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20 July 2022

Novel: "Henoko Bar, Stars and Stripes" Chapter 3 "Tinsagunu Hana (Phoenix Flower)"

In Henoko, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture, shaken by the issue of the construction of a new U.S. military base, a female singer time slips to the time in the midst of the Vietnam War. What is the Henoko New Base Problem? What is the Vietnam War? What is America? What is Okinawa?


A short story in 9 chapters. Each chapter features famous songs from Japan, the United States and Okinawa.


Please read from Chapter 1. 


The next morning, Naomi checked her smartphone. She was curious if she hadn't received anything from Genjiro. There were no recorded message, no incoming calls, and no emails. He hadn't left her any messages since last night. Did he dump her completely?


Come to think of it, she didn't know much about Genjiro. He aspires to be a human rights lawyer and said that he wants to take the initiative in dealing with local issues in Okinawa, so she knew that he had a strong sense of justice. Was he something too serious about this issue, or did she look unserious and make him angry?


Naomi was having breakfast at the inn thinking about how to deal with him. It's almost 9 a.m. and the other guests have finished their meals and headed to a sit-in in front of the gate. Alone, while eating the prepared breakfast, she watched the morning news on the TV in the cafeteria.


This was the news of the upcoming gubernatorial election. This was the biggest problem in Okinawa. It has to do with the construction of the new Henoko Air Base. Although the base was a relocation destination for Futenma Air Base, it had the function of a military port that was not found at Futenma Air Base, and it was called a "new base" locally because it was rather a reinforcement of the functions of the U.S. military base. That is what she learned from Genjiro.


The former governor died suddenly of illness before completing his term until October, but the search for a candidate for governor to inherit the former governor's will, "Preventing the construction of the new Henoko Air Base, closing the U.S. Marine Corps Base Futenma and relocating it outside the prefecture," has become the hottest topic in Okinawa prefectural government. Both the prefectural government’s assembly ruling parties and the opposition parties, whose position was promoting the construction of the new base receiving support from the Japanese central government, are proceeding with the selection process.


The ruling parties must choose candidates to oppose the construction plan. The news report picked up one person who was considered a leading figure. This was Kenny Miyagi, one of the members of the National Assembly (Diet, Parliament) in Okinawa Prefecture constituencies. He was a man over sixty years old, with a dark skin, and dignified look.


Naomi knew him very well. That's because he was famous as the first member of the Japan Congress to inherit the blood of a Black American. His mother, who was Okinawan native, and his father was a U.S. military officer stationed in Okinawa before Okinawa returned to Japan in 1972. The two separated before they could get married. His father returned home shortly after Kenny's birth. He never saw his father and grew up with his mother. He moved to the mainland from his high schoolhood and was once active as a musician.


After that, he returned to Okinawa because he wanted to contribute to his homeland, Okinawa and became a member of the prefectural assembly, and then became a member of the Diet from Okinawa. Because of his mixed race and dark skin, Naomi have heard stories of hardships that he has continued to be discriminated against both in Okinawa and on the mainland. She once heard Yuriko Koike, a former member of the Diet and current governor of Tokyo, hurl insults at a Diet committee meeting when she was a Diet member, such as "Do you speak Japanese?"


Kenney said in an interview with a TV reporter.


"I have a dream, a dream to contribute to Okinawa and to turn it into a better island. Because of that, I even became a member of the Diet. And now may be the time to meet your expectations even more. I'd like to consider it carefully."


The news reported his comment as a positive response. Naomi had a fondness for Kenny. She thought the it was great a leader who had the idea of overcoming such discrimination while experiencing it and contributed to society by making use of such experience. In the United States, Mr. Obama, who was of mixed Black and White descent, once became President. However, there was also a backlash that followed with the inauguration of a white supremacist named Donald Trump as president.


Still, she thought there shouldn’t be any racism anywhere in the world.


She decided to spend time alone in her room, playing guitar and singing. Genjiro didn't pick her up and she was bored all day. She didn’t even bother to go to the gate and participate in the sit-in. She sympathized with the anti-base movement, but She didn't feel like going to the front of the gate unless she was with Genjiro.


Then an old woman who ran the inn came to her room. She was called "Obaa (Grandma)" and liked by everyone.


"Naomi-san, you said you were good at music. Why not you play and sing Okinawan music."


"Obaa, yes, with pleasure," she replied.


The old lady was a very good-natured old woman. She delights the guests of the inn and cook delicious meals in the morning and evening. She was an old woman born in Henoko and raised in Henoko, and had been campaigning against the construction of a new base in Henoko since 20 years ago.


The old woman took out an Okinawan shamisen called Sanshin. Unlike the guitar that Naomi usually played, there were only three strings. It was an instrument that has been peeled off the skin of a snake and stretched on the surface. Naomi had played the Edo-style shamisen, but this was her first time playing the Sansin.


The shamisen uses Bachi tool to play three strings, while Sanshin is played with claws made of buffalo horns on the fingers. So it seems to be similar, but it is a completely different instrument. Of course, it was also completely different from a guitar.


