Halloween on Peace Street

Koki and I checked out of our hotel rooms (but left our baggage with the front desk) and set off on the municipal railway to downtown Naha City and the immense, old, indoor southeast Asian style marketplace where we could visit Yoko Nema’s shop, Tata Bazaar. Over one of the market’s many entrances, a sign bearing the market’s name, Hewa Dori, which translates to “Peace Street.”

Illuminated by skylights, a labyrinth of hallways lined with shops goes on for several city blocks.

It’s Halloween, and wee Okinawan goblins campaign for candy from the shopkeepers and line up for group pictures in the hallways of the marketplace.

The meat market has a huge mask hanging even when it’s not Halloween. Up the escalator is a food court offering many Okinawan and Japanese dishes. It was there I first ate ika sumi soup (squid ink soup) and a rich tofu made from peanut milk.

Rainbow-colored parrotfish abound on Okinawa, a coral island. The parrotfish has a powerful jaw made for scraping algae and other small creatures off of coral, and possesses the ability to change gender. When the alpha male fish of a harem dies, the alpha female fish will become male and lead the school.

One of the pickle merchants kept plying us with samples, not only until we bought from her, but afterward as well. I tasted one I really liked and bought a small container of it. Later on, Koki asked me if I knew what it was made from. I did not. Koki told me it was made from jellyfish and pig’s ear. Okinawans particularly enjoy pig’s face, and many were displayed for sale in the meat market.

Next we stopped by a shop selling medicinal supplies. Black coils of dried sea snake, reputed to be excellent for healing problems with the eyes, hang above the packaged goods on the right.

A row of sanshin, the three-stringed Okinawan banjo, a descendant of the Chinese three-stringed lute, the sanxian. Like the sanxian, the sanchin has a snake skin covered resonator, in contrast with their larger Japanese descendant, the shamisen, which is traditionally covered with the skin of a cat or dog. All three instruments have three strings – and the names of all three instruments mean “three strings.”

Tata Bazaar’s colorful sign and merchandise welcome the passer-by. Yoko buys all of the merchandise herself, frequently traveling all over Southeast Asia and India. Some of it she designs and has manufactured by artisans in the countries she visits. This is definitely my kind of candy store!

Yoko and Tatsuya Nema welcome me and Koki Aso to their store. I had just gotten paid the night before for my festival gigs, and could hardly wait to spend some of my yen in their store, but that didn’t stop them from showering me with gifts!

Yoko drew a whole line of postcards featuring goya (bitter melons), the favorite vegetable of Okinawa. In this drawing, a trio of goya plays traditional Okinawan instruments (including a shansin), and a troupe of goya perform an Okinawan folk dance.

I am honored to report that at Tata Bazaar in Naha City, Okinawa, you can buy the Japanese edition of Living on the Earth, the Japanese releases of Music from Living on the Earth and Living in Hawaii Style, and my own release of What Living’s All About. And, as soon as Yoko can get the size XL organic cotton Living on the Earth t-shirts resized to more popular Asian sizes (like S, M and L), she’ll have some of them on the shelf, too. Now Hawaii, there’s a place you can sell t-shirts in size XXXL, but probably not with a naked lady on them.

(Three weeks later) Wow, Yoko just emailed me this photo. She made a scaled down t-shirt! And she models it gorgeously.

Goodbye Donto-in

The next day after the Soul of Donto concert, Sachiho threw an informal goodbye party at Donto-in for the musicians who came from Tokyo (and Aso Mountain in Kiushu) to play in the show (and who had played in a much larger Soul of Donto concert in Tokyo last summer). She began by arranging flowers for the altar, unwrapping all the packages of cookies and candy that had been amassing as house gifts on the altar and placing them on plates, and then arranging drinks and plates of sashimi and vegetable dishes on the dining table.

She lighted the sconces and unveiled the White Tara thanka.

At sunset, people gathered on the front porch, at the dining table, and in the altar room and passed around the various bottles and plates of food. Nonoa and Song Matsui played a singing and hand slapping game with some of the adults. Auta Matsui and Nala Kudomi hung out together and laughed a lot.

Considering that I don’t speak Japanese (YET!), I had a wonderful time with these new friends. I helped Kameya Matsui (next to me) with her English homework (Koki said not to tell her the answers so she’d have to figure them out, but I couldn’t help it). Toward the end of the evening, Kawashi drove Koki and me up to Naha City, where we each had a free hotel room that came with our round trip tickets from Tokyo, and, since we planned to sightsee in Naha City the next day until our evening flight back to Tokyo, this proved to be very convenient. On the top floor of this brand new hotel were bathhouses for men and for women, so, as soon as I got my luggage into my room, I threw on a robe and went up in the elevator to have a long, hot soak. The next morning, I soaked again. My inner monkey was happy.

