Home > News
  print button email button

Friday, May 19, 2000


Summit elates Osaka's Okinawans

Staff writer

OSAKA -- Osaka lost the bid for the 2000 Group of Eight summit to Okinawa, shocking and disappointing many local business and political leaders who had believed their city was the clear favorite.

But the news was greeted with enthusiasm by one group in Osaka -- those who live in Taisho Ward, home to one of the largest concentrations of Okinawans in the country.

Since Nago, in northern Okinawa, was chosen over heavily favored Osaka last year, the Okinawan community of Taisho, which numbers about 20,000 people who claim Okinawa as their home, has begun to spruce up what is still a working-class neighborhood.

New shops and restaurants featuring Okinawan cuisine, pottery and crafts have opened or been refurbished.

Near JR Taisho Station, signs can be seen heralding the summit, and many stores carry T-shirts with the summit logo emblazoned on the front.

"We were happy to hear Okinawa had been chosen for the leader's summit. There is a great deal of pride among the Okinawa residents of Osaka that Nago was chosen," said Michiko Heianzan, owner of an Okinawan specialty shop next to the station.

On display are a variety of items. The most popular, though, are foodstuffs.

"The Okinawan diet is quite different in many ways from a traditional Japanese diet," she explained. That is evidenced by the selection of groceries that are decidedly non-Japanese: peanut butter and five varieties of Spam, the all-American meat.

"Okinawans eat a lot of pork. So it was natural that Spam should become so popular, thanks to the U.S. military presence," Heianzan said.

Taisho Ward sits on the edge of Osaka Bay and is home to a large number of lumber and pulp mills.

A trip along the canals beside the bay reveals thousands of log booms, waiting to be processed. It was logs that first brought Okinawans to the area.

"In the early Showa Era, the lumber industry in Osaka was booming. But the work was low-paying, hard and dangerous, and it was difficult for companies to find ordinary Japanese to do the work," said Yasuko Kinjo, who works at the Osaka Okinawa Hall and teaches traditional Okinawan music and dance.

"As a result, Osaka pulp manufacturers had to look elsewhere for labor," she said. "Okinawans were willing to do the work."

Today, most Okinawans work in a variety of small and medium-size firms in the area, as well as major businesses, and Kinjo said most have integrated into the community.

"I would say that today, there's little job discrimination compared with what it was like a half-century ago," Kinjo said.

Much like the ethnic Korean community in the city's Tsuruhashi district, Taisho's Okinawan community retains a strong sense of identity.

Over the past few years, the national popularity of Okinawan pop singers has led to an increasing number of youths wanting to study traditional Okinawan dance and music, Kinjo said.

"Older Okinawans, who remember when local employers wouldn't hire you if you were Korean or Okinawan, take a private pride in their culture. Younger, second- and third-generation Okinawans are much more open about their heritage," Kinjo said.

One of the area's most popular venues for celebrating Okinawan culture is Uruma Goten, a combination restaurant/performance venue.

Each night, the owner, Kiyomi Kamikawa, serves up a variety of traditional Okinawan dishes (but no Spam), before joining a singer/"taiko" drum player and a shamisen player on stage for an evening of traditional Okinawan ballads.

"We've seen the popularity of the restaurant grow over the past few years, and people come from all over the Kansai region," he said.

There is usually a minimal cover charge of around 500 yen for the live performance, which consists of two sets of about one hour each and karaoke.

Many of the patrons are regulars, and the evening caps off with customers dancing to shamisen and taiko.

Although the Taisho community is well-organized, members of the Okinawan community emphasized that they were not as structured as similar communities in other parts of Japan.

"There are nationwide societies of Okinawans. Some are quite wealthy and have lots of planned activities, newsletters and such. The Taisho community is more laid back, and communicates more by word of mouth because we don't have a lot of money. But there is a large number of Okinawan cultural events happening here, and, with the upcoming summit, that number will increase," said Kinjo.

"The summit will raise awareness of Okinawa and its culture, which will benefit all Okinawans, whether they live in Taisho or somewhere else," Heianzan said.

We welcome your opinions. Click to send a message to the editor.

The Japan Times

Article 9 of 9 in National news


Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.