“Hanamizuki Okinawa Hougen Ver.” is the MV of the Year

If you watch one music video on YouTube, this must be it. The MV is an acoustic cover of the very popular J-pop song Hanamizuki by Hitoto Yō (she’s Japanese and Taiwanese) and matches well with Uchinaa-guchi and Ryūkyū instruments, dance and vocals. (Another version to listen to is from Amami Ōshima’s Minami Kizuki.) The music video is a collaboration between guitarist HOMARE of Nanaironote and model/actress/singer Karin Miyagi who recently collaborated with famous Okinawan artist Naka Bokunen for the Chimugasana project. Filming took place at Ryukyu-mura.

An interesting connection that this cover of Hanamizuki makes is that the song inspired a film of the same name (2010 release) that starred the popular Okinawan actress Aragaki Yui and had its international debut at our very own Hawaii International Film Festival!

h/t @sherryberry100 on Twitter.

Eisaa Don-Don (Drama)

To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the All-Island Eisaa Festival (canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic), a drama special was shown on OTV on February 13th of this year. It looks like a must-watch drama and I love the part in the above trailer when it shows one of the drama’s themes: “We will protect our (eisaa) tradition” (伝統は俺たちが守ります). So the bad news is that the drama isn’t available to be streamed nor is there a physical copy on sale (a few of the YouTube comments are pleading for a DVD). OTV and Zentou Eisaa, please release the drama on YouTube!

Zentou Eisaa website and their YouTube channel.

BTS’s Dynamite in Uchinaa-guchi

What better example of Ryukyuan pop culture than this cover of K-pop group BTS‘s super-catchy Dynamite sung in Uchinaa-guchi? The brilliant cover is by Toume Yoshiaki (Usumasa Okinawa) who is an uta-sanshin player, Okinawa shibai actor, and a Ryukyuan Dance performer. Be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter. I’m looking forward to see what he comes up with in the future.

Gori’s (Garage Sale) Comeback

I can say without a doubt that Teruya Toshiyuki aka Gori (from the comedic duo Garage Sale) is the most important person in Ryūkyū pop culture. Known widely as Gori the comedian, if his last name Teruya rings a bell for those that follow Ryūkyū pop culture, yes, it’s that Teruya. His grandfather is the great minyou artist and standup comedian Teruya Rinsuke Terurin, his uncle is the great Uchinaa Pop musician Teruya Rinken (Rinken Band), and his cousin is model and actress Chibana Kurara. Outside of this comedic performances, he’s also known as an actor (NHK’s Churasan), can be found on many a variety show speaking Uchinaa-guchi, and most important (to me) is his work as a film writer-director as showcased in the amazing film Senkotsu (洗骨, the English title is Born Bone Born — fun fact is that in the past films from Okinawa have had directors from Japan with main/supporting actors from Okinawa but this one is a director from Okinawa (Gori) with main actors from Japan and supporting actors from Okinawa). And like every artist during the pandemic, Gori turned to YouTube to showcase not only his numerous talents but to also feature Okinawa’s culture.

Getting back to Gori’s comeback, it was announced on his Twitter on April 20th that he had contracted Covid-19 and was discharged from the hospital. Up to then, he had been very active on his YouTube channel and other engagements (he missed 2-3 weeks due to the illness) so it was strange to see him offline during that time without knowing the reason. Needless to say, it’s so great to see him back on his channel (his most recent video is of his popular character Gorie) and active again. I should add that he can always be seen wearing a mask and social distancing as much as possible but as he’s actively traveling to different places and collaborating with other comedians, it contributed to having a higher risk of contracting Covid-19. The number of Covid-19 cases in Okinawa have been over 100 every day and mostly on the main island. Please everyone stay healthy and if you’re able to get vaccinated, please do so for yourself and for those around you.

Follow Gori on his YouTube channel (sadly, in Japanese only) and on Twitter.

JO1 K-pop + J-pop

If you’re into Korean pop culture and music, you’re going to want to check out the boy group JO1 (jay-oh-one) from Japan. The group was formed through the reality competition show PRODUCE 101 JAPAN (similar to the popular girs group NiziU) in 2020 and released their debut single Protostar on March 4, 2020. The leader of the group, Yonashiro Sho, is from Okinawa and his profile page lists that he excels at the acoustic guitar, English, and weight training. Needless to say, the production quality is high, the songs are very catchy, and they look like K-pop stars! Best of all, most of their music is on Apple Music among other streaming services (link to their debut album).

Subscribe to JO1’s YouTube channel and follow them on Twitter.

@LoochooW on Twitter

Here’s a great way to learn Uchinaguchi via Twitter by following @LoochooW. There’s also a language account @ryuukyu_Lan but it’s only in Japanese and although this other one is only in Japanese, it’s a fun one to follow since it’s @Ryujin_Mabuyer.

Pro Cyclist Arashiro Yukiya

Photo by Miwa Iijima @iimiwa

There’s a world-class pro road cyclist from Ishigaki, Arashiro Yukiya, who has been in the pro peloton from 2006. Many people may not associate pro road cycling with Okinawa outside of the Tour de Okinawa and triathlon events so Yukiya is truly a standout. He’s one of a handful of racers from Asia to participate in the Tour de France and out of that group, one of the few to complete a Grand Tour. Yukiya is an all-rounder so he’s able to participate in all the different Tours from sprints to climbs. He’s currently riding with Team Bahrain Victorious and in 2021 (as of April) has raced in Paris-Nice, Milano Sanremo, and Tour of the Alps.

I remember watching him in the Tour de France from a few years ago and having so much pride in seeing him and hearing his name mentioned by the English-speaking TV commentators. Presently, there are only a few pro cyclists from Asia so having one from Ishigaki is a treasure to me.

Follow Yukiya on Twitter (his wife Mari (@iimiwa), a pro photographer, also tweets news and photos of Yukiya)

Kiiyama Shouten (きいやま商店)

I remember Kiiyama Shouten when they had their CD debut and thought it would be a one-time variety type of release. To my surprise they’ve kept going for over a decade and recently released a new single Akasatana with a very fun music video featuring popular Okinawan TikTokers.

To their credit (or to their record label), all of their albums from 2010’s Sayonara no Natsu to 2018’s Ocean Okinawa are available on iTunes and Apple Music (link). The new single will be part of a mini album of the same title to be released on 4/28 (next week!). Follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their YouTube channel.

h/t @sherryberry100 for sharing the music video!