Since both of the main musicians of the Kabudan are also students of Nakasone-sensei, we’re posting this. Though Nakasone-sensei has the highest national honors in both the US and Japan, he has a very poor web presence. Hopefully this post will help others who want information on the master.
Uta nu michi – “the path of the singer” – is an endless road to musical perfection. The longer one travels, the farther he realizes he must go, perpetually encountering trials and obstacles, but always discovering new insights into his art and, ultimately, his soul. Few have treaded this path as long or as faithfully as uta-sanshin grand master Harry Seishō Nakasone. Through a career that continues after more than eight decades, Nakasone-sensei’s journey has earned him countless commendations and a following of faithful cultural enthusiasts. More importantly, he has built a legacy that future generations of Okinawan musicians can proudly build upon.
Harry Seishō Nakasone was born in He‘eia on the
He always wait for the rainy day…when it’s good day, clear day, nice day, you cannot stay home and play music [or else] the neighbor[s] will [say] you [are] lazy…so he wait for the rainy day. He so happy, he come home and he start plucking the samisen and singing.
All of the memories of his early years in
By the time he was nine, Nakasone had taught himself to play the sanshin by ear. Whenever his uncle stepped out of the house, Nakasone would sneak and play the prized instrument he was forbidden to handle. Though he would berate young Nakasone for playing his sanshin,
Life in Hawai‘i was not much easier for Nakasone upon his return. Like most Okinawan families in the 1920s, the Nakasones struggled to make ends meet. Nakasone, now in his teens, became a delivery boy for a plantation store in Waimanalo. As the oldest son, he was obligated to contribute to the family’s income, but at the price of his education – unfortunate circumstances that Nakasone regrets to this day.
The family fortune eventually improved and by 1938, Kamasuke and Naeko opened a produce store in
Even after returning to Hawai‘i, Nakasone continued to be surrounded by music. His mother was an Okinawan koto instructor and his father was a founding member of their village club, Goeku Sonjinkai. The Nakasones’ Mō’ili’ili residence was often used for club parties and was frequently visited by well-known musicians from
My mother was cooking in the kitchen and when she heard somebody playing samisen she thought it was okyakusan (guest) came so she ran out to the palour, she look and I was playing.
Pleasantly surprised at his interest and prowess, Naeko introduced her son to his first teacher, Ryōkin Nakama, and thus Nakasone’s formal study of Nomura Ryū classical music began. Over the next 20 years, Nakasone-sensei would supplement his study under several great Nomura Ryū masters including Seisei Okuma, Sōjirō Nishijima, and Kīki Ikemiya.
In 1954, Nakasone sponsored the renowned master Kamechiyo Kōchi to live with him for six months of intensive study. Of all of his teachers, Nakasone cites Kōchi-sensei as his greatest mentor and inspiration. “He treated me just like his son,” Nakasone often remarks when fondly remembering Kōchi-sensei. Even after Kōchi-sensei returned to
Sensei told me just before he died (in 1973), he said he was so happy I was better than him now… [I told him] “Please sensei, don’t say that.”
Today, a picture of Kōchi-sensei hangs in a high place of respect in Nakasone-sensei’s studio.
Indeed, Nakasone lived up to his mentor’s praise. His diligent study and remarkable talent earned him the distinction of being one of the most celebrated uta-sanshin masters in the world. In 1952, Nakasone became the first non-Japanese citizen ever to be awarded an instructor’s license from the Nomura Ryū Ongaku Kyō Kai. Six years later, he was presented the title of shihan or “master”. In 1963, Nakasone earned Okinawan music’s highest honor, the Ryūgaku Saikōshō.
In recognition of his top honors and contributions to Okinawan music, five of the top traditional music organizations in
Nakasone-sensei’s recognition would not cease at the borders of the Okinawan performing arts circles. After more than four decades of study, mentoring, and performing, the uta-sanshin master received national recognition in both the
In spite of his national and international recognition and countless commendations, probably the greatest legacy Nakasone-sensei has built has been as a teacher. Shortly after receiving his teaching credentials, Nakasone founded his own school, the Nakasone Seifū Kai in 1953. In 1966, he extended his teaching to the
Nakasone-sensei’s legacy goes beyond his own students. In 1967, he played an integral part in founding the Hawai‘i chapter of the Nomura Ryū Ongaku Kyō Kai to organize the many scattered schools of classical Okinawan music in Hawai‘i. He became the first president for the organization and is today its only remaining founding father. Since its formation, the Nomura Ryū Ongaku Kyō Kai Hawai‘i Shibu has played a vital role in preserving classical uta-sanshin in Hawai‘i, especially for the latter-generation descendants of the original Okinawan immigrants. On
Harry Seishō Nakasone’s journey is truly remarkable. Indeed, only a few pages of text cannot fully do justice to the achievements of this great musician and his importance to the community. His own words probably describe the journey best:
Koten [music] is hard…You may think you get ‘em already, but you don’t. You have to go and then go some more. Everyday I’m learning.
 State Foundation for Culture and Arts audio interview, 1993 (
 Video interview by Koki Tamashiro and Andre Ajimine, September 2001 (
 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article,
 SFCA interview, 1993