Washita Ichiman Concert Brings Young and Old Together

“Washita Ichiman” concert at the Doris Duke Theater and Kona’s LEAD Theater brought surprise and emotional experiences that went beyond the stage. Tomoko Uehara showed a side that most people didn’t expect, while Atsuko Tamagusuku brought the audience to experience her story through her animated dance choreography.

Ukwanshin Kabudan brought the two cousins to Hawaii and asked them to present a more traditional show that

to just be looked at. The audience should feel some participation, whether it be physically or emotionally. The performer should also feel the audience and not be an idol on stage. That is a western concept. A word that would best describe the experience is “Yuimaaru”, or heartfelt exchange. It’s giving from one’s

would target the second generation, while exposing the younger generations to Okinawa “shima uta” and dances. The goal was to bring the ejoyment of both the performers and audience together instead of just entertainment. Okinawan entertainment is not meant

to just be looked at. The audience should feel some participation, whether it be physically or emotionally. The performer should also feel the audience and not be an idol on stage. That is a western concept. A word that would best describe the experience is “Yuimaaru”, or heartfelt exchange. It’s giving from one’s

self while not expecting anything in return, but also to receive and to give back unconditionally.

Many in the audience who knew Tomoko from her Rinken Band performances here and in Okinawa, were totally surprised to see her relaxed and at times playful on stage.

“This was more than I ever talked on stage in all my experience with RinkenBand!”, said Tomoko. “I just felt relaxed because of the audience. It was fun!”. Atsuko Tamagusuku remarked after the concerts,“Being here in Hawaii made us realize that we are missing a lot in Okinawa. We’ve lost the real Okinawanness of performing, but after performing here in Hawaii, we felt what it was like for our sempai who preceeded uson stage. They understood what it was to connect with the audience. We have a lot to think about when we go back, and I will pass on my experience to my students and peers.”

Tomoko also surprised everyone by playing Okinawan folk music, and leaving out Rinken Band songs. She showed her connection to her roots, and commented on the need to reconnect, especially after the passing of her father a few years ago.

On the Big Island, the fledgling Kona Okinawa Club, and veteran Kohala Okinawa club worked hard to bring close to 200 together there. The energy and hospitality on Moku o Keawe was awesome!

Ippe Nifwedebiru to all of our volunteers, Young Okinawans of Hawaii, Itoman Club, Honolulu Museum of Arts, Big Island Clubs and friends, and to our audience!

Click this link to see clips of the concert.

May Gakumun Kai

Presentation on Okinawa Performing Arts, Past to Present: How to Understand, listen and watch Traditional Okinawa Theater.
– This is the May Gakumun Kai, Okinawa Culture and History presentation (free and open to public)
– Sunday May 6th 12pm. at Jikoen Temple in Kalihi
– Live video stream will be available for those off island.It’s already going to be May, and this coming Sunday will be our ongoing lecture series on Okinawan culture, history and arts, 12pm. at Jikoen. Please let others know as it is open to the public, and free of charge.This upcoming presentation will present a brief history of Okinawan performing arts from past to present, looking at some of the changes that have come along the way. We will also look at some of the key things to watch, listen and feel for to better understand and enjoy Okinawa dance and music.

Have you ever wondered why kumi udui has various styles of chanting?
How did the dances and music become so popular with the people and why does it play an important role in the lives of Okinawans?
Is there more to sanshin being an instrument?
Are there differences in costumes, and implements used for dance?

If these are the kinds of questions you may have….or if you have wondered about some other things regarding traditional Okinawan dance and music, then you should enjoy this presentation to help better understand and enjoy the arts that have played an important part in our Okinawan identity and culture.

Mark your calendars, let others know and see you on Sunday!
Yutasarugutu Unigesabira!

Special Gakumun Kai Brings Lively Discussion on Uchinaaguchi and Performing Arts

March 20, 2011

Last nights special Gakumun Kai was one of the most interesting and interactive sessions experienced, and showed a genuine concern for the Okinawan Language and Performing Arts, and how it would be passed on into the next generations.

