Systemizing the Okinawa Performing Arts

With my last visit to Okinawa, I was given the opportunity to see more of how the systemizing..or what I call Japanizing/foreign influencing, of the Okinawan arts as a whole is doing to the current scene. The Iemoto system has been very detrimental in desreasing the populous of the dojo, and creating a cap to advancement of the seasoned performer or student. More and more focus seems to be on the business aspect in comparison to cultural preservation and identity. To me, more and more is being revealed as to why Ukwanshin needs to preserve and share our research and gifts from our kupuna.
Let me first start by lightly explaining the Iemoto system for those who are unfamiliar. Historically, LooChoo did not have an Iemoto system. This was adopted from the Japanese, who have generations of unbroken lines, with strict rules and positions. In the Japanese system, the art or business is handed down from one generation to another through bloodline, or if this cannot be accomplished, by a designated heir. The stylized identifiiable characteristic of the style or business is passed down just as it was done from the beginning, or as close as possible to it. Subsequently , it is like the western pyramid sytem we see today in marketing. Everythig funnels up to the top, and nothing can be decided or done without approval from the Iemoto. This has proved to work well in many cases with the Japanese traditional arts.
However, for Okinawa, the eve of the Iemoto system began with Majikina, Yuko sensei, using this title to preserve his dances, songs, and plays in a somehwat copyright manner. Other than Majikina, other Meiji era sensei did not take this kind of title on. The places of learning were also called “kenkyu jo or kenkkyu kai”, literally meaning places of learning. Now all we have is “dojo” or “kai”. This is interesting, as the focus on learning, with the sensei inclusive, is barely existant. Within the past 20years, the Tamagusuku style has seen emergence of various iemoto within their style. This totally doesn’t make sense to the Japanese as there is only one iemoto in a style or “ryu”. Also, one does not designate him/herself as Iemoto. With the creation of this multi iemoto has come increase in tuition, gratuity, price for licensing, and miscillaneous costs. The students with the most money, stay close to the top, while others who often are more talented, are left behind. These iemoto can be seen with their designer clothes, bags, make-up, student assistents following on hand and foot, and vying for more prestigious titles created to stiffle the emerging talents. With the creation of the Iemoto system in Okinawa, more and more new “kai”, or groups are being created for more leverage and prestige. Unlike the sensei of the Meiji era and before, the current leaders have the spotlight on themselves and rarely push out or encourage their best students to go forward. They don’t encourage their students to be better than them, as they have created higher and higher positions and titles to assure that only the ones in power will be albe to continue their reign. They make decisions to change the styles from year to year, and move farther away from the original styles. It seems that they are trying to stomp out the imprints of hte past generation of sensei, and create their own imprint in Okinawa history.
To understand Okinawan thinking and protocol in the arts, one must have some sort of experience with it, and to have had some sort of intercourse with the sensei of the past or its history. The sensei who were of the Meiji ers were very talented in bringing the Okinawan heart and life to the stage. Somewhat like the greatest painters bringing life to the canvass. They treated their students like their own children. They encouraged and put out their students who they thought would excel, and didn’t even ask for the exhorbant amounts of money as now. In fact, most of the time, the sensei didn’t even ask for pay, but accepted whatever the guest or student could give, even if it was food or services.
Due to the systemizing and rising costs, many talented students of the arts have quit and disappeared into the shadows. Some wouldn’t have anything to do with the arts anymore. If you look at the dance schools now, the numbers are falling, and I predict that if something isn’t done to approach the problems, Okinawa’s performing arts will be as available as the Japanese. I remember something that the late Itokazu Kame sensei said to me in the summer of 1984. I was sitting enjoing tea with her backstage of the Ryukyu Shimpo stage during konkuru. She spoke to me in shimautuba, and expressed her happiness in young people taking on the arts and how hard it was for her. She explained how Seigi sensei paid to take her away from the “juri” house, and helped her to start her own “kenkyu kai”. As I was about to leave she told me ” In the coming springs, the colors of the flowers will fade along with the fragrance”. She then encouraged me to continue my sudies in dance, but I never understood her words till recently. She could see then that things were changing, and that it would be up to others to preserve it.
The sea that awaits Ukwanshin will be rough and I think a storm awaits us, but like the storms in the sea, beyond that lies the beautiful calm waters that reflect the land and the sky. The places that have seen the passing of time and its people. We are the ones who are given this obligation through our ancestors, adn it is up to us to take up the task or just pas it bye. Many bodies are needed to help with the preservation. You dont have to dance or play music, if you can work a camera, write, research, etc, we can use all the help from those who share the same hope. If you need more information or would like to talk with us, don’t be afraid to email. You can email me direct at

1 thought on “Systemizing the Okinawa Performing Arts

  1. Mashi

    うぬカメしんしーがうんぬきたるthe colorsうんぬんぬくとぅばや、うちなーぐちしぬーやたが?いっぺーいいくとぅばやんやー。systemizing the okinawa performing artsぬ全文むる訳さんどー↓




     沖縄の人のもの考え方や古い慣習を、芸能の中で見出そうとする時、過去の歴史や、先生方と非常に濃く深い仲になるような、そんな経験が伴ってなければできません。明治時代の先生方は、まるでキャンバスの上で生命を表現する偉大な画家のように、沖縄人の心と命を舞台で表現することに非常にたけていました。それから、彼らは生徒を自分の子供のように慕っていました。傑出した生徒たちには前に出るように勧めましたし、今のように法外な額のお金を要求したりもしませんでした。実際、先生たちは生徒たちに一銭の額も要求しませんでしたし、仮に生徒たちが提供してくれる食べ物や奉仕などがあれば、提供される分だけ受け取りました。「家元制度」の組織化と、上昇するコストにより、多くの素晴らしい生徒・役者たちが沖縄の芸能界から姿を消しました。これらの人たちの中には現在、芸能とは全く関係なく生活を送っている人もいます。現在の琉舞道場を見てみると、生徒数は前よりもずっと少なく、早く問題の解決を急がなければ、今にも日本人にのっとられてしまいそうです。1984年の夏のある日、私は琉球新報のコンクールのバックステージでお茶をすすりながら座っていたのですが、その時糸数カメ先生が島クトゥバ(自分の村の言葉)で、今の若い人が伝統芸能を享受することがいかに彼女にとって幸せであるかを表現してくださいました。それは、彼女にとっては、簡単なことではなかったからです。玉城盛義先生がジュリヌヤー(遊郭)から彼女を連れ出し、彼女に「研究会」を作る手助けをしたことなどを説明しだしました。私が彼女の元を去る時、彼女は、’’In the coming springs, the colors of the flowers will fade along with the fragrance’’とおっしゃり、私に踊りを続けていくことを激励してくださいましたが、私は彼女の言った言葉の意味が最近までわかりませんでした。彼女は、物事が移り変わっていくことと、それを食い止め、保存していくのは私たち自身なのである、ということを悟っていらっしゃったのだと思います。


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