Good Morning Uncle of Okinawa
Andrew (Jack) Musick
Ryukyus University, Japan
One of my favorite things about living in Okinawa was being able to talk and connect with local people. One person I would like to introduce is named Mr. Kinjo, but he’s commonly called Ohayo Ojisan (Good Morning Uncle).
He is a minor celebrity in Okinawa. He is famous because for over 20 years, he has been standing on the side of roads in Okinawa waving to people. He wears flowers on his head and decorates his scooter with fake flowers, streamers and flags. He is known all over Okinawa because each week he picks a different place, and from Monday to Friday of that week, he stands and sits on the side of the road waving at cars, and greeting the people who walk by him. On the weekends he goes to a different location.
Sometimes you’ll see him in Shintoshin, sometimes on the 330 (the san san maru, a highway in Okinawa running North/South) by the Ginowan city office, maybe he’s in Tomigusuku or Itoman, and sometimes other places. I heard many rumors about him—because people talk about celebrities and eccentrics. Some people think his son died and so he waves at cars to tell people to drive safely, others think he’s rich, most people just think he’s crazy. I got to know him a little bit, and he’s not crazy. He’s very smart, speaks fluent English, and is learning French. He knows a lot about Astronomy, and can even talk about it in English.
One week he was on the sidewalk in Tomigusuku, at an intersection across from a company I was working for. I spoke with him for five to ten minutes every day that week. Because it was Christmas time, I was wearing reindeer antlers and a Santa hat, and I was able to get a picture with him, while he wore his normal flowers and tangerines.
One day, as I was standing with him, a group of school children came by and talked to him. A little girl asked him in the most innocent voice, “Why do you wear tangerines on your head?” He answered, “kirei dakara (because they are beautiful)”. A couple hours later I went out to get some teaching materials from my car and as I passed Ohaiyo Ojisan, there were many backpacks strewn about him on the ground. I asked where they kids were, but he didn’t know. The parking lot was around the corner on a hill behind where he was standing. Not far from my car the same children were jumping off a small hill and landing on a pile of weeds that had been cut and piled up the day before. They asked me to join in and play with them.
I got to meet Ohaiyo Ojisan once again the last time I was in Okinawa, in Febru-ary of 2015. This time he was in Itoman. I took my camera and was planning to interview him, but the way the conversation was going, I decided not to ask, and to just focus on talking with him. For over an hour he told me his life story, beginning from right after the Battle of Okinawa. He told me about being moved to many different POW camps all over the island, and finally being allowed to return home to Itoman. He remembered the US military setting up a theatre, and seeing Tarzan as a boy. He is eighty years old now, meaning he was just 10 years old during the bat-tle. He is very fit, and seems more like a sixty-year old man. He studied at a seminary in Tokyo, and worked for many years in other prefectures, before finally returning to Okinawa. Now, he is retired.
I told him the story of the little girl, and asked him in both English and Japanese, “I saw what you told a child, what would you say if an adult asked you that question: why do you wear tangerines on your head?” I don’t think he really gave me a straight answer.
He tells people that he founded his own religion. (But as near as I can tell, he does not have nor seek any followers or disciples.) He will gladly explain his beliefs to people if they ask him. The flag he flies every day is the flag of his religion. He says that there is neither God nor Buddha, and that this world is all that exists. But he thinks that he will live to be ten million years old.
Before I left he asked me for my phone number. I explained that I was leaving Okinawa, but I gave him my Japanese phone number and I asked for his. He told me to call him the next time I am in Okinawa. If you see him when you visit, stop by and talk to him! Even if you don’t speak any Japanese, it’s OK. I know that he would prefer to practice his English! One of his fans made a facebook page dedicated to him. It has over 50,000 followers! You can see video interviews with him in both English and Japanese on YouTube by looking up, “Ohayo Ojisan” and “Okinawa Good Morning Uncle”. You can locate many more Japanese videos by looking up “おはよう おじさん”.