Dr. Masahide Ishihara and Dr. Manabu Oshiro of the University of the Ryukyus presented separate papers, but  both connected to the need for understanding language.  Ishihara sensei presented statistics by a recent Ryukyu Shimpo Newspaper poll of about 1000 people, concerning the use, understanding and value of Okinawan language.  Under the theme of Ryukyu Languages Endangered, he basically showed that besides the older generation in their 70’s and 80’s, those in their 20’s and younger have a very small percentage of speaking and understanding Okinawan.  When it came to how much of the population would like or think its important to preserve the language, only about half thought it was important or that they would like to see the language continue.  Ishihara sensei also brought up the fact that many in his age range, who went to school after the war and through the 70’s were punished and reprimanded for speaking Okinawan in school.  “The principle told me ‘You are Japnanese so you should speak Japanese.  Don’t speak Okinawan’. explained Ishihara sensei.

Recently however, efforts have picked up for revitalization, as Okinawa students who came to the University of Hawai`i to study and receive their degrees, have collaborated to begin Okinawan language immersion school.  Under the Project name “Kutuba Suriija Ninufwabushi”, the first of the immersion school for pre-school children will open next month.  The idea and model for the project came from the `Aha Punanaleo, Hawaiian immersion program.  The work in the beginning will be hard, but this will hopefully be the catalyst to other schools opening in the future, and the language being alive in the homes once again.

Ishihara sensei agrees that it will be an uphill battle, but they are willing to give what it takes to try.  The Okinawa people must be deprogrammed and learn how to decolonize.  They have been brainwashed and culturally cleansed through prejudice, discrimination, and colonization by both japan and America.   Like the Hawaiians have done to reclaim their language and identity, Uchinaanchu must also educate themselves, take pride and reclaim what is rightfully their language and identity.

Oshiro sensei’s presentation was on his project to create a performing arts data base to include information on Hawaii, Okinawa and mainland U.S. Uchinaanchu performing artists, and their projects.  He explained that during the Ryukyu Kingdom period, performing arts was meticulously documented and is now preserved and available for research at the Naha City Museum, where the Sho Dynasty treasures are housed and exhibited.  Oshiro sensei’s project will arrange in detail the current performing arts events and projects that represent the Hawaii community especially.

As discussion was opened up to the audience, both in attendance and through long distance live video feed, questions concerning the language in the performing arts, and schools came up.  Oshiro sensei, and Ishihara sensei both commented that there is very little if any, of Okinawa language being taught at the Performing Arts University, and in the music and dance schools in Okinawa.  This brought concern that future sensei will not be able to understand the music and dances and may pass on the wrong interpretations through lack of language understanding.  Another concern brought up was that Okinawa performing artists do not go out and do research or attend historical exhibits.  An example Oshiro sensei gave was when he was working at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum.  “There was an exhibit of the life and works of Yuko Majikina, which went for 3 weeks.  I watched to see who would come and can say that there were only 5 Okinawa performing artists that attended this exhibition.  The local paper also reported a scathing article on the “deaf and blind” performing artists of Okinawa who don’t attend such important historical events”, said Oshiro sensei.

Oshiro sensei has said that he has approached the teachers and told them they should do more research and study, but it has mainly fallen on deaf ears.  “Its different nowadays.  Before, the old dance teachers used to play the sanshin, sing the songs and teach.  They understood the music and lyrics.  They were that bridge between the court days and now” he said.

There needs to be more active research and collaboration to pass on the traditions of dance, music and culture.  The Gakumun Kai last night brought to light the urgency to learn/re-learn the language of our ancestors, and how it is not just used to speak or write, but how it connects us to the past.  The songs and dances which have survived hundreds of years hold beautiful poetry and stories that can only be fully understood and expressed if we can understand them.  The responsibility basically lies in us.  Uchinaanchu both in Okinawa and abroad must reclaim the language, which will lead to reclaiming identity, and lead to better understanding and preservation of culture and history.

言葉わしーねー、国わしゆん。国わしーねー、親わしゆん。(Kutuba washi-ne-, kuni washiyun.  kuni washi-ne-, uya washiyun.)  To forget your language, you forget your country. To forget your country, you forget your parents.  Basically, if you forget your langangue, you forget where your roots are from and also lose your connection to your ancestors.

Ii Sougwachi Debiru! いい正月でびる!Happy New Year!

Over 230 filled Jikoen Hall to enjoy "Okinawan" New Year
Clad in katachiki uchikake, adn dancing with nuchibana to celebrate the coming of spring .

