by Carolyn Bick
Under the warm, yellow lights of Kobo in the Chinatown-International District’s Japantown, Mako Willet readied her sanshin, an Okinawan instrument similar to a lute, to play another song, supposed to warn fishermen about stepping on sharp conch shells.
“There’s a hidden meaning, though — the pointy end, it means, ‘Don’t get into trouble,’” Willett said with a little laugh and mischievous smile, before she and her fellow musician, Noriko Inafuku, started to sing.
The pair, both of whom have Okinawan roots, were part of the many performances that took place inside and outside the shops around the small block of 6th Street and South Jackson Street on Aug. 17 for the third annual Hai! Japantown.
Inside Kobo, Ana’s parents watched the tiny Chicagoan get fitted for a bright pink yukata.
“Can I get this?” Ana asked, a smile lighting her face.
“Sure!” her father, Kumar, said.
“Can I wear it outside?” the girl asked again, excitement over her new garment lacing her query’s tone.
“Sure!” her father answered again, with a smile.
Outside, some attendees painted paper lanterns sunset and rainbow colors, while others played small games arrayed around the South Jackson side of the street.
Though the day was largely lighthearted, there were somber notes. Willett reminded the audience that Okinawan culture and language are officially endangered. Butoh dancers performed a suitcase walk, meant to represent the forced incarceration of Japanese-Americans, during WWII.
Inside Chiyo’s Garden, visitors were invited to fill out replica identification tags that Japanese-Americans were forced to fill out during WWII. They hung the tags on a small barbed wire structure. A fresh painting on a wall replicated a photograph of a 1940s-era Japanese-American mother, holding her tagged child.
Next to the painting were the words, “Never Again Is Now.”
Featured Image: Butoh performers enact a suitcase walk, to demonstrate the forced internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII, during the third annual “Hai! Japantown” summer festival in Seattle, Washington, on Aug. 17, 2019. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)