That descending glissando guitar riff from the Ventures spread the seed of rock and roll in Okinawa and Japan, but thereafter, rock developed differently in Okinawa.
In US military-occupied Okinawa, young people grew up listening to pop music on military broadcasts or the jukeboxes in the bars displaying military-issue approval signs—the A-signs. They also mingled with young American soldiers who were about to be sent to Viet Nam. Those soldiers rained down US dollar bills as they chased alcohol, women, and music. Nightclubs had “dollar boxes” for the bills that couldn’t fit in their overflowing cash register drawers. The most popular bands could build a house with just one month’s worth of appearance fees.
American soldiers wanted to hear American pop numbers, so Okinawan bands copied them one after another, giving them what they wanted night after night. The audience didn’t hesitate to throw beer bottles at bands who played poorly, and sometimes they shouted advice. Japanese rock fans on the main islands recognized Okinawan musicians’ power and technique but accused them of lacking originality because they mostly copied.
In the mid-1970s, Okinawan bands with original numbers came to the fore and leaped onto the mainland scene: Murasaki, Condition Green, and more.
While Murasaki was the forerunner, Condition Green showed a different facet of Okinawan rock music. They had different styles, so naturally, their audiences were different too. Murasaki gathered air force personnel who wanted to take the music in. Condition Green’s live house, with its touches of the American South, attracted hot-blooded young Marines who roared and rocked to lead singer Kacchan’s (Kawamitsu Katsuhiro) vocals, as well as other members’ performances. Guitar fans particularly admired lead guitarist Shinki (Sugama Yoshihiro.)
Kacchan was a crowd-pleaser. It was rumored he was banned from playing at Naha Municipal Hall because of his wild style, and I think that’s probably true.
Since then new bands have appeared playing hard rock, punk, fusion, Latin, and Okinawan folk, but it’s 1970s hard rock that defines Okinawan Rock Music.
Although some bands left Okinawa for Tokyo, the Okinawan-based bands survive, supported by American soldiers and Okinawan rock fans.
Since 1983, the Peaceful Love Rock Festival has been held every summer1 in central Okinawa, holding concerts enjoyed by both Okinawans and Americans. For those who want to have a full-body experience through the spirit of Okinawan Rock Music, it’s worth making the trip overseas for this experience. I wholeheartedly recommend it. Have an Orion Beer in one hand, but keep your other hand free to sketch out the beat.
- The Peaceful Love Rock Festival was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 Pandemic, and its 37th Festival was held in July 2022.