The Lunar New Year is more commonly referred to as “Chinese New Year”, and was observed on January 23rd. Most of Asia still retains the Lunar New Year as their larger celebration to welcome in the Chinese zodiac representative for that year, as it also traditionally was also linked to prayers and thanksgiving for the


new year and hopes for prosperity, health and good fortune. LooChoo/Okinawa, also observes the lunar new year, as the lunar calendar is still a very important part of life, especially when choosing a good day for

Shishimai to bring good luck and auspiciousness for the year. Dancers, Takako Miyazaki, Hitomi Takahashi


celebrations, moving, weddings, burials, etc. However, within the past 60 years, the celebration of the lunar new year has decreased to a handful of places in the countrysides, neighboring islands, and the fishing village of Itoman. The cultural genocide that continued after the war is part to blame as well as Western influence.

Ukwanshin has tried to revive the observance here in Hawai`i from last year, as the Lunar New Year is part of our culture, tradition, and identity as well. This year’s Sougwachi event brought over 230 people together at Jikoen Hall in Kalihi. Reverend Shindo Nishiyama offered prayers in the temple prior to the main event, and was so suprprised to have the temple filled to capacity. “This is so wonderful to have so many people here to celebrate and remember their ancestors”, said Reverend Nishiyama after the short service. The celebration continued in the main hall of Jikoen, as people gathered to talk story, and enjoy

ShoChikuBai, representing strength, beauty, vibrance, prosperity, and long life. Dancers: Shizue Afuso, Takako Miyazaki, Hitomi Tkahashi

some Okinawa style food, including shoyu pork, and saata andagi. As dinner was winding down, traditional Okinawan entertainment was presented. The program opened with a special Kajyadefu, using the words of an auspicious new year. The dance was done in the original Ryojin, or old man style to represent the presence of the ancestors there to also celebrate. Also on stage was young men Aaron Hoo and David Jones, doing Meekata. The program continued with more traditional dances that would have been done in many of the villages for such an occasion, such as Sho Chku Bai, and Shishimai. The evening ended with everyone dancing Acchame to the Kachashi music.

Nubui Kuduchi was one of the favorite dances for our issei men. Dancers: David Jones, Aaron Hoo
Ukwanshin Jiute/ musicians.  Derek Fujio, Scotty Moriyama, Norman Kaneshiro, Keith Nakaganeku
Ukwanshin Jiute/ musicians. Derek Fujio, Scotty Moriyama, Norman Kaneshiro, Keith Nakaganeku

The year of the dragon symbolizes great strength for the year as the dragon itself symbolizes auspiciousness and prosperity. Those born in the year of the Dragon however are cautioned to be conservative with finances and to take care of their health. For more information on the prospects of this year, you can look up information on Feng Shui outlook for 2012, or visit Chinatown to speak to a very humble expert on Feng Shui, Michael Wu at Feng Shui Arts and Gifts in the Maunakea Marketplace next to the elevator. Feng Shui has also been practiced in LooChoo/ Okinawa for centuries, and can be seen in the influence of architecture, such as Shuri Castle, graves, and spiritual consultations for events. We wish all of you a safe healthy and auspicious year of the dragon in 2012, and thank you for your support in revitalizing Okinawan traditions and identity. Ii Sougwachi Debiru. Kutushen Yutasarugutu Unigesabira!

Ippe Nifwedebiru to Carole Yonamine and Keila Santaella for the photos.

Ryukyu Language Symposium At Okinawa International University Includes Return of `Olelo Hawai`i

As greater interest in restoring the Okinawan language spreads, a few hundred attended the symposium at Okinawa International University on LooChoo(Ryukyu) Language.  Included in the discussion was a very good video on the restoration of `olelo Hawai`i through Punanaleo.  It was in Yamatuguchi.  If you missed it, you can watch the recorded video on the following ink.

“Ichimadin Shimanchu” Message Unites Voices and Expands Connections

Angel(Peru), Brandon, and Norman at the National Theater Okinawa

From our participation in the National Theater Show, to the last school a Makabi Elementary, Ukwanshin gave the message of revitalization focused on the language.  The coinciding of the Worldwide Uchinaanchu Taikai also brought new connections and networking to expand the movement and work to help save Uchinaaguchi, and look at how it connects to cultural revitalization also.  

At the National Theater show, we were able to participate with many Okinawan traditional performing artists from North and South America, Okinawa and Hawaii.  The performing artists were great, and showed that the music and dance of Ryukyu is still alive and well in the places our ancestors took it to.  At least for the next few generations, the performing arts will be passed on and connection to Okinawa continued.

