Working to save a dying language
Uchinaaguchi, an utterly unique language native to Okinawa, Japan, is on the brink of extinction, with the number of speakers dwindling across the world and at home. One Gardena classroom may be the only place left in the U.S. where the language is even taught.
But that doesn’t stop teacher Chogi Higa from trying to keep the language alive.
Famous for its military bases and World War II battlefields, the Japanese island chain of Okinawa is also home to a language as different from Japanese as English is from German. A Japanese speaker in Higa’s class would be lost from the get-go — “good morning” in Japanese is “ohayo gozai masu.”
Photo: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
The dying art of hand tattoo: Hand tattoo artist Horihide is one of the few tebori practitioners who remain, as body ink carries a stigma in Japan and young apprentices are few.
Horihide became an apprentice at age 19 and spent five years learning the craft. “It was very strict. In the morning you have to get up at 5 o’clock and clean the house. If you didn’t do it right, you could be beaten,” recalls the artist, as he sits cross-legged on the floor, carefully filling in the yellow hues of a tiger on Motoyama’s other shoulder. “But nowadays young people can’t do that. Some people who want to be students ask me, ‘How much can you give me as a salary?’” He laughs, shaking his head. “So things have changed.”
Photo: Californian-Japanese businessman Motoyama Tetsuro is tattooed by Japanese tattoo master Horihide, right. In Horihide’s studio (actually the back room of his house). Credit: Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore / For The Times
How collective memory saved lives during Japan’s tsunamis: When the tsunami struck Miyatojima island, a story passed down through generations meant residents knew what to do and kept many safe.
A millennium ago, the residents of Murohama, knowing they were going to be inundated, had sought safety on the village’s closest hill. But they had entered into a deadly trap. A second wave, which had reached the interior of the island through an inlet, was speeding over the rice paddies from the opposite direction. The waves collided at the hill and killed those who had taken refuge there. To signify their grief and to advise future generations, the survivors erected a shrine.
… Some 50 generations later, on March 11, 2011, the Murohama tsunami warning tower — which was supposed to sound an alarm — was silent, toppled by the temblor. Still, without the benefit of an official warning system supported by modern science, the locals relied on the lesson that had been transmitted generation to generation for 1,000 years. “We all know the story about the two tsunami waves that collided at the shrine,” I was told.
Photo: Evacuees from Futaba, a town near the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, arrive to an evacuation shelter near Tokyo. Credit: Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press
March 11 will mark the first anniversary of the massive tsunami that pummeled Japan, claiming more than 20,000 lives. The Times’ photo desk has made an amazing gallery of interactive before-and-after sliders.
Photos credit: AFP/Getty Images
Japan’s prime minister steps down: Naoto Kan’s move follows widespread criticism of his government’s response to the March earthquake and tsunami.
Photo: Naoto Kan arrives at a general meeting of his ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers at the parliament building in Tokyo. Credit: Toru Hanai / Reuters
South Korea’s fierce island guard: The irascible fisherman first lived in a cave when he came to the disputed islets between Korea and Japan. For years he has chased off Japanese boats with a clenched fist and stream of obscenities.
Photo: Fisherman Kim Seong-do, 72, eyes the horizon as he circles the inhospitable atolls of Dokdo. Credit: Matt Douma / For The Times
Japanese retirees volunteer to work in stricken nuclear plant: A pair of 72-year-old scientists, saying they have much to be grateful for and little to lose, have formed the Skilled Veterans Corps, enlisting volunteers willing to venture into the radioactive Fukushima Daiichi plant. Officials have accepted their offer.
Some quotes from the volunteers, aged 60 to 78:
- “This job is a call for senior citizens like me.”
- “They say I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to get cancer. It’s a horrible ordeal. And I tell them that I could get cancer anyway, even if I didn’t go.”
- “This nuclear reactor was the brainchild of our generation. And we feel it’s our job to clean up the mess.”
Photo: Yasuteru Yamada, 72, is a co-founder of the Skilled Veterans Corps. Dismissing concerns, Yamada says he’ll be dead from something else long before any radiation-caused cancer can kill him. Credit: Tom Miyagawa Coulton / For The Times
“Japan’s Red Cross has collected more than $1 billion in the first three weeks after the massive earthquake and tsunami but has yet to distribute any funds directly to victims,” reports Julie Makinen and Kenji Hall.
Photo: Tsunami survivor Chieko Matsukawa holds up her daughter’s graduation certificate, which she found in the debris in Higashimatsushima. Credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP/Getty Images
“Some question why scarce resources should be devoted to saving animals when gas shortages are endemic and human beings have so many needs,” Mark Magnier reports from Miyako, Japan. “Their response: The welfare of animals and people are often integrally linked.”
Photo: A volunteer rescue worker rescued this small brown dog in the debris fields of Natori, Japan. A loose network of groups is working to assist animals stressed by the ordeal and, in some cases, separated from their owners. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Taylor Anderson, right, with one of her students in Ishinomaki, Japan, where she taught English. She is the first American found dead after the Japan earthquake.
Credit: Anderson Family / Associated Press / July 17, 2010
With computers, cell phones and printing presses knocked out, a newspaper in Ishinomaki, Japan, wrote the news by hand.
Electrical power still out at Japan nuclear reactors
Options are few to prevent Japan nuclear catastrophe
U.S. nuclear officials suspect Japanese plant has a dire breach
Workers at nuclear plant exposed to radiation above past limit
Unsafe levels of radiation suspected in milk, spinach near nuclear plant
On West Coast of U.S., much ado about very little radiation, so far
Worries about a big earthquake have California shoppers stocking up
L.A. County fire authorities warn residents of ‘acid rain’ e-mail hoax
Photo: Momoko Onodera prays at an evacuation center as she talks about her husband, who died in the tsunami. Credit: Paula Bronstein / Getty Images