Soul of Donto Festival in Okinawa City

Having just coordinated, performed at numerous times, and taught hula at a two-day music festival, the amazing Sachiho is ready to rehearse, perform and be the spiritual center of a rock concert honoring her late husband Donto at a large theatre in Okinawa City. It’s an all-star cast backstage in the women’s dressing room before our rehearsal: First row, Sachiho Kojima, me, Sandii Manumele (hula teacher to 600 students in Tokyo, choreographer of the hula to Donto’s “Nami,” and singer of pop and Hawaiian music who can’t even remember how many CDs she’s recorded). Second row, Kuri (Sandii’s assistant, a fabulous hula dancer), Yoko Nema, Misako Koja (legendary Okinawan singer, who has also released some huge number of recordings, three of which she gave me. They are lovely!), Hiromi Kondo, and punk/rock/ska singer Yoko Utsumi.  Sandii invited me to visit her, and we traded CDs, too.

We rehearsed the entire show. My five minutes of fame came somewhere in the middle of the show, when the huge booming sounds of the rock bass, drums, electric guitar and screaming vocals stopped, and the only sound was me playing Hau’oli La Hanau on a four-string soprano ukulele and gently singing. On the second verse, Sachiho, Yoko and Hiromi’s trio, Amana, joined me vocally and instrumentally. I came out again for the grand finale, inwhich international pop star Miya (in sunglasses and white t-shirt; he’s got mega-hits in Latin America and southeast Asia, and pipes like an opera tenor) sang an Okinawan song in duet with Misako Koja, while all of us other women in the first photo sang backup, laughed and danced around. In this rehearsal shot, I’m the fifth one from the right, looking right at the camera. Donto’s original band, piano, bass and drum, performed, along with Donto’s son Lakita on electric guitar, Donto’s singer/rhythm guitarist/drummer friend Roku Matsui, and a couple more guys on accordion and washboard, and a famous rock lead guitarist from Tokyo.

Yes, OF COURSE there was a shrine at the theatre. Sachiho set it up backstage, with two photos of Donto, one in full Okinawan garb with sanshin (three stringed Okinawan banjo), and one as he looked in Hawaii just before being cremated at age 37. Donto was not Okinawan, but when he moved the family to Okinawa, he embraced it with the same enthusiasm with which he did everything else.

Other than my two moments on stage, I sat with Misako, her daughter and grandson, and watched the show from a tunnel to the left of the first rows. The show opened with Sandii chanting to Pele while Kuri danced hula kahiko. Later in the program, Sandii danced an ‘auana hula in her holoku. I loved the moment when Miya lifted up Lakita on his shoulders, football victory style, and Lakita laughed and continued to play his electric guitar. Donto would have done that. How do I know? Because, before the concert, we were treated to a documentary of Donto’s performances from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. He dressed in super-creative semi-drag and danced like mad, whipping the crowds into a frenzy. He wrote his songs, he designed his costumes, he sang and played lead guitar. He was a rock god by anyone’s estimation. Sachiho met him when she interviewed him on her radio show, back in the days when she was leading Japan’s first all-girl punk band, Zelda. After they had two sons, they got into a more natural and spiritual bag, and moved to Okinawa.

Even seven years after his death, the soul of Donto brought the audience to its feet, waving their arms and singing along to his wonderful songs. Some of his tunes had English lyrics mixed in with Japanese, for example, his love song to Sachiho, “So precious, you are so precious, so precious…” And, as you would expect, the singers onstage pointed their mics to the audience to capture their singing for a couple of lines, the lighting guys then lit up the audience, and that’s how I got this photo without a flash.

After the show, everyone who had been on stage gathered backstage for a toast. The kewl dude with the hand jive and the tie-dyed Grateful Dead dancing bear shirt was Donto’s bass player. Under his arm he carries the fake leopard skin cowboy hat he wore on stage. I am clueless as to why he is wearing a huge star of David, but he’s not the only hip Japanese person I’ve seen wearing one.  I read that it is one of the magical symbols used in Japanese anime movies. The other guy is Roku Matsui, and I think the girl in the hat is his daughter, Kameya Matsui.

Amana’s manager, known by her surname, Kawashima, who had single-handedly produced the show, took all of us, performers and stage hands, out to dinner at a traditional Okinawan restaurant in Naha City that same evening. The English-speaking stage manager made me get my Pro Series Traveler Guitar out of Hiromi’s van and show it to all the stagehands, who loved it.

