In October 2011, a friend introduced me to Chris and Goro, two Taiwanese men who were visiting Tokyo. As soon as they realized that I was from Okinawa, they made me smile by greeting me in Okinawan (“Haisai!”). I later found out that Goro could play the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan three-stringed instrument and that he could also sing traditional Okinawan songs. They said they were really into Okinawan music. I, on the other hand, couldn’t play the sanshin, nor could I understand what the songs were about since I didn’t understand the Okinawan language.

In March 2012, I visited Taiwan to see Chris and Goro. I wanted to learn from them how to play the sanshin. On the day of my flight to Taiwan, I woke up too late and missed the flight; I ended up arriving in Taichung well after eleven at night, almost ten hours later than I was supposed to arrive. But Chris and Goro were there at the train station to pick me up. They then took me to the night market, where I had several strange yet delicious snacks. Next day, I met up with them and we all headed to a café near the National Museum of Fine Arts. I was walking behind them. Goro was carrying a sanshin that he had borrowed from his teacher in a black case and Chris had with him a kankara sanshin. For practice, he said. Chris spoke fluent Japanese while Goro didn’t, therefore Goro and I communicated with Chris as our interpreter. In the café’s backyard, they started to teach me how to play the instrument (that was when I realized that Chris could play it too). Later, I filmed Goro singing “Asadoya Yunta.” He played it many times so that I could later choose the footage I liked.

Back in Tokyo, I went through the videos. One take had the annoying hiss of a car on the street, another had loud voices coming from the café. But there was a take in which the noises of the afternoon café faded until a bird started to sing nearby, and a white butterfly appeared and flew around Goro. It felt like a perfect, summerly afternoon.

I always hated summer, but some afternoons I could only describe as a perfect summer afternoon, and when that happened I could forget all the distress the hot and humid season caused. In such an afternoon, I would hear the tranquil sounds of the everyday; the rustling of the sugarcane fields, the distant waves, my grandparents talking downstairs with the TV on. I could never understand my grandparents when they talked to each other in Okinawan. I wondered how Goro managed to remember the lyrics in Okinawan. In front of me, in Taiwan, he sang an Okinawan song, which seemed quite extraordinary. “Mata harinu tsundara kanushamayo,” he sang. I had no idea what that meant.

(C) 2012-2015 Futoshi Miyagi