The Ryukyu archipelago has walked history on a different path than that of mainland Japan, and so Okinawan folk music is very different as well. The first record company to specialize in our unique Okinawan folk music was Marufuku Records, founded in Osaka in 1927 by Chо̄ki Fukuhara. After the war, several more record companies specializing in Okinawan folk music were founded throughout Okinawa. In all of Japan, only in Okinawa was there a strong and uniquely regional music scene with local companies producing lots of vinyls.
Okinawa City’s Marufuku and Maruteru, Naha’s Gomon—people went on shopping sprees picking up vinyls and cassette tapes they could only find through local Okinawan labels. Back in the day, for mainland fans of Okinawan music, this was one of the most enjoyable aspects of trips to Okinawa. The album titles had a unique style—things like Kadekaru Rinshо̄ Special Edition or Kachāshī Convention. Mainlanders felt that names like “special edition” and “convention” were fresh, something completely fun and Okinawan.
By the early 90s, however, even though there was an Okinawan music boom in Tokyo, mainland tourists didn’t hear much folk music as they bustled up and down Naha’s Kokusaidо̄ri Street. The only people dashing to the Okinawan folk corner in the two or three record stores that still had one, searching for that fundamental sound, were people like me, crazy for Okinawan music. Even to local young people, Okinawan folk music was outdated, something just for old-timers. Instead the young were drawn to J-pop. It was only once we entered the 21st century that the younger generations once again began to appreciate Okinawan music.
In the 1980s records became cassettes, and in the 1990s those cassettes became CDs. Of course the process of transitioning media did not mean that all the old songs were rerecorded onto new media, and that in turn means that some sound quality deterioration was inevitable. But still, that all-important original sound was reissued via CD. Now you don’t even need to go all the way to Okinawa. You can buy these CDs on the internet. Sure it’s convenient, but for a generation who grew up searching music shops for those original sounds they so desired, a generation whose hearts were sent quivering when at last they found that music, there’s something a little tacky in internet shopping.
(Revised Sept. 2022)