Thursday, May 7, 2015

Okinawa Is and Isn't Japan

C. X. Z recently asked, "Do you know how JET teaching in Okinawa culturally differs from teaching on the mainland?"

What a great question! I can't speak for all of Okinawa, but my town rents land to the U.S. military and uses the money to advance education. For example, the students in Ginoza do not pay for school lunches and school supplies. All three of my elementary schools are equipped with touch-screen televisions with an accompanying laptop. The teachers are also provided a laptop for the teachers' office - that's two laptops per teacher! At first, I was given the shittest computers available - ones that still had floppy drives - but my they have been updated as well. Woot! My schools are always renovating and one of the schools now solely runs on solar and wind power! My town also provides a JET for elementary (me!), middle and high school.

As far as JET teaching, it's almost identical to my Mainland JET friends, but I have more resources. Okinawa is also more laid back, so I can get away with a more casual dress code - like ripped jeans or brightly colored lipstick. I've also been told that Okinawan children are more shy than their Mainland counterparts, but I'm not sure this is true.

Culturally, Okinawa is very different. Okinawa has its only accent (it's fast and a bit choppy - like Chinese), dialect, and language called uchinaguchi. For example, koma'inu, the guardian lion-dogs, are known as shiisaa in Okinawa. Having a bad day? Well,「 なんくるないさー」or "don't worry, be happy!" Just don't ever call it Ryukyu-ben or "Ryukyu dialect," it pisses off the Unchinanchuu or "Okinawans."

There is also Okinawa Time (lit. 沖縄タイム), which means that you can be late for everything - except work. Even then, my coworkers will happily sip coffee in the staff room even though the bell has rung for class.

Another interest thing about Okinawa is the use of first names. Teachers and students call each other by their first names! So weird right?! This is an Okinawa-exclusive custom! The only time last names are used is via request - mostly teachers or persons from the mainland - or if their first name is too long/difficult to pronounce. Okinawa also has their own holidays, like 慰霊の日 or Remembrance Day (Battle of Okinawa), and follow some cultural traditions similar to China. For example in March, Okinawa has shiimii where families will visit their ancestors tombs to clean, drink, and have a mini reunion.

You know how in Japan only a select few can play the shamisen, perform kabuki, do the tea ceremony, or make ikebana? In Okinawa everyone and their mothers plays the sanshin, dance and sing traditional folk songs, and perform eisa. Seriously, everyone! My students play the sanshin. My coworkers play the sanshin. Hell, even I play the sanshin (no joke).
In short, Okinawans are as similar to mainland Japanese as Hawaiians are to New Yorkers. Get the picture? 
I wasn't kidding about playing the sanshin
Oh, and their kimonos are different as well

If anyone has any questions they'd like me to answer, just let me know

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