New York Chronicle

Rob Kajiwara talks about his journey from becoming the bestselling Okinawan Hawaiian singer-songwriter to an international social justice leader

Rob Kajiwara talks about his journey from becoming the bestselling Okinawan Hawaiian singer-songwriter to an international social justice leader

April 05
04:20 2019

Rob Kajiwara is a best-selling singer-songwriter, with an Okinawan and Hawaiian ancestry. He is also an author, visual artist and a world-renowned social justice leader, who has been featured in over 40 news and media publications in over 12 countries including the Associated Press, BBC World, the Washington Post, People’s Daily, Japan Times, and many more.

As a social justice leader, he works in the areas of human rights and climate change. His latest book titled “Occupied Okinawa” describes his efforts to help stop the construction of a new military base that is destroying Okinawa’s coral reef, home to hundreds of rare and endangered species including the Okinawa dugong. Kajiwara started an online petition on December 8, 2018, asking to stop the construction and soon it became popular, receiving over 100,000 signatures within ten days. The petition currently has over 211,000 signatures including, of celebrities like Dr. Brian May, composers Van Dyke Parks and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Japanese model Rola and others.

In this exclusive interview, Rob Kajiwara talks about his journey as a singer-songwriter and becoming a global leader for social justice.

Interviewer: Tell us something about work as a singer-songwriter.

Rob Kajiwara: I’ve been writing music for a long time now. My music is heavily influenced by the Beatles and Elton John, along with traditional Ryukyu (Okinawan) and Hawaiian music. Although I write songs about many different subjects, I like to write about meaningful issues that society is currently facing, such as gun violence, income inequality, discrimination, and climate change. I enjoy the challenge of writing about important issues yet doing so in a creative way that people will enjoy.

Interviewer: What inspired you to become involved in social justice issues?

Rob Kajiwara: It just seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t purposely seek to get involved in social justice issues, but it seemed like it was necessary given the world that we live in. We as a society are facing many serious issues that will have a direct impact on us and on future generations, so I felt like I needed to do something to help. I try to use art in order to promote important issues and do so in a creative, appealing way.

I really wasn’t expecting my petition to save Okinawa to become so popular! So many people around the world, including many celebrities, signed the petition! Even Dr. Brian May of Queen signed the petition and retweeted my tweet! When I first saw it I couldn’t believe it! Queen has been one of my musical heroes since I was a little kid. To think that Dr. Brian May would personally endorse my petition is truly a great honor. I’m still in disbelief!

Interviewer: What are the social issues that impact you the most?

Rob Kajiwara: Currently the situation at Henoko, Okinawa has been the most notable. The Japan government is building a new U.S. military base against the will of the overwhelming majority of the Okinawan people. The base is destroying a coral reef filled with hundreds of rare and endangered species, and it’s likely that many species will go extinct if the construction continues. Plus, the base is heightening tensions with both China and North Korea. I believe it’s critical for America to develop more peaceful and friendly relations with both of those nations. Although the White House guaranteed a response to our petition, they have not responded at all.

But this issue is not just a foreign affairs issue. I think it directly relates to America’s domestic issues as well. A lot of people are aware that America has a serious problem with gun violence. So I guess it’s not surprising that America is perpetuating violence in Okinawa, since America perpetuates violence within America itself. In order to solve America’s problem with violence, I think we need to address the situation in Okinawa. And in order to solve the problem in Okinawa, I think we need to address America’s domestic violence issues. There’s no reason that the U.S. should continue to spend billions of dollars every year on overseas military bases when we can’t even address America’s own issues of violence, healthcare, education, etc.

Interviewer: Tell us something about your art book, Ryukyu – Okinawa Impressionism.

Rob Kajiwara: In addition to music, I also do visual art. Ryukyu – Okinawa Impressionism is a collection of some of my artwork about Okinawa. With this book, I hope that more people around the world, and especially in the United States, will learn about Okinawa. This book takes viewers on a walk through Okinawan history, introducing the culture and issues that Okinawa currently faces. It also touches on Okinawa’s tragic history of the Battle of Okinawa, in which between 1/4-1/3 of the population was killed due to Japan’s sacrificing of Okinawans.

Artistically, I use a style I call “21st-century impressionism.” I prefer bright, vibrant colors, and I like to use swirls, blurs, and other techniques to give the illusion of movement within the image.

I hope people, especially Americans, will enjoy the book!

Interviewer: How did your multicultural background impact your life?

Rob Kajiwara: In many ways. It’s impacted my music, visual art, and social justice work. I think it’s helped give me a different perspective on the world, and I hope to use this in order to make positive contributions to society.

Being indigenous has significantly influenced my involvement in social issues. Indigenous peoples face a lot of discrimination. Issues like climate change and violence have a large impact on many indigenous peoples around the world, and it definitely affects me, and my family and friends, as an Okinawan – Hawaiian. A lot of people don’t realize that climate change is having a severe impact on islands, such as Hawaii and Okinawa, and that if the situation isn’t soon reversed, island peoples are going to have difficulty surviving. People love to come to Hawaii for vacation, but if climate change isn’t stopped, there might not be a Hawaii left to come to.

Interviewer: Any advice for emerging entrepreneurs and social justice activists?

Rob Kajiwara: Some people say that as a singer-songwriter, author, visual artist, entrepreneur, and human rights activist, that I’m doing too much. But all I’m doing is following my dreams. So my advice to others is to also follow your dreams. Life is a precious gift, so I think we should use the life that we have wisely. By working together and supporting each other, I think that we can help each other in the pursuit of our own respective dreams, and in doing so, help make the world a better place for ourselves and for future generations. 

Media Contact
Company Name: Kaji Music, LLC
Contact Person: Nelson Del Pino, CEO
Email: Send Email
Country: United States