The “Bashofu” Story Has Roots in Hawai‘i and Okinawa
Jodie Chiemi Ching
Umi no ao sa ni, sora no ao . . . (Deep emerald hues of the sea, the radiant blue hues in the sky . . .)
For many Uchinanchu around the world, just hearing the first line of the song “Bashofu” triggers powerful emotions. Hearts flutter and eyes well up with tears. The beauty of the lyrics and the melody are enough to melt even the coldest of hearts.
“Bashofu,” a composition by two native Okinawans, was released in 1965. The music was composed by Tsuneo Fukuhara and the lyrics were penned by Yoshikazu Yoshimoto.
But the song’s origins date back to the early 1960s, when both Hawai‘i and Okinawa were undergoing a great deal of change — socially, economically and politically.
In 1959, Hawai‘i became America’s 50th state. Elvis; tiki culture; Polynesian-themed hotels, restaurants and cocktails; and surfing all became America’s image of Hawai‘i. The newly opened Ala Moana Shopping Center was being touted as “the largest shopping center in America.”
On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Okinawa was caught in an identity crisis following the Battle of Okinawa. Japan’s defeat left Okinawa under the governance of the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyus until 1972. That year, the islands were returned to Japan and once again became a prefecture after a reversion agreement was reached between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. But, from the war’s end until reversion in 1972, Okinawan citizens were a country-less people — neither Japanese nor Americans.
And so begins the story of a beautiful young Japanese American singer from Hawai‘i named Clara Arakawa who had taken a civil service job in Okinawa. She wanted to take advantage of her time there to learn Okinawan music. Thanks to her aunt, Chieko Arakawa Nodoyama — who, as a midwife, had helped bring noted Okinawan composer Tsuneo Fukuhara into the world — Clara Arakawa was able to meet Fukuhara. The composer was known for his sweet sounding melodies.
When Fukuhara heard Clara Arakawa’s stunning vocal abilities, he was inspired to compose the music for “Bashofu.”
A 2006 story in the Ryukyu Shimpo, a daily newspaper in Okinawa, noted that since Arakawa’s first language was not Japanese, Fukuhara wanted to compose a song that could easily be sung by a non-native speaker.
To read the rest of this article, please subscribe to The Herald!