She was taught how to make sounds. From her youth to middle age, Obaa was active as a performer and singer of Sanshin of Okinawan folk songs.


She received substantial coaching from Obaa with such experience. She had a great time. She completely forgot that she had been swept away by Genjiro and immersed herself in the world of Okinawan folk songs, Sanshin performances, and songs.


She learned one song and lyrics that could make use of Naomi's singing voice. It was " てぃんぐさぬ花, Tingusanu flower." It is the most famous song of Okinawan folk songs. It was also a folk song recommended by Obaa. Tingusanu means "phoenix flower" in Okinawan. The tone was smooth and one could sing slowly, and feel that the sound was gentle and melted in heart.


Translation of the Lyrics

"The phoenix flower is something that dyes fingernails.

The teachings of our parents are ingrained in our hearts."


"The clusters of stars in the sky can be counted if you count.

There are countless teachings from parents ."


"Ships crossing the ocean at night use the North Star as a mark for direction.

For me, parents are the mark."


It was an Okinawan dialect, but she was able to sing it well without completely understanding the meaning. It was not like a typical love song, but a song about parent-child affection like a message to a child who teaches and learns from his parents. She felt like her repertoire has increased again. Just as she was in a very good mood, a loud noise suddenly reverberated through the inn, as if to interrupt her performance.


It was the sound of a bomb exploding. The sound was so loud that it reverberates not only in the inn but also in the entire Henoko village, vibrating the building.


"Oh, it's started again, it's a U.S. Army exercise."


Naomi shuddered. Is such an exercise to be held near where private houses gather? Can't believe it. Was that what it meant to live side by side with the U.S. military?


She also heard what sounded like a helicopter. She opened the window and looked out, and she saw an aircraft flying with wings that looked like a helicopter but looked like an airplane propeller.


"It's an Osprey," said the old woman.


Flying over Naomi's head. The altitude was very low. How dangerous. It was often possible to fly in such a dangerous way. She heard that the Osprey crashed a little further away from Henoko two years ago.


Although it was deployed at Futenma Air Base, if it flew not only to takeoff and landing, the risk of an accident did not change even in Henoko. The Osprey was a flying aircraft that multiplies the functions of a helicopter and an airplane, but it is said that there are structural defects and crashes are very frequent. It is said that dozens of such aircraft were deployed in Okinawa.


What exactly is Okinawa? Even if you think of it as a resort island rich in nature in a tropical country, the living environment may be destroyed by the presence of a U.S. military base.


It took about an hour until the Ospreys and exercises stopped and became silent. To Naomi, who was disgusted when she was interrupted from practicing Okinawan folk songs, the Obaa said,


"Please, why don't you sing Kacharshi this time by playing it in Sanshin? It's fun because it's a dance song."


She said to her to change the feeling.


Naomi learned Kacharshi. It was also an Okinawan folk song, but this was rather a fun song that could be used for parties and the like. The lyrics of the song were in Okinawan and tempo was so fast that she didn't understand them at all, but she somehow learned to play and sing them, learned how to dance, and then she danced with Obaa’s instruction.


The day was spent by learning Okinawan folk songs.


After dinner, Naomi wandered around the streets of Henoko with the Sanshin on her shoulder straps. She drank a little awamori and got drunk. The Okinawan specialty sake that was served at dinner, Awamori, had a high alcohol content and even a single cup was enough to make her drunk.


She walked through the village of Henoko while also getting drunk and cold. Isn't there a place like a square where she could rest quietly? She remembered that there was a hill where she could see the sea. She heard from the guests that it was dark outside so she could not see the sea, but she could see the shining starry sky. She headed in that direction.


But on the way, she passed the Stars and Stripes Wall building. She stopped suddenly. It reminded her of last night. It was a strange experience. She wondered if it was still open. When she was practicing folk songs at lunch, she told Obaa about this bar, and Obaa said,

"Come on, that’s strange. There used to be a lot, but now a lot of them are closed. The number of U.S. soldiers is far smaller than in the past, and there are enough only in the schwab, so there are fewer customers because they don't go outside."


Last night, however, the interior was crowded with dozens of U.S. soldiers. And they were talking about going to Vietnam. Was it because there was a special event? Or did she get drunk and have a vision?


With that thought in mind, Naomi walked past the bar to the hill where she could see the sea, but she heard people gathering and making noise from the building on the Stars and Stripes Wall. Naomi headed for the entrance door and put her hand on the knob to open it.


Just like last night, the bar was crowded with young American soldiers. Is this place still open tonight? Naomi walked inside with an instrment.


A young man's voice said, "Naomi, nice to see you again." It was Jimmy. Naomi smiled widely.


"What's the matter, you didn’t come back from all of a sudden last time."


"You mean, last night?"


"I think it was last week, and I came tonight because I was finally off training."


Eh, it's been a week? It never made sense to her.


"What do you have? Is it an instrument?" asked Jimmy, looking at him curiously.


"Yes, it's a traditional Okinawan instrument called Sanshin," Naomi said.


"Wow, will you play this and sing something tonight?" Jimmy said happily.


"Of course," Naomi replied happily.


To be continued to Chapter 4. 

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