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Home of Okinawan Rock is Koza

Date Posted: 2001-06-08

In Okinawa, June 9 is a day dedicated to rock music. The date comes from Japanese for the numbers six (June) roku and nine ku, -- “roku” combined with “ku” is “rokku,” the Japanese pronunciation for “rock.” Okinawan rock music came into existence in late 60’s and early 70’s, when the island was the staging area for the war in Vietnam.

On April 1, 1945, at the end of World War II, U.S. troops landed on the shores of Yomitan Village and fierce ground battle took place. Okinawa became the only place in Japan to experience ground battle, and when the war ended, the island came under U.S. administration that lasted until the reversion of the island prefecture to Japanese rule in 1972. This unique history influenced various aspects of Okinawan society and culture, including music.

Okinawa was once very American. Koza, now called Okinawa City, being close to Kadena Air Base, the largest U.S. military base, was the center of the American music scene. It was jazz and dance music that people first listened to before the Vietnam War, but after the war started it was rock and roll that young soldiers’ souls craved for.

Koza had an environment that nurtured the co-called “Okinawan Rock”. In 1964, the “Whispers,” and R&B band, was formed. It was influenced by bands like the Ventures. After the Ventures era ended in the early ‘70s, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple became popular. Around the same time in Okinawa, four major hard rock bands -- Murasaki, Cannabis, Condition Green and Kotobuki -- came to the limelight.

The tension of both Okinawan musicians and U.S. soldiers in the audience, as well as the atmosphere of the night clubs were well beyond the imagination of later generations, as those musicians were playing in front of soldiers who had no guarantee that they would be able to make it back from the war. Those who were there and witnessed all that went on testify that if the bands did not play with full power, beer bottles and stones would come flying at them. These bands went through such rowdy times every night, and, ironically the fiercer the war in Vietnam became, the more the musicians had to strive to sharpen their skills. This is how the legendary Okinawan Rock bands of the era were born. “Murasaki,” “Cannabis,” “Condition Green,” “Kotobuki,” and “Medusa” in ‘70s and “Island” in the ‘80s. In the confusion of those times when people wewre uncertain of the future, the Okinawan rock movement symbolized by Murasaki and Condition Green created in the minds of Japanese people throughout the nation the following formula: Rock = Okinawa.

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