Happy Flower Beach Party, Day Two

What is the first thing I thought when I woke up at Heaven Beach? You’re right if you guessed “Get in the ocean!” The warm, clear, blue water buoyed me as I glided along, feeling, “Yes. Yes. Yes. This is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. I love this. I really, really love this.”

Sachiho taught a group of people to hula to Donto’s famous song “Nami.” The cool-looking red and white building in the back is the beachfront bar, Heaven.

Later, I discovered that sumo wrestling is not just for obese persons. Skinny hippies like to wrestle, too. I even saw one round of girls wrestling.

For less athletically-inclined festival goers, there was plenty of shopping, too.

And those who had drummed and danced ‘til dawn the night before could always snooze away the afternoon on the hammock porch.

A couple of very creative young DJs at one of the picnic tables created electronic collages thoughout the afternoon, and their friends danced with poi balls, especially enchanting one very small boy.

Yoko Nema told me she’d wanted to talk with me so much when she came to Hawaii in 2002 that she’d been studying English since the last time we met. I was blown away; the wall between our two languages is formidable, and I’ve been intimidated by it for many years. I begged her to interpret for me during my performance that evening, and she very graciously obliged me.

One of the first acts of the afternoon: an all-girl rock band from Osaka.

Yu Soda, an amazing young musician from Tokyo, performed an entirely improvised set, masterfully playing an enormous variety of wind and percussion instruments against a recording of the sound of the wind.

At sunset, I played a set combining songs from all three of my CDs.

Next Amana played. Their sound joins Hiromi’s African rhythms and exotic instruments with Yoko’s harmonium and bhajans (holy chants in Sanskrit), and Sachiho’s lively bass guitar (she was the leader/bass player of Zelda, a famous all-girl punk band in Tokyo in the ‘80’s) and Steiner harp (a lap-held woodframe harp invented by Rudoph Steiner). Sometimes all three women play djembe (hand drums). They all sing, and they write and arrange songs together.

Sachiho called me up to play Hau’oli La Hanau, the opening song from my Hawaiian CD, Living in Hawaii Style, with Amana. We dedicated the song to Donto.

A ska band got the crowd dancing…

…and an even bigger ska band got them dancing even more.

The Matsui family rocked out, with Roku singing and playing guitar, and Kameya, age 15, playing bass guitar. They played some of Donto’s songs in his honor. Roku has been teaching his kids to play musical instruments from the time they are quite young. He also told me that all five were born at home, delivered using the directions from the birth page of Living on the Earth (!!!)

Auta Matsui, at age 12, played rock and roll trap drums better than lots of adult pros I’ve heard. Nala, Sachiho’s 12 year old son, blew away the crowd singing one of Donto’s songs with the Matsuis, but, alas, I missed the photo-op. As you can well imagine, the two boys are best friends.

The next morning, the tents and vans slowly disappeared, and the tipis came down. The organizers of the festival carried the altar objects from the tipi to the dragon rock at the end of the beach for a closing ceremony.

After the ceremony, Yu Soda carried the bamboo branches from the altar to the ocean and released them. Afterwards, he and his partner Saori walked with me up the beach for a while, and we vowed to meet again next year.

Happy Flower Beach Party, Day One

The next day Hiromi drove us up to Nago, in the northern part of Okinawa, to camp and make music at the Happy Flower Beach Party music festival, right on a white sand beach on a huge, very calm bay. Clouds gathered, but no rain fell on the freaks camped in tents, hammocks and vans all around a distinctly boho beachfront bar called Heaven. The encampment included a communal kitchen, and it’s even got a co-ed bathhouse.

We arrived just in time to see a tipi-raising, that is, a tipi on bamboo poles that had been hand-sewn by Tako Matsui, the mom of the five musical children with whom we’d been bunking at Donto-in.

And yes, of course there is a shrine at Happy Flower Beach Party. It’s inside one of Tako’s tipis.

Tako and Roku Matsui’s eldest child, Kameya (in pink), who plays electric bass guitar, was selling tickets, souvenirs, and CDs at the gate of the festival. Instead of stamping ink on your hand to prove right of entry, Kameya presented each celebrant with a necklace comprised of a Heaven Beach seashell strung on a piece of yarn made from recycled saris. It’s the yarn of choice for hipsters everywhere.

Down the beach from Heaven I saw a couple of divinely funky beach shacks made from shipping containers. Yes, I thought. I could get used to this.

