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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

A word meaning “evening,” akōkurō draws out an image of the space between light and dark, akarui and kurai.

Similarly, the word ukininji is a mix of okiru and neru, waking and sleeping, or more simply, snoozing. Yafaraganjū is the combination of yawaraka and ganjō, delicate and tough. On the mainland, they say that those both delicate and tough live and learn from illness—they get sick once, but as a result they take better care of themselves after. Yafaraganjū has a similar meaning, but it’s a bit stronger: “someone who dodged a bullet.”
 Tuntachwo comes from combining tobi tachi suwari—leap stand sit—and means to squat low enough you can rest your elbows on your knees. In standard Japanese they say “curl into a ball,” but tuntachwo has a more kinetic sense to it and is hard to translate for mainlanders.

These words all illustrate a state or situation, but we also have words that express actions:
 Warāranwarē-Laughing when you didn’t want to laugh at all
 Ichikaranichichi-Stubbornly living on even when it feels like you can’t
 Kamarankami– Eating uncontrollably when you don’t want to eat.
 Iraran mī nkai īn-A direct translation would be “entering a hole you can’t enter,” but we use it to describe an ironic state in which we were forced into taking action and now there’s no going back. 

All of the above are daily idioms, and Okinawans often ask mainlanders, “How do you say this in Japanese?” 
 I think in these foundational expressions you can see an Okinawan way of knowledge, a way in which we try to grasp the whole of things—the overt and the covert, the inner and the outer, the distant and the near. You can see from these terms that we hold to multi-faceted arts that repel inflexibility or bias (this is probably also the origin of our love for the concept of tēgē1), but this tendency doesn’t exist on the mainland—I think that’s why there’s an untranslatable gap between Okinawans’ fundamental ways of knowing and making art.

Though akōkurō and “twilight” refer to the same phenomenon, when you translate them, you must understand that the source of the image differs. When pressed, I would say that akōkurō should be understood as stemming from the nebulous apprehension ancient peoples felt at sunset, a feeling which is shared with the Japanese saying, “Evil comes at dusk.” However, in our modern times in our brightly light homes, this feeling may be hard to grasp.

Editor’s Note:

  1. An Okinawan word that expresses how things are done appropriately/moderately enough yet without putting in an excess effort.