and i'm not made for it, but yet i try every once in a while to pretend that i can do it. i guess it is nice to be able to understand things and i'm encouraged at the times i grasp the meaning of things going on around me or listen to the village speaker announcements and know what they're talking about half the time. and it is quite pleasing to study a kanji and then to see it in context and feel a tenth of a thousandth percentage more literate. ha ha
but it is a fun language and i wish i was more self-motivated. hoping that signing up for the 3rd level of the JLPT will kick me into a higher gear, and i'll actually study a bit on the weekends as well.

and now on to the pics

Two weekends ago was the Shioya Ungami which is a festival that takes place in a few villages in the northern Okinawa dedicated to the gods/spirits that control the sea. Priestesses offer up prayers through special ceremonies like the one on the picture. The men sat in a circle while the women walked and chanted around them.

The religious portion of the festival used to be closed to the public and only certain individuals were allowed to accompany the priestesses to the sacred prayer spots. This year it was opened to the public and lots of photographers showed up. It seemed there were more people with a camera than the locals. A bit overwhelming but also nice. It means the community is receiving attention and people will learn more about the traditional Okinawan culture. But it was overbearing at times. The priestesses didn't seem to mind too much. Or maybe they're just too cool to betray their annoyance. It was nice to notice that no one put a show on for the photographers. The men sitting in a circle drank their offering of awamori from plastic cups and not anything fancy that i'm sure could have been brought. Made realize and appreciate the fact that I am indeed observing an active tradition and not a reenactment of one. A bit daunting, that.

This is the portion that's always been opened to the public. The hari race of the 6 little villages that are a part of Shioya, which is itself a part of Ogimi-son. Quite a few of Ogimi's villages have their own, unique festival around this time of the year to offer prayers and to celebrate sea and field gods. Shioya's is well known because of the beautiful landscape that is the backdrop to the hari racing across the Shioya bay and the dancing women in the water who chant and cheer on the men of their villages to row faster.

The smiling girl is one of my students and she's surrounded by other women of her village, Shioya. The race just finished and the women are celebrating and are continuing to dance. Actually, i think due to their persistent dancing and singing, the hari raced again but this time purely for entertainment.

the girls and women leaving the bay with the men behind them still in the water near their hari boats.

the priestesses performing one of the last rituals after the hari race and before the sumo wrestling matches.

two years ago, i watched the ungami festivities a month or so after arriving. i had no idea really what was going on and watched truly as a tourist. this year, however, it was a different experience all together. i knew some of the men racing the hari, i knew the women cheering them in the water, and i knew almost all the kids who stepped up to participate in the sumo match. i only knew the elementary kids by face, but the junior high schoolers, like the ones in the picture i know personally and it made the experience that much more special and enjoyable.

the ungami fest is a two day event. first day is the hari and the sumo. the second day is dancing. it rained heavily during some of the dances and the women still performed, by the end of the dance, completely soaked. Here is a junior high school student dressed in the outfit of a farmer with women in the background in the more splendid outfits of the ryukyu royal court.

i really like this pic
The following weekend was a similar festival in another of Ogimi's villages, Nerume. The hari race only involved three small boats. Cliff and i came to watch but quickly Cliff was asked to participate. I think he enjoyed it.

After the hari race we hung out with some darling elementary school kids before the womens' eisa and sumo wrestling. Here i am with three of those cuties.

oh no! the pic is on its side. well. you get the picture. :)

The women of Nerume dance a very traditional eisa dance.

The view of the Nerume village set up before the start of the sumo wrestling taken from the 2nd floor of the community center where we watched surrounded by junior high school and elementary kids of that village. Only 6 or 7 of my students live in Nerume and they were all involved in one way or another in the day's activities. The sense of community is extremely strong here; maybe why i enjoy staying in the village so much for the various activities that take place almost weekly, especially during the summer months.

Well. The typhoon is not as strong as i thought it would be, but the balcony door won't stay open anyways--the winds are strong enough to shut it with force anytime i try to peek at what's happening outside.
So fingers crossed for a successful undoukai. I'll try not to be as delinquent with future posts. They end up being way too long.