Meio University Presentation

After the two shows at the National Theater, we were finally able to really focus on our main reason for being in Okinawa. We hit 11 places in about a week.  We visited 4 universities, 1 high school, 4 elementary schools, and 2 symposiums.  Takaesu Elementary in Gushikawa gave hope for the future.  The children gave their greeting in Uchinaaguchi, and many said they still live with their great grandparents.  They were very receptive and said they want to learn more from their elders at home.  We also had a very productive and emotional group discussion at the Christian University where Okinawa NGO, various university students, and teachers attended.  The focus for this symposium was on Hawaiian language immersion and language revitalization in Okinawa.  As in all of the areas we spoke, the discussion covered the same ideas and comments on how to save Uchinaaguchi and why.  There was also the introduction of Hawaiian immersion school topic and seeing how it could benefit Okinawa.  The most impact however came with Keith closing with his comment on starting action.  “It’s great we talk about these things but it cannot stop here.  After we leave, you have to decide what you are going to do and do something or our being here today doesn’t mean anything.”  This hit the guts of many of the students there and brought some to tears, as they realized that they have been deprived of something that is theirs.  They also felt so ignorant of their culture and language and realized there is a crisis. “I see now how we have been given only what Japan wants us to know, and in the process it has made us only become more Japanese.  Our language and history has been kept out of the educational system, and we have been deprived of our connection to our ancestors and identity.  We have to take it into our own hands and work to educate ourselves and reconnect”, said one student who is active in one of Okinawa’s government affiliated NGOs.

Naha Mayor Declares Uchinaaguchi Use at Session Openings and Closings

With comments and influence from the visiting Okinawans for the taikai, the Naha Mayor announced in the Ryukyu Shimpo Newspaper that they will begin the use of Uchinaaguchi in the opening and closing sessions for Naha City.  This a a great step as the support of Uchinaagushi by politicians would help to boost and support use in other public forums and political programs.  The next step is to get the language into the schools as a regular class, and then to push for immersion schools.

Kanagusuku Elementary

Our concert at the Tenbusu Theater in Naha brought young and old alike, who came to enjoy both Hawaiian and Okinawan music connected with our message of revitalization, especially of language.  It was great to feel such a warmth from the audience, as emotions were definitely affected as tears flowed and hearts connected with the love and concern for Okinawa.  Both the Okianwans from Okinawa, and those from the outside, including us, were all one family without anything separating us, as the music brought us together with our similar understanding and love for our ancestors.  It was an awesome feeling.  At the end of both shows, the audience chanted and cleped for encore, and wouldn’t leave until we came out again.  We had alerady changed and were going to meet everyone in the lobby when we hear this unexpected chorus, and the Tenbusu staff told us we should go back out.  We ended up with kachashii and “achame”, where at one point almost 100% of the audience was dancing with each other and didn’t want to stop.




Taikai Brought Glitz and Hype to Worldwide Uchinnanchu, But Many Voiced Lack of Traditions and Language

The Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times Newspapers, interviewed participants young and old at the taikai.  Everyone enjoyed some part of the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the shows and festivities at the taikai.  However, there were also many that felt that the modern production for the taikai, and the lack of Okinawan language brought concern.  Some elders also felt upset that traditional dance and music were either missing or at a minimum.  The theme song for the taikai was a modern song sang in Japanese.  “We are so happy and grateful that Okinawa has put on such a festival to welcome us home, but to spend so much money to get here and not find Okinawa dance and music represented in the opening and closing is a bit saddening.” said one participant from Brazil.

The Base to Survival of Traditions and Culture Will Lie In the Revitalization of Uchinaaguchi.

In all, the language needs to come back strong so that the identity and culture of Okinawa will survive.  Okinawa can go on to evolve, but without its connection and preservation of traditions, the connection to our ancestors will also be cut off as it may become unrecognizable as Okianwan.  If we look around, other people who speak their own language have no problem with their identity, and can move on to evolve while still being able to connect to their traditions.  In order for realization and action to happen we must ask our selves “Why?”  Why did our language decline 96% in 60years?  If we can understand this, we will see that it was not the decision of the Okinawans, but a forced movement implemented by Japan, to inculturalize the Okinawans and change their identity and culture.  From this we will be able to also understand why performing arts are changing, why the war cam to Okinawa, and why Okinawans are against the bases.  The Okiawans still have no voice in decisions, and there is still the continued effort to wipe out the identity and traditional practices which makes Okinawa so different and unique. This was a hard  weeks with non-stop visits, eating convenience store food on the go, and lack of sleep.  However, it was all worth it and we were strengthened by knowing that this is the work of our ancestors.  Thank you to all of our Okinawa friends who made it possible, and also to our Hawaii supporters who share in our work.  Ippe Nifwedebiru!