Actually, I stayed both nights in a shabby chic little beach shack, which Sachiho rented for me as a gift.

Just like the parking lot vendors at Grateful Dead concerts, I thought when I saw cafes and craft shops opening under tents all over the beach, one offering o-den (a bliss-inducing Japanese soup), another offering Nepalese curry, another macrobiotic foods, and another an Okinawan stew. I had a fish taco the second night, and the vendors made the tortilla by hand while I watched.

At sundown, Rie and her husband opened the show with sweet spiritual songs.

The children of the Amana band have their own band. They all sing; Sachiho’s son Lakita at age 16 already has the makings of a rock star. Yoko’s daughter Seina has loads of style, wit and charisma. And Hiromi’s daughter Tapiwa is breathtakingly gorgeous, blending the grace and beauty of Japan and Zimbabwe in one form.

Hiromi’s African band, Dinkadunk, played a wild set that got everybody dancing. Toshi Arayama sang, yelped, played flute, and kept a spirited patter going; Masaha Tahara provided the texture with African electric guitar riffs, and Hiromi Kondo kept the whole thing perculating with hand drums, electrically amplified mbira and a mournful keyboard wind instrument called a pianica. With so many other instruments going, Hiromi had to get another woman to play the balaphone. Sachiho joined them on bass and I think they had a trap drummer, too. The band is in its fourteenth year, and just released the loveliest meditative music CD imaginable, called Dinkadunk 2.

The Beach Party really got happy dancing to Dinkadunk.

How do you follow an act like that? When punker Yoko Utsumi took the stage as a solo following Dinkadunk, I found out. You sing with a voice that shakes the heavens and bring the crowd to its knees.

Yoko will be singing with the late legendary rock star Donto’s former bandmates at the big Soul of Donto rock concert the night after tomorrow at a theatre in Okinawa City. We got a little taste of that, too, with Donto’s pianist and drummer, plus Donto’s wife Sachiho on bass, Donto’s son Lakita on lead guitar, and Donto’s buddy Roku Matsui singing with Yoko, Donto’s greatest hits. Donto and Sachiho created the first Happy Flower Beach Party ten years ago, and Sachiho has continued to coordinate them since his death in 2001.

After the show, happy people drummed and danced on the beach into the wee hours.

Our Tour of Tamagusuku

Hiromi leads us within the castle ruins on a hilltop in Tamagusuku, Okinawa. She explains that the castle was built of coral, like the island itself, but it looks a lot like the lava temple ruins (heiau) of Hawaii.

Everywhere I go in Japan, my friends stop and offer reverance at shrines, large and small, and I always join them. So, I am not surprised that, at the foot of the hill onwhich the castle ruins rest, we all stop to offer prayers at a small forest shrine.

The entrance to the castle looks out and down upon verdant countryside, including a wind farm.

View from the castle of the coastline, including Donto-in, which is the house closest to the ocean on the upper road around the hill.

More of the view from the castle ruins, of the ocean and Ou Island.

On one side of the castle, a deep and forested abyss.

Our next stop, Nakandakari Hiijaa, a spring developed as a communal water source, built of limestone in traditional Okinawan style in 1912-13. It includes men’s and women’s bathing areas, vegetable washing areas, laundry areas, and, of course, a shrine. Destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, it was partially restored in the 1960’s and fully restored in 2004.

The wonderful old tree at the Nakandakari Hiijaa compound, with a birdsnest fern in its boughs.

Next Hiromi shows us a verdant path to Hyahuna Beach, another sacred place in Tamagusuku.

Rising from the ocean is a stone marking where the goddess who was the mother of the Okinawan people first came to shore. I am wearing a t-shirt that Rina Usuki hand printed, and a skirt that Mayumi Hirai made. I am coming ashore, too.

Coral and shells abound on the beaches of Okinawa.

Kitesurfers love Hyahuna beach.

Just inland from where the kitesurfers sail is an old shrine commemorating the bird who brought rice stalks to Okinawa, beginning rice cultivation in both Okinawa and Japan, and the wealth it created.

At sunset we drive around tiny Ou Island, a fishing village isle connectd to Tamagusuku by a bridge.

For our dinner we stop at Hiromi’s favorite tempura stand, the only one on Ou Island, where we had tempura sea vegetables, squid and fish. Tempura, it turns out, is an elegant Japanese adaptation of a recipe brought by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, who prepared batter-fried fish for Lent.

