All posts filed under: Island Icons

Island Icons – Dolphin Trainers

Dolphin Delight Ryo Nakasone and Azusa Watanabe are dolphin trainers at Okinawa’s Expo Park. Ryo Nakasone grew up in Motobu not far from the aquarium where he now works. While at high school in Naha he was a champion boxer and was scouted by Nihon University where he fought in the light-fly weight class while a student. After graduation, he returned to his hometown and began working at Expo Park. Now 29, he has been a dolphin trainer for five years. Azusa Watanabe majored in fisheries studies at Nagasaki University. She moved to Okinawa four months ago, and at age 23, is the aquarium’s newest dolphin trainer. What types of dolphin live at Expo Park? “There are 82 species of dolphin in the world, and we have five species living here at Expo. They are the Pacific white-sided dolphin, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, rough-toothed Dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale.” I heard a rumor that killer whales are actually a type of dolphin? “It is true; they are part of the same biological family Delphinidae. …

Island Icons – Gerontologist Craig Willcox (extended interview)

The interview I did with Dr. Craig Willcox went on far longer than the single page that appeared  in the magazine. I have posted the extended version of the interview below for those who are interested. Gerontologist Craig Willcox Okinawa’s most valuable asset is its people. This month we meet Doctor Craig Willcox a Professor of International Public Health & Welfare and Gerontology at Okinawa International University. Dr. Willcox is a principal investigator in the Okinawa Centenarian Study, which has brought global attention to the healthy lifestyles of Okinawa’s oldest citizens. When did you first hear about Okinawan longevity? “While at the University of Toronto I participated in a study investigating how nutrition and other factors were associated with healthy survival. One group we were looking at was Japanese Canadians in the province of Ontario and this is when I first met Toku Oyakawa. Oyakawa-san was 105; he’d been born in Nago City (in northern Okinawa) and later emigrated to Canada. He was living a traditional Okinawan lifestyle in Canada, which suggested that Okinawan health …

Island Icons – Motorcycle Police

Ryukyu Riders Katsue Oshiro and Matsuri Kuniyoshi are Okinawa’s two female police motorcyclists. Why did you become motorcycle police officers? K.O.  “I joined the police force because I wanted a career that would let me help others. When I got to choose my specialty, I decided to become a motorcycle officer, even though I’d never ridden a bike before. It looked like such a cool thing to do as a career.” M.K. “I rode a motorbike when I was in high school, and even got caught by the police a couple of times. I decided that I wanted to ride bikes for a living, and joined the police with the one goal of becoming a motorcycle police officer.” What special training do police riders receive? “The police bikes we use are 750cc Honda VFR’s. Once you’ve added sirens, lights, speakers and panniers, they become quite large and heavy. We do a lot of training to improve our maneuverability on the bikes. We have to be able to turn them around in tight spaces and weave …

Island Icon – Fashion Designer Kanna Yamauchi

A Sense of Style It was during a visit to Paris when Kanna Yamauchi originally decided she would become a fashion designer. Some may say it was inevitable and that a sense of style was in her blood – her mother has been one of Okinawa’s top designers for more than thirty years. Upon her return to Okinawa, Kanna quit her job as a tour guide, enrolled in fashion art college, and hasn’t looked back. Now age 32, Kanna has received several design awards, gained prefectural sponsorship, and set up her own company, Yokang. Where do the ideas for your designs come from? “I grew up in Yanaburu; it’s very rural so you’re always surrounded by nature. The mountains, trees, ocean and flowers of Okinawa have all influenced the patterns in my clothes. When designing a new article, I think about the structure of the dress or shirt, and then work out which material and pattern will best fit that particular piece. While studying at college, I spent my afternoons helping my mother make clothes …

Island Icons – Artist Naka Bokunen

Bokunen was born on the small Okinawan island of Izena in 1953. As a child, he always carried a sketchbook, and drew pictures of the island’s creatures and landscapes. At that time, he never imagined a career as an artist, and thought he would become either a fisherman or a carpenter. His talent, however, did not go unnoticed. One of his teachers recommended that he attend an art-based high school on the main island of Okinawa. After graduation, Bokunen became a graphic designer and set up his own design production company, Project Core. It is his skills as a woodblock artist that have gained him them most recognition. His colorful, dream-like prints were used for the Kyoto Climate Conference in 1997, the G8 Summit in 2000, and in numerous exhibitions across Japan. What process do you go through to create the prints? “I begin with a vague idea of what the image will be like, but as soon as I start to carve the wood, things change. The whole process is very fluid, almost like …

Island Icons – Ceramic Artist Nick Centala

In the December issue of Okinawa Living magazine there’s an interview I did with ceramic artist Nick Centala. I’ve added the extended text and a few images below for people who can’t get hold of the magazine. Potter with a Magic Touch Okinawa’s most valuable asset is its people. This month we meet Nick Centala, a ceramic artist using traditional firing techniques to produce modern designs. Nick Centala was born in Los Angeles. At 18 he joined the U.S. Navy as a corpsman and over the next 4 years he was based in San Diego and Okinawa. After the military, Nick studied pre-med to become a doctor, but a return visit to Okinawa steered his life down a different path. In 2001, he spent five weeks learning about sculpting shîsâ with Okinawan potter Miyagi Shojin. A consuming passion for pottery grew from this experience. He switched his life goals from medicine to art, and became an apprentice to a potter in Kumamoto. After 3 months, he was offered a job managing a large wood-burning oven …

Island Icons – Sanshin Virtuoso Byron Jones

After mentioning Byron Jones in the previous post I thought I should put up the entire interview for those who didn’t see it in the magazine. Sanshin Virtuoso Byron Jones was born in Quantico, Virginia. In 1985 his father, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was transferred to Camp Foster on Okinawa. Byron attended high school on base, but developed a deep interest in the local Ryukyu culture. At 19, he started playing the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan three-string instrument, which would become his passion. As his proficiency increased, he gained a reputation in the local and national media as “more Japanese than the Japanese.” Byron now teaches the sanshin at various places including the University of the Ryukyus. What is your musical background? I played the clarinet when I was in the 4th Grade, and in high school, one of my friends taught me to play guitar. I saw a sanshin for the first time while visiting my friend’s house and immediately wanted to learn how to play. It wasn’t possible to rent …

David Carradine – Kill Bill – Hattori Hanzo – Kiyochika Kanehama

It was announced on the news today that David Carradine is dead. I am a little too young to have grown up watching the TV show Kung Fu, but I am sure that for many this will be a sad day. In recent years Carradine returned to fame as Bill in Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. For those who haven’t seen the movies, in one of the scenes in Kill Bill Part 1, Uma Thurman travels to Okinawa to get a samurai sword made by sword smith Hattori Hanzo. A couple of years ago I did an interview with the only real sword smith in Okinawa – Kanehama Kiyochika. I even got to ask him about Kill Bill… From the age of 22 to 31, Kiyochika Kanehama trained as an apprentice swordsmith. At a forge in the Japanese Alps, his sensei Kiyomune Miyairi taught him how to create a blade from lumps of iron ore. For years, he studied the process of folding and honing metal to produce edges so sharp that they are considered a …