Review of LIVING SPIRIT

The December 2012 issue of the International Journal of Okinawan Studies includes a review of Living Spirit: Literature and Resurgence in Okinawa by Susan Bouterey, associate professor at the University of Canterbury. The following is an excerpt from the review:

If English translations of Okinawan literature are rare, full anthologies in English are rarer still. The first collection of Okinawan literature in English translation, Southern Exposure: Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa (Michael Molasky and Steve Rabson, eds.) appeared in 2000. This was followed in 2009 by Voices from Okinawa (Frank Stewart and Yamazato Katsunori, eds.), an anthology of literature by Okinawan Americans. Living Spirit, intended as a companion volume to Voices, is the third anthology, and only the second in English translation, to emerge to date. As such, this collection is of immeasurable value. What gives Living Spirit even greater significance is the sheer variety and scope of the collection when compared with its predecessors, and arguably literary anthologies in general. Indeed, this collection could be said to transcend the boundaries prescribed by the term “literature,” even in its broader application. For in Living Spirit, not only do we find English translations of typical examples of literary works such as poetry, fiction, drama and essays by Okinawan writers, but also translations of ancient Okinawan shaman and folk songs and, interspersed throughout, the remarkable images of the ancient and sacred Ryūkyūan rituals and festivals captured in the lens of photographer Higa Yasuo. Together, these present a rich, multifarious view of Okinawa via which the reader can acquire a more complex, global appreciation than would otherwise be possible of the creative works, cultural traditions, and spiritual life of the Okinawan people and the many facets of Okinawa’s past and present.

Our warmest thanks to Professor Bouterey for her remarks and insights.

Play by Okinawan writer Daniel Akiyama to premiere at Kumu Kahua Theatre

Cage of Fireflies

Left to right: Dian Kobayashi as Kimiko, Kat Koshi as Yukiko, and Karen Yamamoto Hackler as Mitsuko. Photo by Denise De Guzman.

A Cage of Fireflies, a new drama by playwright and actor Daniel Akiyama, will be presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre from January 24 to February 24. Originally developed and presented as a staged reading, the play was one of eight selected for the 2012 Sundance Playwrights Lab. Over nine hundred plays were considered for the program. Akiyama appeared in Jon Shirota’s play Voices from Okinawa, also staged by KKT.

A Cage of Fireflies is about three sisters who were sent from Hawai‘i to Okinawa to be raised and who returned to live and work in the islands. Two of the sisters confine themselves to their small Honolulu apartment, enacting the rituals of daily life as they cling to a dream of returning to Okinawa. The third is charged with running the family’s orchid nursery. As long-suppressed hopes and regrets surface, the sisters discover what is both selfish and selfless in their love for each other.

Tickets are on sale for $5 to $20 and may be purchased with a credit card by calling 536-4441; by visiting the box office at 46 Merchant Street from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; or by visiting the KKT website.

Special thanks to Aloha Tofu and Armstrong Produce for their support of this production.

Playwright Daniel Akiyama was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, and graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He studied playwriting with Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Y York, Dennis Carroll, and Daniel A. Kelin II. A Cage of Fireflies, his first full-length play, was a finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and was developed in the Sundance program.

Director Phyllis S.K. Look holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama and is the recipient of an NEA/TCG directing fellowship and an HSFCA individual artist fellowship. She is a former co-producer of Hawaii Public Radio’s Aloha Shorts. She has worked in professional theatre for more than twenty-five years, directing productions at theatres across the mainland while making her artistic home at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Dian Kobayashi, originally from Kapoho on the Big Island, has performed in theatres across the country and has appeared in numerous films and TV shows. In this play, she is making her debut at KKT.

Kat Koshi works as a paralegal and was last seen onstage as Laura in KKT’s premiere production of The Life of the Land.  She was also in the UH kabuki production The Demon’s Hand, the national tour of The 47 Samurai, and The Road to Kyoto and has appeared in Hawaii Public Radio’s Aloha Shorts.

Karen Yamamoto Hackler is a storyteller, actor, and playwright. She received an individual artist fellowship in playwriting from the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. She is the founder of Lo‘i Theater, which produced a statewide touring show of her play The Lines Are Drawn.  She has been in KKT’s premieres of A Little Bit Like You, Aloha Las Vegas, and The Taste of Kona Coffee.

Revitalizing the Rykyuan Languages

On November 16, 2012, Katsunori Yamazato will speak on the topic “The Resurgence of Okinawan Language through Contemporary Okinawan Literature.” A professor at the University of the Ryukyus, Professor Yamazato will be making his presentation from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Tokioka Room, room 319 of Moore Hall, on the UHM Campus.

His talk is part of the distinguished lecturer series sponsored by the UHM Colleges of Arts and Sciences and the Dai Ho Chun Endowment.

Beginning in the Meiji Era, the Japanese central government began forcing the Japanese language on the people of the former Ryukyuan Kingdom, which they had annexed. In the quest to create a more powerful Japanese nation, unified through a single language (kokugo), Ryukyuan languages were disparaged as merely dialects (hōgen). In public schools, children were educated to identify themselves as culturally Japanese and were forbidden to speak their own language.

The prejudice against Ryukyuan languages—as a result of their being regarded as forms of inferior Japanese—became ingrained and persists into the present, accelerating the loss of the languages.

However, this condition is not irreversible. A new generation of scholars, citizens, writers, and educators is working to revitalize Ryukyuan languages. Literary authors are at the forefront of this movement, as Professor Yamazato will explain.

Katsunori Yamazato is professor of American literature and culture at the University of the Ryukyus, where he is also director of the American Studies Center. He was director of “Human Migration and the Twenty-first Century Global Society,” a five-year Pacific and North/South American Research Project, and founding director of the International Institute for Okinawan Studies. In addition, he chairs the Committee for Research, Art, and Education for the Okinawa Prefecture Promotion Committee, which focuses on the revival of the Ryukyuan languages.

Professor Yamazato has published almost forty books, including translations from English into Japanese of such American writers as Gary Snyder, and compilations of the American tradition of environmental literature. His recent books as editor include Human Migration and Literature (Tokyo: Sairyusha, 2012) and Living Spirit: Literature and Resurgence in Okinawa (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011).

This lecture is made possible by the late Dr. Dai Ho Chun through his estate gift, which established the Dai Ho Chun Endowment for Distinguished Lecturers at the UH-Mānoa Colleges of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Chun was a distinguished and visionary educator. Other event sponsors are the UHM College of Arts and Sciences; the UHM College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature; the UHM Center for Okinawan Studies; and Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing.

For more information, please contact the Center for Okinawan Studies at cos@hawaii.edu or (808)956-5754.

PDF version of the flyer

2012 Journey to Okinawa

Frank Stewart was invited to Okinawa by Katsunori Yamazato to deliver a paper on Mr. Ōshiro’s play The Cocktail Party. The paper was part of the lecture series “Human Migration and Literature,” organized by Professor Yamazato. The series began in December 2011 and will continue until March of this year; below is a flyer promoting the lectures.A group photo from Frank’s trip shows him with (from left to right) Professor Yamazato, Ben Takara, and Eiki Matayoshi. This portrait was taken at the 2012 Okinawa Times Literary Awards, the ceremony at which the newspaper presented its awards for new Okinawan literature. The judges for this year included Professor Yamazato and Mr. Matayoshi.

Mr. Takara’s poems “Cape Kyan” and “An Ancient Banyan,” along with Mr. Matayoshi’s short story, “The Wild Boar That George Gunned Down,” were published in LIVING SPIRIT, edited by Frank and Professor Yamazato in summer 2011.