Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Sounds of the Wind

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Sounds of the Wind

Article excerpt

It was around the end of August, which meant toward the end of the summer vacation for my 12-year-old daughter. My family was trying to get the last chance to enjoy the summer. The best place for this purpose must be Okinawa, we decided. Scuba diving in the tropical ocean, the huge aquarium, and Okinawan noodles were going to be the big events for us.

That decision was right. The sky was wide, bright and blue, as if it had been just squeezed out of the tube of watercolor with the label 'blue.' The ocean was full of variant shades from brilliant turquoise to deep indigo. Maybe the combination of the strong sunbeams, the clear water, and the coral under the water were making them. Vivid colored fish were dancing around us. The air out above the water was hot and pricked the skin of our necks and arms, and the gentle crisp wind saved us from sticky sweat. A true summer was there.

My family had just eaten Okinawan noodles called sohki-soba with thick slices of juicy sweet pork that melted on our tongues. We were driving along the wide and straight road to the famous huge aquarium, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, along which we could see nothing but U.S. Army Camps on one side, and some restaurants advertising American food like steak, signs of sightseeing spots, and shabby local shops on the other side.

My husband behind the wheel was trying to catch the airwaves of Okinawa on the radio. English words filled the car. 'Listen, that's the commercial we heard on ESPN Radio in the United States.' A commercial for car insurance was the one we heard in New Orleans, where we stayed two years ago. My husband worked as a researcher in a lab, and I studied some Mayan languages at the same university in New Orleans. My daughter struggled to survive in a school with two different languages, English and Spanish, and different cultures. My mother enjoyed Mardi Gras collecting beads thrown from heavily decorated floats.

It was fun to listen to the radio in English, far away from the United States. But those words were not for us, but for the soldiers of the camp. 'Let's try some other radio stations.' I turned the channel of the radio. A girl's voice came to our ears. Maybe she was around the same age as my daughter, the only child who was always attracting all the attention in our family. All of us became silent trying to catch what the girl on the radio was saying. After a few minutes, my husband sighed, 'What is this? I can't hear a word.' It was just a voice to us, conveying no meaning. It must be some language, but not English for the soldiers or Japanese for us. What kind of language was she using here in Japan?

Another voice came from the radio. It sounded like an elderly woman around the same age as my mother, who was sitting silently in the back seat of the car. The woman talked perhaps in the same language as the girl, and then made a comment on the girl's speech in ordinary Japanese I'm familiar with. The announcer praised the girl in a happy high voice. 'She's great. She can speak three languages, Uchinah-Guchi, Yamatu-Guchi, and English!' It was a language program of the Okinawan language, Uchinah-Guchi.

This is Okinawa. A little girl speaks three languages here. The Japanese I know is called Yamatu-Guchi here, to be distinguished from their native language, Uchinah-Guchi. Although I knew that the way the native people in Okinawa spoke was very different from the way the people in the mainland spoke, I didn't understand it was so different that I couldn't call it a dialect of Japanese. It surely was different. The girl's talk on the radio was my first encounter with another version of Japan.

More than one hundred years ago, Ryukyu was an independent nation, located in the district that is called Okinawa nowadays. The people in Ryukyu were peacefully trading with the people in China and with the people in the mainland of Japan, especially the Satsuma Domain. Maybe I had heard these facts from my elder sister when I was a child, or from some drama or documentary program of NHK after I was grown. …

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