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In traditional Ryukyu songs, “嘉例吉” is often sung as kareyoshi, however the word is actually pronounced kariyushi. The kanji characters represent the state of being lucky or joyful.

This graceful word has existed for a long time. While it has become a cliché used to promote Okinawan tourism, it’s still alive in people’s daily lives. 

When people sing at a celebration, they often use the phrase kari-chikiyun, which means to bring up kari (good luck). Also, the festive food for celebrations is called kari-namun (beautiful things).

It seems as though there are many joyful things, some invisible, called either kariyushi or kari. As mabui (souls) are thought to still exist, such joyful things are there as well. It is important to receive or take them in.

I don’t know what Okinawan language experts would think, but in traditional Ryukyu songs, kareyoshi-no (of kariyushi) is placed in front of words like ship and journey. In the folk song “Michi-nu Shimauta (Island Song on Journey),” the background accompaniments sing “kariyushi, kariyushi,” so maybe it was once a magical word believed to protect one’s journey. (Toru Sugiyama)

Kariyushi is written as “嘉例吉” in kanji. According to the Japanese dictionary, it is an old word dating back to before the Kamakura period (1185-1333). めでたいことばである。These days it’s used regularly in Okinawa, sometimes as the name of a company or ship, while there’s even a national sports festival with kariyushi in its name.
Higa Yoshio started to use the word when proposing a toast, and tried to spread this custom. Higa has had a range of roles including vice president of Orion Breweries, director of NHK Okinawa News Broadcaster, and president of Okinawa Cellular Telephone Company.
When people toast in Japan they say, “kampai!” However, Higa began to feel awkward using the word. He tried to think of an Okinawan way to toast, rather than one borrowed from mainland Japan. After speaking with scholars and reviewing historical documents, he learned that there was no longstanding custom to toast in Okinawa, meaning that there was no word for it either. He found words with similar meanings such as kamiyabira, kamiti-unige-sabira, ayakaibira, kwacha-sabira and risai, but they lacked the energy required for proposing a toast.
“How about karii?” said Tamagusuku Setsuko, a traditional Ryukyu dance teacher. Higa jumped on the idea. Not only was the meaning perfect, but karii is short and rhythmical. It has the energy; it has everything.
He acted immediately.
One day, Higa said to the guests at a party, “OK everyone, we should do a toast. In the Okinawan language, kampai is called karii (嘉例 in kanji). I will propose a toast in Okinawan, so please repeat after me.” He raised his glass and continued, “Gusuyo, karii sabira. Karii! (Everyone, please follow. Cheers!)”
Karii!” they said with excitement.
Higa started his “Karii Mission” in 1987, during his time as the vice president of Orion Breweries. Nowadays, you can hear cheerful voices repeating his words in many places. No one knows whether, sometime in the future, kampai will be completely replaced with karii. However, when local sakes are widespread and local beers appear throughout Japan, it’s not necessary to keep using the same word when proposing a toast.
It is quite nice to imagine a celebration in which people cheerfully use karii, a shortened version of kariyushi. (Kyoji Nakamura)