Dancin' the Night Away
Be careful of who asks you to dance!
Oh, sure!! I was planning to go to bed early that night....
We had been living in Aza-oki, Yomitan-son for only a few weeks and I was still enjoying the romance of being back on Okinawa.
Instead of our previous tour in the early 1970's when the best that I
could do was to capture the sights with my trusty Vivitar Super-8 movie
camera, I was now armed with a JVC S10U videocam!
Where was I?
It is a common religious practice among the Okinawans to secure the
ashes of deceased family members in large limestone/concrete vaults.
(I'll soon have a page up about Obon and the associated events)
Oh, man!! I just have to go get my camera!!!
Zac and I quietly went back up the hill, following the path I'd just earlier traversed.
I was excited with the prospect of surreptitiously capturing on videotape a native event thinking that if I could stay hidden, I'd be able to tape everything devoid of the participants' concern about being watched. It would be the real deal!!
Here I was, the newest resident in the neighborhood and about to be exposed as a sneaking, prying America-no gun-gin !! I felt doomed!!
Well, as it turned out, my imagination had gotten the better of me and
the shout was only from one of the participants as he stood to dance!
Zac and I then proceeded on our mission.... to snoop!
As we were watching, I clicked on the JVC and raised the camera to my eye. Within moments I was thoroughly absorbed in the goings-on, not having a clue what it was all about. But, it was different and I had, after all, come back to Okinawa to experience the island and her people again. As I continued to tape the event, concentrating on adjusting for low light and striving for the best camera angle, I lost track of my position and wandered away from the cover of the tombs and adjacent shrubberies. Yes, indeed, I felt like an interloper and was just beginning to feel guilty about sneaking around some perhaps sacred activity.
Zac stayed at my side and was probably wondering why I was so damned enthralled with the strange-sounding music, yet he kept his eyes on the people in the park and I knew that he too was feeling at least some of the same excitement that I was - a papa just knows these things. *smile* As I continued to listen I kept an eye on the activities of the night through the viewfinder of my JVC.
As I kept taping, concentrating only on my subjects, I lost track of where I was relative to my cover. Zac must have figured I knew what I was doing as we inched closer and closer, stepping ever so carefully so as not to disturb this party of apparently elderly Okinawans.
He was then gesturing with one hand toward the park lawn below and placed his other hand on my shoulder, giving me a bit of a tug.
"Zac!! He's inviting us to go down there!!" I'm certain my expression was nothing short of incredulous!
The man guided us to a small break in the circle of villagers who were clapping, laughing and drinking.... and drinking!
At this point, there were a number of people trying to communicate with me.
I spoke next to no Japanese and they spoke almost no English. We sure
did a lot of smiling, nodding and, when standing, bowing!
I was having a hell of a time trying to understand but studied hard.
By this time the camera had been handed back to me and I really didn't want to rudely shove the thing in his face as he was speaking, so I set it in the grass and aimed it upward, hoping that I had a good angle of his face... in the dark! As best I can determine, as I look at the tape now and listen to his voice I'm certain that I'm looking at either his or my knee!! *chortle*
The man... wish I could remember his name... got us to understand that the man who was presently stumbling, singing and dancing amidst the fires was Higa-san, the mayor of Aza-oki. He was going around and around and the courteous man to my left called him over. There was an exchange of conversation between them and I was then sure that the jig was up! I thought for sure that I was going to be up the creek! Thought I was toast!
To my surprise - and to Zac's embarrassment - Higa-san, the mayor of our little town was reaching his hand out... to Zac!!!
Again, I was dumbfounded!! Higa-san took Zac by the hand and pulled him up into the middle of the circle of our new friends and compelled him to dance!! Zac shot a look to me that was either saying, "Papa! I'm gonna wet my pants!" or perhaps, "Papa! I'm gonna kick your ass!!!"
Actually, I think his pained expression was saying, "What the hell do I do?"
He did marvelously!! I mean it! I couldn't believe it and am still in awe of my son to this day.... he attended to the motions, arm and hand gestures and steps that Mr. Higa was demonstrating and he tried diligently to reproduce those motions! He was a flippin' hit!! The villagers loved it!! They were clapping louder and chanting and drinking.... and drinking! Hey!! It was a party, ok? *smirk*
Then the dance ceased - Higa-san stood there looking at Zac then bowed. Zac, looking at him, nervous as a cat and not knowing what was coming next, had presence of mind to smile and return the bow. Atta-boy, Zac!!! I was a relieved papa!!
After Zac, thankfully, was released from his civic duty (I was soooo proud of 'im!) he skittered back over to his spot of flattened grass, wide eyed and just plain giddy!! It was kool! *sigh*
Higa-san then approached me and held his hand out to me. I stood, nervously bowed and tried unobtrusively as possible to command Zac to get the tape rollin'!! I gave a little perfuctory speech, introducing myself and describing my family and made it a point to say that this was my second trip to Okinawa - that I had loved it so much that, even taking eleven years to accomplish it - I was back!! And damned happy to be!! Higa-san appeared pleased, initiated a tittering of applause, bowed then gestured my return to the circle and directing my duty for the evening: "Drink, drink!!"
The following day, there was a huge turn-out at the park. Very ceremonious with lots of pomp. Speeches and, oh, a whole lotta bowing going on. I went back, of course, to nose around and get it on tape. A very distinguished man was at the podium and every eye and every ear was studiously trained on him. It seemed like even the babies quieted down when he spoke.
I felt kinda honored to have been in the company of this distinguished gentleman the night before. At the conlusion of his speech I believe that I applauded as long and as loudly as his most ardent supporters. The only difference was - they understood what Higa-san, the high mayor of Aza-oki, Yomitan-son had said!
I met Higa-san again, 31 years later, in March 2017 at a community clean-up of the "Seven Sacred Sites" on Torii Station!