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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A story of "Chaplin of Okinawa" Mr. Pu-tin

**I have translated the story about Mr. Pu-tin into English because I liked to inform Pu-tin’s story.
The original Japanese article on Pu-tin was published in October, 2000 reported by Mr. Koji Kakazu, Ishikawa Local News, the Okinawa Times.** 

This is a story about an Okinawan Chaplin, the entertainer Pu-tin:

Just after the end of World War II, there was a man whose nickname was Mr. Pu-tin Onaha, who visited refuge camps in Ishikawa City and sang and danced to brighten the spirits of the refugees. People referred to him as the “Chaplin of Okinawa”.

Mr. Pu-tin told the depressed, “let’s celebrate our lives” -- Nuchi Nu Gusu-ji Sabira, (命のお祝いをしましょう)in the Okinawan dialect. He entertained people and ease their minds and gave them hope. 

Who was Pu-tin? What did he really say to people?

Immediately after the last battle ended off Okinawa in 1945, 30,000 Okinawan refugees were gathered in a relocation camp built by the US Army in Ishikawa City; what had been a small village with a population of 2,000 became a huge city in the span of just a few months. The camp became a sea of tents erected as temporary homes. People gathered in the Ishikawa City camp had no opportunity to rebuild the damages they had suffered in the war, but were living in the camp in order to survive as best as they could. These refugees were forced to work on military tasks and had to run around to find food, and there was no uplifting conversation to be had, even though many of the refugees were gathered together with family members and other people from their own home towns.

One day, into this depressing environment arrived a man. His name was Pu-tin.

People first noticed him when they heard his high-pitched, loud voice saying,  “Let’s celebrate your life.” He then started playing Sanshin music loudly, and singing along. The people in the camp were startled by this man, who had shown up out of nowhere and started singing and dancing in funny ways. They watched him gambol about, quietly, but after a few moments they started dancing along with the entertainer. In 1945, Pu-tin was 48 years old, and he traveled from place to place to entertain Okinawans.

The well-known singer/comedian Mr. Rinsuke Teruya became a student of Pu-tin years later. Rinsuke Teruya said, in an interview about the late Pu-tin. “Pu-tin had the power and talent to give people happiness and made them smile, even they were suffering from the loss of their loved ones in the War.” Rinsuke recalled Pu-tin’s comment: “Let’s celebrate; we, the living, must dance and sing for our losses and rebuild Okinawa.”

Pu-tin went to all kinds of gatherings and entertained many people. He became popular to all, and people started to ask him to “please come to my party and entertain us.” As a result of Pu-tin’s entertaining, many people’s networking circles become larger.

Pu-tin performed not only on Sanshin, but also played the mandolin and piano. His style of performing was to instantly rearrange classical stories. On the other hand, Pu-tin’s stories featured political issues and were critical on the social issues. Later, people started calling Pu-tin “the Okinawan Chaplin”.

Pu-tin was born in 1897 (Meiji era). He attended Nippon Shika (Dental) School (now known as Nippon Shika Daigaku) in Tokyo, studied Asakusa Mandan (浅草漫談)and introduced Mandan-style talk into Okinawa, where he is known as “an Original” of Ryukyu Mandan.

Pu-tin told his audience, “this is the end of people above us laughing down at us. We must keep it up-side-down now and we have to see what is going on in the world seriously, but we judge them and sometime we must laugh at the people above us.” Pu-tin’s storytelling with lots of laugh gave hope and happiness to his audiences, while giving them a new, uplifting, perspective. People needed to laugh and, most of all, needed to see great entertainment to be happy.

I wonder if my grandfathers knew of Pu-tin; I assume they did not, since they were too young to see Pu-tin perform. My grandfathers were forced to fight and die in the Okinawan battle.

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