Lunch at Hiromi Kondo’s house in Nanjo town

On our second day in Okinawa, Hiromi Kondo drives over to Donto-in and invites me and Koki to have lunch at her home, after which she will take us on a tour of the local area. We are thrilled! Hiromi moved to Okinawa not long after her daughter was born, 16 years ago, after her apprenceship as a drummer/percussionist in Zimbabwe. She plays hand drums, kalimba and balaphone, with two bands in Okinawa, Amana, and Dinkadunk, an African-influenced ensemble that performs both meditational and dance music. I can’t imagine anyone more generous, gentle and kind than Hiromi.

Perched on the crest of a hill, and simply built of cement bricks with a tin roof, Hiromi’s house is guarded by her pet duck.

Next to the front door, a mask from Africa.

Inside, all is elegant simplicity with a kind of soulful decay, what Japanese call wabi-sabi, and what Americans call shabby chic. It makes wall to wall carpeting and painted sheetrock look spiritually dead by comparison, which, I think, they are.

A painted cloth from Africa defines Hiromi’s sleeping quarters.

Baskets and other folk art on the wall over Hiromi’s woodstove.

Hiromi’s kitchen and dining room, where we sat with her and her friend Matsuko, who owns a local gift store, and who had come by to pick up a load of…

Hiromi’s homemade tropical herbal soaps, beautifully wrapped with her own graphic designs!

Here’s our lunch: a vegetable and chicken soup, a green salad with sea grapes in it, slices of lotus root stuffed with mustard paste, sandwiches, bread and pastry from the local (famous) bakery, freshly baked sweet manju (a soft bun filled with sweet red bean paste) and black tea.

After lunch we wandered out to Hiromi’s car for our tour of Tamagusuku. Hiromi’s neighbor across the road lives in a traditional Okinawan style house. Cement block construction makes sense in an area beset with typhoons.

Welcome to Donto-in

A couple of days after Koki and I returned from Doshi to his home in Hayama, we caught an early morning flight from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Naha City, Okinawa. Koki pointed out the window soon after take-off. There, rising above the clouds, we espied the summit of Mount Fuji. My beloved friends from the goddess trance band Amana met us at the airport. I wept with joy to see Yoko Nema and Sachiho Kojima, and their manager, Kawashima, again. Soon Koki and I were peeling off our warm winter clothes and acclimating to the tropical heat of Okinawa.

Kawashi drove us down to Tamagusuku in the south of the island, to the octagonal house Sachiho built as a temple in memory of her rock star husband Donto, who died suddenly at the age of 37 in January 2001 on Hawaii Island of a brain aneurism after watching a hula performance dedicated to the volcano goddess Pele by the nationally famous Halau O Kekuhi at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

When I met Sachiho in 2002 through Seawest Studio, where we had each recorded a CD, I participated in creating a memorial for Donto at the largest Buddhist temple in Hilo, and I coordinated a tour afterwards for Amana on the Big Island, to defray some of the expense of the memorial. That was the important third year memorial. Now, here I am again, just in time for the important seventh year memorial.

Hiromi Kondo, the third member of Amana, came down to meet us at Donto-in. The Matsui family, visiting from their forest home at Aso Mountain on Kiushu Island, and staying at Donto-in, greeted us as well. They, too, will participate in the two festivals that the Amana team is organizing the following weekend.

Sachiho places our small gifts upon the altar to Donto in the main room. The wave shaped cross piece below the altar recalls Donto’s famous song Nami (wave). The altar includes a Tibetan bell, a Shinto paper prayer, a statue of the merciful goddess Kannon (Kuan Yin), a Thanka of White Tara, a bowl gong and a crystal ball.

The ceiling of the greatroom with its skylight, a perfect mandala. Below the floor, directly below the skylight, the family buried a meteor in the foundation, truly a fitting memorial for a rock star.

Through the elegant double front door, a view of Ou Island and the ocean. Above the door, Tibetan temple hangings and a Native American dream catcher.

Even the furo bath has a magnificent ocean view, a skylight and flagstone on the floor. So how do ten people share a single bathtub? Each day the tub is filled with warm water, and people take turns bathing themselves on the flagstone, pouring warm water over themselves from a large bowl. In that way, one tub full of water serves ten.

I set off on a walk to get a better look at Ou Island and the harbor. Along the way I pass a small tea house made from a shipping container.

Now I’m in the habit of photographing the man hole covers in each community I visit. This one shows a bird bringing the first rice stalks to Tamagusuku, initiating rice cultivation in Okinawa.

Along the side of a cement fence, a sign reading “One Love.”

Beside the road, a family vault of an important family in the area, perhaps the owners the local sugar plantation.

At last I reach the harbor and look across at Ou Island.