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First Day of School February 28, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Photos.
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Today Jojo and I started our internship at Nakanishi Elementary School in Urasoe. We’re assistant teaching the English class along with another intern from Norway, working under the main teacher who is a Malaysian Australian. Together we make quite the pack of gaijin.

But if today is at all indicative of the rest of the month, “working” really means playing games all day. The English class, which each grade cycles through for one hour per week, is more like playtime — the kids don’t have desks, and one Japanese teacher spelled out hiragana words with his butt.

So for today’s fourth-grade lessons, we played a game saying our birthdays. After a tea-and-broccoli break and a lunch break in the staff room, we went to second-grade P.E. and played tag, or as they call it, oni gokko — Devil’s play.

Kawaii ne? Some are really shy, but many are so excited to see foreigners. When I walked through the school after lunch, it was to a chorus of “Hello!” “Elisa-sensei!” “Bye bye!”

Andagi Pop February 27, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Food and Drink, Music.
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This guy lured me in with his andagi pops (Okinawan donuts on a stick), but I stayed for his sanshin playing. His name is Yosh-san, he was practicing out of beginner’s music book, and his sesame-coated andagi were the best.

Yosh-san let me record a song called “Kyoku Mae,” and he gave us free donuts. Never quite able to shake my old publicity habits, I gave him a KDVS sticker in return.

Earthquake! February 26, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Photos.
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At about 5:30 this morning we woke up to our beds shaking like crazy and our hotel swaying. According to this website, the epicenter of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake was about 50 miles off the coast of where we’re staying now, in the capital city of Naha.

Even though we’re Northern California kids, this was the strongest and longest earthquake we’ve ever experienced. As Jojo ran down 10 flights of stairs, I fell back asleep. No damage done near us except for maybe some of our moms’ pottery projects and the air conditioning next door.

AC repairs by crane right outside our window

So we survived our first Japanese natural disaster. Now we wait for Gojira.

ピザ PHENOMENAL February 25, 2010

Posted by Jojo in Food and Drink.
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Last week I ordered a three-cheese pizza over the phone when I was actually trying to order three cheese pizzas. Since then, I’ve come a long way. Here we are at Pizza Sky enjoying some artisan pies and a beautiful view.

Dining with us was Mr. Hal Brandel, co-owner of Caffe Trieste in the East Bay, who has traveled the world in search of the fundamentals of the perfect pizza. He said there was a bit too much cheese, but the crust was “phenomenal.”

The Fabric of Their Lives February 24, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Other Arts.
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Today we went to the small northern town of Kijoka, which is renowned for the production of bashofu textiles. This 8-century-old art form is now preserved by some badass octogenarian women who still create this unique cloth without mechanical aide (minus a simple loom).

It’s a collaborative process between a whole community of women, and it starts with these banana (basho) trees. The fibers from the trunks are stripped and separated into coarse threads.

The fibers get boiled down in special solutions of wood ash, rice gruel and awamori (Okinawan sake). Below they are dyed with Okinawan indigo grass, but most are kept the natural brown.

Weaving into designs like this is a very tedious task. In one year, a single woman could produce only enough cloth for three kimonos.

It’s no wonder the Japanese government deemed bashofu an “Important Intangible Cultural Property.” I did wonder, though, how so many people are motivated to put so much time and manual labor into such a small (albeit beautiful) end product.

But this celebrated folk art, just like Okinawa’s folk music, reflects a sense of communal functionality and cooperation. I figure as long as you’ve got good company, you could dedicate yourself to anything — especially if it’s preserving a cultural tradition.

Folk-future Fusion February 23, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music, Photos.
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Now we’re in Onna, on the coast of the East China Sea. Thanks to golf course fertilizer, farm fertilizer and some open sewers, this is by far the smelliest place I’ve ever been.

But there are some cool little shops here, including this kitschy junk store with an exterior paint job I just couldn’t resist.

Among camo gear, fake USA sports jerseys and beni imo (sweet potato) Kit Kats were a few Okinawan music CDs. I got this one, Respect Record Presents Okinawa Best Song Collection, because it totally looks like a Ubiquity Records record, doesn’t it?

It’s a mix of traditional folk songs and modernized electro-type versions. (To try to tie this together,) it’s kind of representative of this town: brand new Western-style resorts on one side of the highway, run-down fishing shops and houses connected by dank alleyways on the other. This song combines traditional sanshin and vocals with modern production and instrumentation.

チョンチョンキジムナ (Chon Chon Kizamuna)
Remixed by Takuji a.k.a. Geetek

In My Room February 22, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Music.
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Here’s a little homage to Jay Reatard and Shaun White:

Thanks to my brother Allan for the video!

Okinawa City International Festival February 21, 2010

Posted by Jojo in Music, Photos.
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Yesterday I played my first show in Okinawa. The 20th “Annyal” Okinawa City International Festival was one of my best-attended gigs yet, topping most of the shows my band played at South By Southwest music festival in Austin.

The whole experience was pretty surreal since no one really understood what I was saying or singing about, but comforting since they didn’t notice when I messed up. It was awesome to say the least! I also got paid ¥3,000.

Most of the people there actually came to see What Up Dansu Kuru. They were great.

Afterward we all headed over to Michiko’s parents’ house for lunch and I played another show for her extended family in their front yard. Truly the best show ever! I offered all of the kiddies free guitar lessons, but they were all shy and only one kid came up and tried. To be fair, I would think some foreigner with a pink guitar was pretty weird, too.

Tidepoolin’ February 21, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Photos.
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Coral beach and more seawall jacks in Yonebaru.
Fun to explore until Jojo noticed the sewage pipe spilling out.

Gnarly blowfish caught in an abandoned crab trap.

Crossed a few sweet bridges from island to island,
ending up on Ikei to explore moon rocks and coral tidepools.

Mini canyon.

Awesome fish that reminded me of axolotyls, worming around.

Court Music Concert February 21, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Music.
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Okinawa’s geographic location between mainland Japan, Southeast Asia, Korea and Taiwan makes it an ideal position for the U.S. Armed Forces. But more importantly, the strategic position allows pan-Asian influence on the music. We got to see examples of the resulting product last night at the Korinza theater in Koza, a free concert of traditional Okinawan court music and dance.

The plucked sanshin came from China to Japan via the Ryukyus (and later evolved into the better-know shamisen). The Japanese koto zither bares strong resemblance to the Korean kayageum (conflicting stories on which one came first). Certain dance costumes are borrowed from the Chinese, and certain emphatic hand movements are borrowed from Indonesia.

The opening piece featured 39 sanshins/singers, nine kotos, one shakuhachi bamboo flute, one fiddle and one drummer.

My favorite piece was with a smaller ensemble and these two dancers. Our friend Michiko-san told us it’s a fishing song from Onna Village (where we moved to today). The sanshins and kotos play in unison, and the dancers correlate most with the drums.

All the songs were sung in hogen, the native Okinawan language. It’s no longer taught in schools and has largely fallen out of everyday use, so probably this is the only medium in which the dialect will survive.