Finally able to Relax


Exchange with Local Okinawa Youth Shows Concern For Future

The morning began with a visit to a special education school in central Okinawa that is based in mainland Japan, but caters to Okinawa’s high school students with special needs.  It was a hard late morning as we constantly wondered if these students understood and enjoyed what we were presenting.  We were lucky enough to have two 3rd year students join us playing sanshin.  Some of these students have a hard time with expression, or are very shy to talk or ask questions.

After that we were on our way to Okinawa International University  to meet with students and members of a performing arts eisaa group.  It was very interesting to see this group that was formed to help kids with handicap or disadvantaged who could not join a regular eisaa group.   They performed for us a bunch of eisaa, and we in return did a few Hawaiian numbers as well as Okinawan folk music while explaining the importance of identity and culture in comparison to Hawaii.

The main part of the evening was the discussion session where we went into detail on our view of the importance of identity and the lacking or dilution of it in Okinawa.  The students felt the crisis and need for revitalization but said that there are some things that would make it hard, especially in the language area since there are many different dialects from the various areas, and also the social levels of vocabulary.  I also explained that there seems to be disagreements and  strong sentiments on who is wright or wrong in the way the language is taught or spoken.  I explained to them that the Hawaiians also had this problem but the elders and teachers sat down and worked this problem out by realizing that if the disagreements and arguments continued, the language would surely die and all would be lost.  There needs to be a medium and also lenience to perpetuate the language.  In Okinawa it seems that some elders are hard head and want things to be done one way and with the honorific levels of speech.

The youth, especially the college students seem to have a growing interest in revitalizing their identity, but due to the decades of brainwashing and cultural genocide, they don’t know where to start or how to move.  They are very concerned aobut their future and in how they can pass on the Okinawan identity, language and culture to the next generation.  We explained to them that it is the current college students and graduate level population that has the power to change things and that with this surge of interest in revitalization, it can happen with their empowerment.  They need to move and not just have discussions on the topics.  They need to go to their politicians and tell them what they want.  They need to start networking and create a fellowship with elementary and high schools to create support and leadership.  Mostly, Okinawa and Okinawans on the outside must say “Let’s do it!, and “Where do we start?”, in stead of “it can’t be helped”, or “maybe it can happen”.  We need to look at our ancestors.  This quote from the Hawaiian Culture Ka Wana series “Hewa”, paints the picture and explains what we need to do for our identity in relation to Hawaiians.

“Knowing how our ancestors behaved begs the question of whether we are doing the same.  If we are practicing our culture in a way similar to how they did, then we know that Hawaiian culture is very much alive today.  If we do things differently we have to ask if those changes are to our benefit, and whether we can reclaim what has been forgotten, lost, or suppressed.

…..indigenous peoples (identity) is more than just behavioral controls….If we cannot (or do not) live as such(traditions, language etc) we do not live as such and do not exist as a People, and are just like everyone else.”

So far we have seen more and more riding the wave to bring Okinawa back to its roots.  Language connects and lives in a peoples culture, and history.  Once this changes or is taken away, so will the culture and identity of the people.

Music and Dances of Okinawa Flourishes Throughout the World

The gathering of performing artists from South America, Hawaii, and mainland USA showed the preservation of the arts and continued interest in what is truly a connection to our roots and ancestors.  The level of the arts outside of Okinawa has risen to the same playing field as so many now make the sacrifices to go to Okinawa and take on the challenges of learning Music and dance.  In just about 20 years, its a big contrast to the handful of pioneers who ventured outside their local dojos to train in Okinawa.

In talking to many of the performers from mainland US and South America, the enjoyment of the dances and music is what draws them to continue the arts.  When asked about whether they think it strengthens identity, they said “yes!”  They also mentioned that they do have some sort of concern for the language and how they themselves dont speak or understand.  This show gave the performing artist the opportunity to perform on the prestigious National Theater stage, but more importantly, it started a network to support each other outside of Okinawa, as in some areas, there are only a few.