… A small restaurant on Ishigakijima known for its authentic Ryukyu Island cuisine. It’s right beside the sea. We enter.
… Just beyond the entrance hall, a plump man sits on the floor plucking a sanshin banjo. He’s ready to play requests: either old or new Okinawan songs. The place serves up raw sashimi, as well as stewed, deep-fried and grilled fish. They also have noodles, tofu and chanpuru (a stir-fried concoction using bitter gourd).
… Stewed pork, pig’s trotters, and pig’s ears follow. We are now quite full!
… As night wears on and the customers soak up the alcohol, the staff take away all the paper doors dividing one table from another, and we find ourselves face to face with those we’ve never met, all singing along to the songs the sanshin player leads.
… “Naki-nasa-iiii, warai-nasa-iiii; kawa wa nagarete…” (Cry, laugh; the river flows on…)
… “Za-wawa, za-wawa…” (Sweetcorn leaves a-rustling…)
… And there are old island tunes many of us have never learned.
… Somewhat inebriated, we settle our account and duck out of the wooden door. Passing through a dusky grove near the house we emerge in the outer garden, where the lapping of the surf along the coral reef can just be heard. The heavens bristle with stars.
……… slow melody
……… of a sanshin banjo –
……… the Milky Way
(from ZIGZAG, Rengashobo-Shinsha Publishing, Tokyo, 2010; trans. into Eng. with help from SHG)