Episode 2


Spanish-Swiss Daniel López experienced a sudden turning point one night as he was traveling in the Moroccan desert. Following his epiphany that he needed to live his life, he threw away his successful job, his apartment, and everything else and set out on a journey of discovery. While traveling through Tokyo, he was captivated by the sound of a Sanshin (Okinawan musical instrument), which led him all the way to Okinawa. It was on his second day there, that he thought “Here is it”! Twenty years later, he is now a renowned Swiss film director and photographer living in Okinawa, who is very active in organizing "Jura-Okinawa," an exchange project between his hometown Jura and Okinawa.

In this 2nd episode of the Vitality.Swiss podcast, we asked director López about his personal background, his hometown Jura, his journey to Okinawa, and his thoughts on the Okinawan people. The director, who admires the Okinawan people and culture, says that Vitality comes from understanding where you come from, your identity. In today's world where many things are happening, he hopes that people will gain an understanding of the life of the people of Okinawa whose lives are immersed in their culture and that watching his new documentary film "UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS" will be a moment of healing for them. Let yourself be lulled by his story in this brand-new podcast, and be sure to go watch the movie when it comes out. Take the time to stop for a moment and think about where you come from – you may find your own Vitality!


“Love of a Thousand Years”
An original song embodying/symbolizing this film, which was used in the creative dance scenes. It is a remix of new sounds like piano and Okinawan music. The director explains “We have to mix cultures. Otherwise, we won't be able to move forward”.
Lyrics: Takuya Shimabukuro, Composed by Kazuki Ishikawa, Arranged by Denys Fontanarosa, Song: Ema Minami, Piano: Denys Fontanarosa

Toyoko Miyagi, founder of the Miyagi School Toyomai-kai of Ryukyuan dance, tells a memorable wartime scene in the film. She was evacuated from an air raid in a cave and was about to dance the Saiyo-sai...
Song and Sanshin: Tatsuya Nakandakari, Tomohiro Nakada, Koto: Hideko Miyagi, Drums: Yasue Kaneshiro, Song: Kozue Miyagi

Episode 2 image

Daniel LópezDaniel López was born in Switzerland in 1970 and moved to Okinawa in 2003. In 2010, he graduated from the University of Arts in Okinawa. He then worked as a photographer, publisher and TV presenter. In 2015, he made his first feature-length documentary KATABUI – IN THE HEART OF OKINAWA, following the 2nd RHEINBILDER - A Piece of Germany in Okinawa in 2020. UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS was awarded the Grand Prix for Best Anthropological-Ethnographic Film at the 2022 Tokyo Documentary Film Festival.

Find the summary of transcript of the podcast in English below

What brought you to Okinawa? Can you tell us your story?

I was born in the Canton of Jura, Switzerland. I then lived in Geneva for 12 years, where I worked for Swissair (now Swiss International Air Lines) in a management position. It was a good job. I’ve always had an interest in art, my father used to shoot on 8mm film.

One day, in the middle of the night when I was camping in Ouarzazate, in the Moroccan desert, I suddenly realized that this wasn’t the life for me. So, I came back from that trip and gave it all up. I gave up my job and my apartment and went on the road.

Japan, when I finally visited, made a very strong impression. It was very strange. At first, I traveled around Tokyo and Kanto area. Then one day, at a karaoke place, I heard this particular song, “Shima Uta” by THE BOOM. It was Okinawan music and it was my first encounter with the sound of the sanshin (Okinawan guitar). It led me to Okinawa and two days after arriving, I already knew that I was going to live here.

Okinawans are very tolerant. They are similar to the people of Jura. Also geographically, Okinawa is very rural, another similarity to Jura. The people’s friendliness made a particularly strong impression on me, and on my second day in the south, while looking at the ocean, I decided, “I am going to live here”. It was strange, I had traveled to many places, but I only felt like this in Okinawa. It is a special place for me. I have now been living in Okinawa for 20 years. But recently, when I am in Jura, I think that Jura is also nice. I like both places.

I first attended a Japanese language school and then studied at the graduate school of Okinawa University of Arts. Initially, I worked with photography, then film. I wanted to share my love of Okinawa through images.

Moreover, I made ” KATABUI – IN THE HEART OF OKINAWA” and then RHEINBILDER - A Piece of Germany in Okinawa”. I think how we live is very important. Especially now, when there are so many things happening in the world. In this film, ” UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS,” the people are relaxed. Watching them is calming. It can be healing. I think this film may help viewers to reflect on where they come from, the importance of culture, and themselves.

You also have an exchange project between Jura and the people of Okinawa. Can you tell us about that?

