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Nothing Can Compare: A Selection of Okinawan Folk Songs


Source: Mānoa, Vol. 23, No. 1, Living Spirit: LITERATURE AND RESURGENCE IN OKINAWA
(summer 2011), pp. 65-70
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
Stable URL:
Accessed: 15-03-2019 20:49 UTC

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Nothing Can Compare:

A Selection ofOkinawan Folk Songs

The traditional music of the Ryükyüs - both clas

folk - can be traced back to ancient times, possibly
The chants were passed down orally, and though m
over time, 1,248 omoro were collected in the twent
söshiy printed in three parts - in 1531, 1613, and 16
establish the link between omoro and traditional cou
Both omoro and classical music were composed with
ryüka form (three phrases of eight syllables followed
From at least the early fifteenth century, Okinaw
influenced by the kingdom's contact with China
Chinese investitute envoys to Okinawa were entert
festivals (ukansen-odori) that included folk music (
at court) and dancing from all the provinces. Thus,
ment and folk music evolved together.
After the Satsuma invasion in 1609, classical an
instrumentation were influenced by the Japanese.
interest of the Satsuma clan that the Ryùkyûan kin
appearance of independence, and thus indigenou
sung and composed. Following the Meiji annexation
Japanese embarked on a campaign to create a uni
With the strict imposition of mainland Japan's cul
nawa, indigenous music and dance suffered a period
were no longer employed at court, and young pe
regard Japanese cultural practices as superior to the
gence of Okinawa's distinct cultural identity is bein
music, from traditional ryüka lyrics to pop and hip
The following songs reflect changes in the social a
in Okinawa over several hundred years. Some we
part of kumi odori - court dance-and-music ente
nity festivals. I have also included a lullaby and wor
concludes with a song about twentieth-century Oki
North America. Each song is followed by a brief exp


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To what can I compare

The happiness I feel today
It is like a budding flower
Bejeweled by morning dew

"Kajadefu (Kageyadefu) Bushi" is said to have been composed by an official

in the Ryükyüan court: during a dispute over the succession to the throne,
the official advocated for the mute royal son, who suddenly was able to
speak. The song continues to be sung by Okinawans throughout the world
at the beginning of celebrations and auspicious events.


A sign posted on the Unna pine

Says, "Rendezvous are forbidden!"
Do they think a sign
Could prevent us from loving?

Along with "Kajadefu Bushi," "Unna (Onna) Bushi" is one of the fiv
portant court songs sung before the Ryükyüan king. It is now part of
repertoire of classical Ryükyüan songs performed and preserved throu
out the diaspora. Nabï, a woman of the commoner class in Unna, is sai
have composed the words to this song, which expresses defiance o
vertically structured patriarchal government that developed across Ok
during Satsuma rule.


Is this not a floating world

with only one true meaning?
Why is it then
That our words do not meet?

The lyrics for this version of "Nakafu Bushi" were said to have been written
by court musicians for the last Ryükyüan king, Shö Tai. It was a period of
much strife. Factions differed over what the kingdom should do in response
to events such as the Opium Wars and the arrival of Commodore Matthew
C. Perry to the Ryükyüs and Japan. King Shö Tai was deposed by the Meiji
government in Tokyo in 1879.

66 Mänoa - Living Spirit

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[verse 3]

We are separated by a vast ocean

But the same moon shines upon us
Are you gazing
At the same sky tonight?


On the beach, the plover sings,

"Chui chui"

"Chijüyä Bushi" (also known as "Hamachidori Bushi") was composed after

the nineteenth-century annexation by Japan propelled Okinawans into the
modern economic system. Unable to pay family debts, many Okinawans
were forced to leave home to work: sons were sold to fishermen as inden-

tured servants, and daughters were sold into prostitution. "Chijüyä Bushi"
is said to reflect the feelings of a son sold to fishermen.


Count one, then two

Three and four are next
Then come five, six, and seven
Eight, nine, and ten

Hoi, hoi, hoi
Stop your crying
Hoi, hoi, hoi

This good rice is for

Number one son

Sweet potatoes are good enough

For numbers two and three

[repeat chorus]

Send a child of thirteen

To faraway Japan
Build a bridge of gold
For them to cross

[repeat chorus]

Ueunten . Nothing Can Compare 67

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This is part of "Kijoka Lullaby." Kijoka is in the northern part of Okinawa
and is well known for the weaving of bashö-fu , or banana-fiber cloth. As
Okinawa became integrated into Japan's economic structure, young women
who once did the tedious weaving of bashö-fu began migrating to mainland
Japan for better-paying work. They tried to save part of their wages and
send money home, hoping to build a "bridge of gold." Ironically, most of
these young women, who would traditionally have been learning to weave
by hand, ended up working in textile mills in Japan.


Nothing can compare

To the sincere joy
That the working person
Feels when he sweats hard


Surayöy sura
to work we go!

Fifty jü per day

Five kwan in fifty days
Can one lose by saving?
So says the old adage

Working morning and night

The money that I save
Like a young pine tree
Will grow with the years

For the sake of everyone

For your own sake as well
With high spirits
Render good service

"Ashimiji Bushi" was written for a 1929 "Thrift and Savings Campaign" that
was conducted in Okinawa on the occasion of the Shöwa emperor's acces-
sion. While ostensibly written for the emperor, the song does not encourage
service to him, but to one's community and oneself. The emphasis on one's
labor being one's own property is perhaps a manifestation of the song hav-
ing been written during the era of union activities in Okinawa. "Ashimiji
Bushi" became popular among Okinawan immigrants in Hawai'i, who
struggled for labor unions on the plantations, and is still sung at bon dances
in the state.

68 Mänoa . Living Spirit

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Higa Yasuo: Maternal Deities

Worshipping the Gods (Kami-agami)

Ikema Islandy Yükui

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[verse 1]

Uchinâ is an island of great treasures

Making a name for itself
Come together in one spirit and rise up


Hey, hey, hey hey hey

Rise up, come on, rise up!

[verse 2]
A bountiful harvest

Is a sign that good times have come

Keep your spirits up! You can do it!

[verse 3]

Music blooms beautifully like a flower

Let the world know
About our Uchinä

[verse 5]

I'm a fierce tiger

And if you give me wings
I will cross the great Pacific

[verse 6]

Fall seven times and jump up eight

Let the world know
About our Uchinä

Shinsuke Taira was an Okinawan immigrant to Los Angeles. In 1953, he

returned to Okinawa and wrote the lyrics to "Hiyamikachi Bushi" with the
aim of giving hope and encouragement to the people enduring the hellish
aftermath of the Battle of Okinawa. At the 2010 National High School Base-
ball Championship, this song was played when Okinawa's Könan High
School defeated all its mainland Japanese opponents to win the tourna-
ment. In that context, the song affirmed Okinawa's dignity within Japanese

70 Mänoa - Living Spirit

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