Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Floating World

Friends of mine, serving in the US Military, Marines to be exact, are currently living in Okinawa, stationed there for the next three years. I recieve emails and snail mail from them, and it is a joy to be part of their adventure.

Recently, I took time to read a bit about Okinawa, especially their 18th Century history. Of course, European ships were sailing there from the 1500's. In 1614 the famous British captain William Adams landed in Naha, the capital, for repairs. He was in route to Japan when the ship was damaged in a storm. The ship remained there until 1615, with the East India Company recording that goods were sold and Okinawa represented a possible market for the company. As a result of his time there, Adams introduced the sweet potato into Japan! In 1797 another british ship, HMS Providence, was shipwrecked off Miyako, another major city.

The 17th and 18th Century period in Japan is known as Ukiyo-e, or the "floating world", representing a time of escape through pleasure, living only for the moment. There is a 17th Century book entitled Ukiyo Monogatari (tales of the Floating World), mentioning "turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the rive current; this is what we call the floating world".

Many artists captured images of the floating world, including artist Utamaro, with his famous woodcuts of courtesans. Toyokuni, another renown artist, published his drawings "Views of Actors on Stage" in 1794.

Okinawa is the biggest of a group of islands off Japan, including the Okinawa and the Ryuku Islands.  Below, see some interesting Okinawan 18th Century facts:
1711 - A dictionary of old Ryuku language was compiled.
1719 - Famed musician Tamagusuku composed the Kumi Udui, a narrative Ryuku dance of diplomatic importance.
1734 - The noted scholar Chobin Hishicha was executed for political offenses.
1771 - A major tidal wave struck the city of Miyako causing tremendous damage.
1798 - a state school was founded at Shuri for upper class descendants of Samurai!



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