It was an interesting experience. Even my friends from Jura, Jurassiens, when they would come to Okinawa would often say that Okinawa and Jura are similar. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the people. When I went back home to Jura, I told one of my friends about a fellow student at Okinawa University of Arts, and my friend said that I should definitely showcase this artist in Jura. So, we created a project called “Jura-Okinawa,” in which we invite fellow artists we met in Okinawa to our gallery in Porrentruy, Jura, for an exchange. We have done this three times so far.

One of the most interesting projects was a community art project by Prof. Masaru Nakamoto of Okinawa University of Arts. He took full-body photos of people. The photos were then projected on a wooden board, which was cut to reflect the human silhouette and painted white. Then, these life-size white “human billboards” are placed in a field. The villagers become silhouettes of themselves, and everyone goes to the field to look for them. The community comes together with art and people.

This is a symbolic project. Prof. Nakamoto, who originally comes from Ginoza Village, which was featured in the film “UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS”, did an art project in my hometown Bonfol.

How are the people of Jura reacting to your work?

They like it. In Europe, Okinawa is not so well known yet. Furthermore, the Okinawan culture is very special compared to the Japanese culture. As depicted in the film, Okinawan culture is part of Okinawans’ daily life. Sanshin is played for performances, but it is also played for its own sake. Okinawan children always touch the sanshin, and there is always a sanshin in the house. We can understand where we come from through our culture. In the case of myself and my Swiss friends, we have never yodeled. Yodeling is also part of Alpine culture, but it is played at concerts. In that sense, I think there is a big difference.

Could you tell us about Okinawa’s Vitality?

Doing what you love, like the Okinawans in the film. Of course, sometimes it is not so easy. There are challenges. But letting yourself be guided by your passion, instinctively. “I have to do it. I feel like this is the right thing to do. This is me, so I live doing what I like.”

In ” KATABUI – IN THE HEART OF OKINAWA,” the story of the U.S. military base came up, but there are people who are willing to go with gentle resistance, “doing what I like (for example, performing arts) while going my own way.” They say, “I am doing this for this reason, because by going my own way, I am this way.” So, it is also very important to know where you are coming from. In Okinawa, there is ancestor worship. For example, children will show their certificates of completion to their deceased ancestors (such as grandmothers) on their way home from school. It is a vitality connected to the past. There is also the vitality that comes from the nature of Okinawa. Sustainability is often talked about, as we live with nature. Vitality is doing what we like to do, without forgetting where we come from and nature. We live thanks to nature, so we have to protect it. I am currently growing some vegetables in a field in Okinawa. When I touch the soil, I feel very calm.

What about your own roots, what is Swiss Culture?

My parents are Spanish but I am Swiss. My parents immigrated to Switzerland 60 years ago, and I was born and raised there. I also speak Spanish, but my mother tongue is French. I consider myself as a “Jurassien”.

The main difference between Jura and Okinawa is that the nature (landscape) in Jura does not change but Okinawa does. Every year I go back home to Jura, and there is the same lake where I take a walk. The nature that I have seen since I was a child has not changed. But when I leave Okinawa for a month or so, the scenery has changed considerably. Buildings are suddenly being constructed. It is too fast. Especially Naha-city has changed so much in the last 20 years.

I take pictures of walls, so I also feel the passage of time. In the past, I took multiple photos of the same wall and place, but nowadays the wall itself is new, so it is difficult to take such photos and follow the passage of time.

In Europe and Switzerland, people cherish their heritage very much, but in Japan, there is a sense of impermanence. In Okinawa, heritage still remains through people and culture.

What is the culture of Switzerland – it’s a difficult question.

For instance, I have friends from German-speaking Switzerland and friends from Italian-speaking Switzerland, Ticino region. I wonder what we have in common…it is the supermarket Migros or Coop (laugh)? What is our link? What is our cultural link as Swiss?

Switzerland is a multicultural country. Foreigners make up more than 20 percent of the population, and then there are second-generation, immigrants, like myself. It is an interesting identity, very international and with a feeling of being Swiss.

I am a “Jurassien”. I was born in the Jura and I like it.

Could you tell us about your activities on Art Therapy?

I have been doing a playback theatre. There is a conductor/facilitator and you sit next to the person and tell a part of your life story. There are four other actors and a musician. The performance is improvised. We often addressed trauma, bullying of children, etc. Through this play, children can feel that they were not so bad. Because they can get a sense of distance. I don’t do it much these days, but I like it and would like to do it again.

Especially now, after the pandemic, there is a lot going on within people’s minds. I’m trying to get our vitality back. I think this type of activity is very important.

Could you tell us about your next project?

I would like to do theatre play. The stage is a living thing. It would be interesting to see a fictionalized version of something that actually happened. Everything happened but is portrayed totally differently, or in other words “Everything is true but it’s different…” That’s what I will be working on.

We thank Daniel LÓPEZ for this interview!