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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

When the kachāshī starts, anyone there would instantly begin whistling with their fingers. A cheerful finger-whistling stirs up the lively rhythm—a perfect garnish, just like the seven-flavor chili pepper on soba or udon noodles, or, the kōrēgūsu on Okinawan soba noodles. Why, it may be more than just a garnish; something more essential. The finger-whistling which peppers the kachāshī or the eisā is an indispensable tone of Okinawa. 

People who can finger-whistle well are cool. So, how? First, make an OK sign with your thumb and index finger. Then, put it in your mouth. Hey there, don’t put the whole finger in! Just hold it, lightly. Relax your lips and figure out the tongue’s position. And blow out. Adjust the breath to make a melody. For example, rising swiftly and plop, dropping lower, then jumping up again to a higher note. When it comes to a rather slower song, it’s better to hold yourself enough to make a graceful arc at the last rising section. For songs with rapid tempo, rise up crisply to make an airy leap. 

So, that’s the logic. But, I just can’t! I feel like I’m almost there, though the last stone wall is yet insurmountable. I can ride on the rhythm, however, the whistling sound does not come out and the air just leaks. How frustrating. 

The shape of the mouth or tongue varies between individuals, hence there are some who finger-whistles well and others who just cannot. It’s not that every Okinawan can whistle with their fingers. Nonetheless, by mastering this technique, you can feel like you have approached the essence of Okinawan folk songs…possibly.

Well, all we need is practice. But please be careful because when you blow too strong, the spit may spatter. Mind the drool too. Despite our purpose to reach the essence (is it?) of Okinawan folk songs, it may be better to refrain from practicing in the presence of others.