Article by Emanuel Giordano
I wasn't sure I wanted to write this short article, but finally convinced myself to do it. My first trip to Okinawa was in 2013, and since then I have traveled to the island where Karate was born at least once a year, always attending only my teacher, his dojo, and our school's honbu dojo. This until 2019, the year in which I went to Okinawa three times (January, July, October), then there was a stop due to the pandemic, and the consequent closure of the Japanese borders. By chance (or covid-19) my tenth trip, a symbolic "milestone", took place on the tenth anniversary of my first visit and, another coincidence, that I stayed in the same residence in 2013, where I haven't been since then.
Returning to Okinawa last January, after more than three years of absence, was very nice, but I couldn't help but notice many changes. Among the various changes, the very small number of Westerners present in Naha stood out, which is probably due to many factors, including, I think, the higher cost of airline tickets, and the fear of a new wave of covid-19 (China is at a stone's throw away…). Just think that I was the first member of the western branches to train at our hobu-dojo since the beginning of the pandemic!
The concrete business, which is based on the demolition of buildings considered expendable, and their replacement with gargantuan eco-monsters, has not stopped even during this period, distorting the appearance of some areas familiar to me and, sometimes, affecting my ability to navigate the streets of Naha.
Although people, taken individually, are always very polite, even when dealing with strangers, the population, in general, has adopted previously rare and more rude behaviors. Once upon a time it was very rare to see pedestrians/cyclists crossing on red lights, or outside the strips, just as it was rare to hear the horns honking, especially at the traffic light, to urge the vehicle in front to leave quickly. Normal things for us, but that before, in Naha, you could only see them done to foreigners. Obviously these phenomena, as well as a micro (but really micro) crime, were already observable in the central part of the island (Chatan, Ginowan, Yomitan, etc.), whose population is "Westernized" due to continuous contact with the American population who lives on military bases. According to some, the explanation for this lies in the immigration of people who lived in the big cities of mainland Japan, and who decided to move to the quieter Naha, bringing with them, however, also a package of bad habits.
The Japanese have become attached to the use of the mask, even in the car alone. Although even in unsuspecting times the use of masks was moderately widespread on public transport, today it is almost impossible to see a Japanese without a mask, even when he is on the beach alone. It seems that the government has made advertising campaigns for a gradual return to normality, but that the population prefers, however, to continue wearing masks everywhere. The funny thing is that in many dojos, where perhaps the mask would be more useful, it is not used.
Coming to Karate, my every visit to my master and my dojo mates is always a cause for joy for both parties. Some people are gone, others have arrived in these years in which I was forcibly absent, and this has led to a change in the atmosphere of the dojo, but has not changed its spirit. Maeshiro sensei, despite his age (born in 1945), still continues to improve his Karate, always in line with the search for natural and unforced gestures, typical of Shorin-ryu. Also this time I learned a lot, taking care of details and smoothing out the corners.
What struck me negatively, however, regards the line of action undertaken by one of the four great federations of the island, which is transforming Karate and Kobudo into goods to be sold. This federation is composed, with some exceptions, of schools that have few members and dojos in Okinawa, but many branches abroad, where they are very famous, and where, consequently, their teachers are well known to the public. Without going into details, seminars (only with business class flights), affiliations and exams have become very lucrative for these schools. Fortunately, the school I belong to is not affiliated with this federation, but I fear that others may follow this sad example in the future, aiming for quantity and not quality Karate/Kobudo.
I conclude by thanking the small Italian community, which always supports me, and with whom I always share good times! Each of our meetings is a small party, like when families get together to celebrate some special occasion.
Unfortunately my tenth trip lasted a few days (10, just to end with another coincidence), and I didn't have time to visit all the people I would have liked to meet again, but I hope to be able to return to Okinawa again by the end of this year, perhaps for a longer stay.