Photo/IllutrationSugar cane fields in Miyakojima island of Okinawa Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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The background to Okinawan torment over issues stemming from the massive U.S. military presence there is well-documented, but what many people may not know is the anger implied in the 1990s folk hit “Shima Uta” (island song).

Kazufumi Miyazawa, lead singer of the popular band The Boom that produced the song, talked about this and other issues in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

Miyazawa, 53, was born and raised in Yamanashi Prefecture, central Japan. It wasn't long before he was captured by the lure of Okinawan folk music. After learning from survivors about the horrendous civilian losses in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa during a visit to Okinawa Prefecture, Miyazawa wrote the anti-war song.

The band broke up in 2014. Miyazawa established a solo career and spends his time on a project to preserve Okinawan folk music.


Excerpts from his interview with The Asahi Shimbun follow:

My grandfather on my mother’s side died in the war in Iwoto island (as Iwojima island is now called). As each Aug. 15 anniversary marking Japan's defeat in World War II approached, my mother watched TV specials on the war and muttered things at the screen like “Why?” and “Yes, indeed.” Somehow, the target of her anger was not the enemy countries but “Japan.” Even though I was little, it weighed on my mind.

I was in my 20s when I realized why. I had started going to Okinawa with a growing interest in its music, then I visited the Himeyuri Peace Museum. There, I learned about the teenage girls brainwashed by the militaristic education that prevailed at the time who died in the service of the Imperial Japanese Army.

It dawned on me that their deaths, as well as my grandfather’s, were the consequences of the misguided steps taken by the government and the Imperial Army.

Above all, I was ashamed at myself for having lived for more than 20 years without knowing about this dark chapter of Japan's history: that one in four Okinawans died in the Battle of Okinawa. I wondered what to do. Then I wrote Shima Uta, because music is the only thing I could offer.

I based the song on a local episode, about a boy and a girl who used to play running around in “uji no mori” (sugar cane fields) ended up committing suicide together in a cave.

The chorus goes like this:

“Uji no Mori de Anata to Deai/ Uji no Shita de Chiyo ni Sayonara” (I met you for the first time in a sugarcane forest/ Under the sugarcane, I said goodbye to you forever).

I wrote the song based on the Ryukyu-style musical scale, which doesn’t use the “re” and “la” of the solfa syllables. But for this particular passage, I used the Western scale. To be more accurate, I couldn’t use the Ryukyu scale. I just couldn’t play it on sanshin (an Okinawan stringed instrument). Because I knew that “Japan” forced the boy and the girl to their deaths.

The central government and the will of the people in Okinawa are on a collision course over the Henoko (land reclamation issue for a new U.S. military base). It is a matter of dignity that lies at the heart of the fury of the Okinawan people, I think. The mainland has adamantly refused to engage in proper dialogue with Okinawa, which surely is the normal thing to do. The central government, in its attitude and language, ought to have more respect and consideration for Okinawa's dignity.

I don’t think my statement will change anything, and I don’t intend to say what should be done, either. I simply want to continue trying to make a connection with people so that they can learn about the plight of Okinawa and the price of peace, even if it’s indirectly and quietly.

One project I'm involved in now is growing ryukyu-kokutan trees, the material used in Okinawa to fashion the sanshin’s neck. It will take 100 or 200 years for the trees to reach maturity. Everybody, including myself, will be long gone by then. But if people in the future make sanshin from the trees, it will mean that there has been no war on that stretch of ground in that period of time.

(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun Staff Writer Shinichi Fujiwara.)