CNN World News

Okinawa's culture not well-known to outsiders

Okinawan woman

November 3, 1995
Web posted at: 3:20 p.m. EST (2020 GMT)

From Correspondent May Lee

OKINAWA, Japan (CNN) -- Few outsiders know much about Okinawa except that it's Japan's southernmost island. But it's an island that wasn't always a part of Japan and has its own unique culture.

Okinawans have their own distinctive music (204K AIFF sound or 204K WAV sound), their own unique language, and their own steadfast traditions which began hundreds of years ago when Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom, the Island Kingdom. (Multimedia presentation - 2.1M QuickTime movie)

From the late 1300s and for the next 400 years, Ryukyu was its own nation, ruled by royalty. It was a prosperous time when trade flourished with China, Japan, Korea and the East Indies. It was a time when peace and stability were embraced. Ryukyu village is a tourist spot in Okinawa. Visitors can take a look at what life used to be like on the island long before it became part of Japan and before U.S. forces ever stepped foot on Okinawan soil. Although most of what's seen at the village isn't part of life today, some traditions have lasted through the years.


Weaving is still a craft that Okinawans pride themselves on. Wooden looms are used to create designs and patterns that reflect the simplicity of Okinawa.

sugar fields

Growing sugar cane is another long-standing tradition on the island. The sweet crop is its largest agricultural export. To this day, much of the backbreaking work is still painstakingly done by hand.

The hands of old fishermen have had their share of labor, not in the fields, but out in the open sea. They are the fishermen of Yomitan Village in Okinawa. Their dark and rugged faces show the signs of some wear and tear over the years but for these veterans of the sea, fishing is what they know and what they love.

"I'm proud to be a fisherman because I feel I'm part of nature," said a fisherman.

"It's nice to be on the boat every day and see familiar faces. It's good for my health too," smiled another man.

The enjoyment helps take the sting out of days when the catch is disappointing. On a good day, these fisherman can catch nearly a ton of fish.

Sixty-eight year old Tokusuke Noha, admits the life of a fisherman is a modest one, but complaints are few.

loin statues

"It's safe in Yomitan," said Noha. "We can get fresh air and it's a comfortable place to live. The big cities are always bustling, but Yomitan is quiet and peaceful,"

But that peace and quiet has been interrupted in recent days because of the escalating tension between Okinawans and the U.S. military. Noha, who at age 18 fought in the battle of Okinawa, when one in four islanders died, hasn't allowed bitterness or resentment to cloud his perspective.

"Even though we had a war, it's long been over," said Noha. "Personal emotions should not get in the way of resolving issues. There is a saying in Japan, 'yesterdays enemy is today's friend.'"

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