Uchinaa Pop: Place and Identity in Contemporary Okinawan Popular Music
Since the early 1990s, Uchinaa (Okinawan) Pop music has become popular in mainland Japan and abroad. Okinawan groups such as Kina Shoukichi and Champloose, the Rinken Band, and the Nenes have been perceived as Japan's contribution to "world music." Certainly part of the appeal of such new Okinawan music lies in innovative and enjoyable hybrid syntheses of traditional Okinawan folk music with "Western" musical styles and instruments. However, there are other levels of cultural and political significance reflected and constructed within the music that are silenced by writing and audiences that focus only on its colorful "ethnic" appeal. This article examines the cultural politics of the images of Okinawa — as both place and space — that are constructed within Uchinaa Pop music. The author argues that these images construct "Okinawa" as internally hybrid and, thereby, as marked by differences from mainland Japan, including linguistic and cultural distinctiveness, a(n endangered) purity of heart, closeness to nature, and a proud and sometimes overtly political defense of Okinawan identity. The author suggests that such musically constructed images of Okinawan hybridity and difference must be understood within a set of national and international political-economic dynamics that render any simple listening to Uchinaa Pop problematic.