It has been a month since Shuri Castle burnt down. The very next day after the incident, Okinawa-born singer, GACKT-san (46) declared “Move” on his own Instagram, and one week later, he announced that he will be selling a certain “Shuri Castle Reconstruction Item”. What feelings and convictions of his led to this?
Here, he will reveal his “love” for Okinawa where he spent his valetudinarian early childhood, the discrimination from mainlanders, and his opinion about his modernising hometown.
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―― The day when GACKT-san proclaimed “I’ll do my best to help speed up its restoration” on SNS was one day after (Shuri Castle was) burnt down. And soon after that, you announced the potential sale of “Shuri Castle Reconstruction Merchandise”. Please share with us your thoughts regarding that once more.
I was overseas when the fire happened. I received a message saying, “It’s burning” at night, but I couldn’t understand what it was about in the beginning. When I saw the video on the news, I was so shocked that I initially thought that it was CG or fake news. When I realised that it was true, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me……”. I couldn’t stand to stay in that spot watching.
After that, I began receiving tons of messages saying things like “Let’s move together” and “If there is anything I can do to help, I would like to” from Okinawans, people who have visited Shuri Castle, and those who felt attached to Okinawa and Shuri Castle. Of course, I personally did intend to do something, but I didn’t expect so many people to come to me and say “Please do something”. I normally look at all my Instagram messages, but this time, the amount was simply overwhelming. With that included, the next day, I announced, “I’ll do it.”
After that, I told my office that “I believe that there is something I must do”, and everyone responded with, “If that’s what you say, then there is no other option”.
I made a personal donation as well, but if that’s all I did, then I’m not playing my part. I don’t intend to coerce anyone into doing anything, but I believe that our job (as celebrities) is to do more than just stand out. We should do things that increase the number of people who want to help, even if just a little. That’s why it’s more meaningful for me to create a platform for people to participate instead of simply saying, “I made a donation”.
It’s especially so this time around. With Shuri Castle, which I am also greatly attached to, being turned into such a state, I thought about what I could do as an Uchinanchu* too. This is also because I clearly remember the last time I visited Shuri Castle which was during the filming of NHK’s BS historical drama Tempest (broadcast 2011) when I did a scene where I walked along the walls of Shuri Castle. I was also let into the state chamber and places where people would normally be barred from and I felt something deeply emotional from it. I think that it would be good as long as I can give back to Okinawa, even in the smallest of ways, by doing what I should do in my own way.
―― I see. Your private life has been wrapped in a veil, so for the word ‘Uchinanchu’ to be used, it was so unexpected……
No, well, the ones who think that I’m shrouded in mystery are those around me, but I’m actually very open. I don’t hide anything Okinawan about me or my private life.
My parents are Uchinanchu and I lived in Okinawa until I was 7 years old, but after that, I moved inland (to the main island). I came back to Okinawa once when I was 16, but I’ve been away ever since and the next time I returned was when I was 26. That’s why my older sister can speak Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language), but I can only speak in broken phrases.
―― Some times, you add ‘sa’ at the end of your words, but does that ‘sa’ come from Uchinaguchi?
Ahaha (lol). I guess my sister’s speech mannerisms rubbed off on me. Even though I thought I was speaking in standard Japanese (lol).
But even if my Uchinaguchi is broken, I have a strong pride about being Okinawan. Times are changing, but when I was being discriminated against when I was young. There’s no point in digging it up now, but minuses don’t work negatively within me and at that time, I felt, “I’m definitely not gonna lose”. When I’m overseas, I’ve been asked (where I come from), and at those times, I realise that I consider my nationality to be Okinawan and that I mustn’t do anything that will embarrass Okinawans. Perhaps those who live away from Okinawa feel like this more than those who are residing there.
I’ve always been looking at Okinawa from the outside, so while there’s a part of me that does it very calmly, there’s also another part that contrarily loves it more than those residing there. When I go to the region and I get asked, “What do you want to eat?”, I’d often answer with “Let’s go eat Okinawan cuisine.”
When you watch from afar, you’ll get to understand a lot of things. For example, Kinchou, the central part of the main island, used to have this strong flair in the atmosphere and ambience of the city that is unique to Okinawa. But now, it’s far too modernised and it ends up feeling no different than any place inland.
This is my own theory, but there are lots of cities and regions in Japan itself that has been modernised. And with these modernised cities, it’ll look cutting-edge only at the moment when it is completed, but just a mere 5 to 10 years later, it’ll turn into an old or backward city.
Trying to keep the old cityscapes doesn’t make it backdated. If we cherish the good old days, letting such cherished things exist where it is will convey its importance to everyone. That is what will touch a person’s heart and make people want to come and see things like these. And thus, by drawing people in, it becomes a tourist attraction.
―― 7 years ago, you started living in Malaysia and there are good points and trouble points that can only be observed because you’re overseas, right?
That too, yes. When it comes to preserving culture and history, Japan has honestly passed the point of no return. Even Kyoto and Kanazawa are steadily getting modernised, despite the fact that Kyoto is a city where culture should especially be protected.
In Europe, historical buildings and cityscapes are being protected under laws so strict that you’d need a permit to destroy any building. Don’t you think that Japan needs to conserve buildings and landscapes that are unique to those cities too? If we don’t start thinking of it as a national commitment to conserve our culture and turn it into a source of tourism, we’ll steadily lose something very precious to us. I feel this sense of crisis very strongly.
―― This time’s Reconstruction Support Item may be a chance for purchasers to start thinking about that too.
It’s just my own opinion so it’s not something I’m trying to impose on people. I just think that, more than anything, there is significance in the bringing everyone’s feelings together. While it is a real shame that a lot of materials and Shuri Castle, the symbol of Okinawa, have been burnt away, I think that it’ll be nice if people from both outside and within the prefecture can share the thought, “Let’s rebuild Shuri Castle once more with everyone’s help”. What will be rebuilt will indeed be a new remake so there may be people who will say that it’s not the real thing. But if a new start can come out of people’s emotions being put into there, the significance behind it far surpasses that of a simple rebuilding. This is what’s extremely important.
The act of putting just a tiny bit of your feelings into it without treating it as someone else’s problem. That’s the kind of support I want.
――When you made your ‘triumphal return’ at 2017’s Okinawa International Movie Festival, your choice of words in saying, “I want to help Okinawa”, left quite the impression too. You’ll be celebrating your 20th anniversary of solo activities and starting your national tour this coming January, so, was there a moment when you had a change of mind as you built your career?
The moment when I did a little reconsidering within myself was in 2003 when I celebrated my 30th birthday. I have a weak constitution to begin with so I decided that my life would end at age 30. That’s why I decided that I would simply sprint until that point in time, I was impatient to do everything that I had to do, and I was afraid too. I went solo when I was 26 and I struggled and tried to leave some sort of mark. In any case, I was desperate with myself and I couldn’t afford to think about anything else.
However, the moment I crossed the line of 30-years-old, I guess you could say that I was relieved but my fear of death disappeared. Like, I don’t mind dying whenever because I’ve done my best to get here. I came to decide that I’ll spend everyday smiling and without regrets. The time spent from that day on is considered as the rest of my life to me. And that this life I’m living from that point on will be for the sake of leaving something behind for someone else, for fulfilling my duty as an adult. It was from that point on when I became capable of doing a variety of things.
But, honestly, this isn’t because of a certain cause or something. I’m just taking action on my own. The office staff working for me have a hard time (lol).
―― You also volunteered and raised funds at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, didn’t you?
During that disaster, in a moment, I thought, “I have to do this”, and I immediately called up Kawasaki Mayo-san who has a sizeable network in the entertainment industry to discuss things with him. Mayo-san called people up for me, gathered close to 100 tons of supplies from all over Japan, and we managed to deliver it all to the affected areas in a week. At the time, it was abnormally cold and highways were blocked off too, so with our priority of delivering the supplies to them as soon as possible, I made use of all my connections. I also arranged for a gasoline vehicle from Kansai to bring gasoline and kerosene over. After getting that done, I volunteered at the affected areas, established a fund for reconstruction, and then conducted street donation collection all around the country.
I was working 24 hours a day during the period from 11 March to 1 April so I barely slept. Because my friends from all over the country were constantly calling me, I was getting messages from overseas that said they wanted to help, I was actually letting in people from the affected areas to my home, and my friends kept coming and going too.
But it was tougher after that. I was already prepared that I’d definitely get attacked by people who do business by writing gossip and such stories, but it was much worse than I thought. They were criticising how people spent their efforts, and to top it off, they even went as far as to say that I was stealing from the donations…… It was terrible. But I skipped past sadness and laughed. I also thought that they’re getting their priorities wrong by saying things like that.
My band members also asked me, “Isn’t it painful?”, but the act of offering someone kindness is accompanied by the resolution and responsibility to deal with whatever happens after that. Say, for example, when you’re driving, you to give way to someone who can’t change lanes. If nothing happens, it’ll become a kind act, but if that person brakes suddenly and you rear-end them. When that person gets out of their car and says to you, “Where the heck are you looking at when you drive?”, what do you do? If you think, “I shouldn’t have given way to them”, then you’re not resolute enough to begin with.
Of course, you weren’t looking for some sort of reward, but there is also the possibility that you will be reciprocated with hostility or get attacked from some unreasonable perspective. If you don’t have the resolution to accept that, then you shouldn’t do it in the first place.
―― So you’re offering this “Shuri Castle Merchandise” with the same resolution?
I will do what I should do. I’m not a leading authority in reconstruction, so if I can help the people who are rebuilding Shuri Castle just a little, then I’ll take up that part.
Even now, there are still stories of me embezzling donations begin twistedly written online and getting into the news overseas until I’m sick of it. I’m getting bashed for what I did and negative rumours are constantly running around. Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about that either (lol).
―― Lastly, if there’s a vision that you hope for with regards to the future of Okinawa, please share it with us.
This is more towards the people living in Okinawa rather than Okinawa itself, but I hope that they won’t forget the pride of Uchinanchu. I hope that they will take this chance to think about what it is that they must protect as Okinawans.
Maybe I shouldn’t really say that it includes historical issues, but we have, in a way, come this far while accepting various historical walls. That’s why, in this peaceful era, the number one thing is that we can’t lose focus on peace. We have to look back on the past and hold on to that sense of crisis as we think about what we have to do as Okinawans. That’s how I feel.
(Interviewer: Kinjou Tamayo, AERA dot. Editing Department)
* Uchinanchu is the term used by Okinawan immigrants to identify themselves as an ethnic group distinct from the Yamatunchu or Naichi of Japan’s four main islands.
https://www.amazon.com/Uchinanchu-History-Okinawans-Center-Oral/dp/0824807499” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Source
Translation: GACKT ITALIA Team
Translation © GACKT ITALIA Team