OFF TO YAEYAMA 八重山んかい行ちゅん

1972441_845099572173491_1858730747_nO-RI TO-RI!Our third day in Okinawa had us flying out to the Yaeyama Islands of Ishigaki and Taketomi.  These beautiful southern islands of the Ryukyu chain holds some of the worlds most beautiful beaches and traditional images.  They love their culture and it shows in the surrounding and its people.

We landed at the new Ishigaki International Airpot and toured the island, focusing on the minsa a textiles of Okinawa.  Our members took their time looking at the beautiful work and time it takes to make such pieces that has a long tradition in these islands.  They also spent equal time shopping for omiyage to bring back, as well as gifts for themselves.  After doing some sightseeing, we found a folk arts store which specialized in Yaeyama goods, and where the owner makes “saba” , lauhala slippers.  This art is quickly dying due to the younger generation not wanting to spend the time in making or learning this art.

We then went to the Yaeyama High School to visit with the students who will be visiting Honolulu and presenting a Yaeyama music and dance concert. They have placed numerous times in Okinawa and All Japan performing arts contest.  They have also taken the overall titles numerous times and will once again be representing Okinawa in the finals at the all Japan National contest.  Watching these safe_image.phpyoung students, you could feel and hear their love for the culture and music of the island, as well as their passion.   Although almost half of the students who helped to win the all Okinawa title had just graduated, the younger members have stepped up to the plate and are giving it their all.

After watching the practice we went back to our hotel and had dinner with the Yaeyama High school teacher, Nagahama.  He arranged for us to go to a friends place and try yakiniku featuring Yaeyama beef, which is supposed to be comparable to Kobe beef.  Its from Ishigaki anyway that matsutake and Kobe beef started. 1238113_845211358828979_1696745433_n The marbling of the meat was amazing, and the tenderness and taste was more than what I expected.  くぬ牛や椅っぺマー細微異端。This beef was amazing!  It melted in your mouth!  There was so much food and the other things we did this day was amazing.  I’m looking forward to the next day.

The next day we took a ferry to Taketomi




Katsumi Shinsato Sensei

Katsumi Shinsato Sensei


Living in a humble home in Kalihi, Shinsato sensei is like a father and grandfather to all his students.  He started utasanshin at age 20, while struggling to make a living in Honolulu. He said, hearing the voice of the sanshin made him remember his time in Okinawa with his mother. Because he wasn’t the oldest son, he was left to fend for himself and work hard to support his wife. He learned from two well know utasanshin masters of his time, Eikichi Miyagi and Shinsuke Yamashiro of the Nomura Ryu Style of utasanshin . He also played shimadeeku, Okinawa taiko, and danced along side many other well known Okinawan performing artists, such as the late Katsumi Hokama, Seiko Ikehara, Kanyei Izumigawa, and many others.

Shinsato sensei is one of the best examples of what a teacher of the arts should be. Many people nowadays don’t know who this grand master is. This is because he has never wanted to be in the limelight or has never solicited his name and accomplishments to get recognized and awarded prestigious honors, like so many Okinawan performing artists do nowadays. He actually said that he used to get scolded by his wife. She used to say to him,” You should go out and show face so that people don’t think you stuck up.” But his answer to that was that he saw so many other sensei going out to show off and make themselves known that he didn’t want people to think of him that way. If they didn’t know him, he was okay with that. He also was scolded by Miyagi sensei when he kept on skipping practice. Shinsato sensei told Miyagi sensei that he was busy with work and other things, but Miyagi knew that Shinsato didn’t have much money and was probably skipping cause he couldnt pay for lessons. Miyagi sensei encouraged him and told him that if he loved it then it didnt matter to him if he could pay or not. Shinsato sensei remembers this well and always took it to heart to treat his students the same and to cherish them as his own children. When talking to him, he encourages others like us who teach, to do the same.

Other Okinawan teachers of the performing arts and students can learn a lot from Shinsato sensei and his “Magukuru” Shinsato sensei explained “magukuru” as being steadfast….standing firm to traditions and what you believe in, sincere , courteous, honorable, humble, honest, generous, and nurturing. He said we should take care of things like how we would take care of a plant, baby, or favorite pet. He said,” There is no doubt that there will be a tomorrow. The sanshin is the soul of the player. Together it makes beautiful music because it exposes the heart. If the heart is not clear, then the music will not be beautiful. Its the same with dance,” Shisato said. He explained that this is part of our Okinawan identity.

At 91 years of age, he is truly a great treasure. He doesn’t have such honors and recognition as some other teachers, but his wisdom, talent and “MAGUKURU” makes him priceless and above any honors any man or organization can give. His humbleness and love for his music, culture and students puts him on the highest pedestal, deserving to be honored May 26th at the Hawai`i Convention Center.


-from the song Agi Tsikuten

Ukwanshin Tour: Last Activities Day

Our last day together for activities today was hosted by the Hands On NPO group.  They came to pick us up and took us to historical places, as well as locations mentioned in local folk tales.  We passed by the American gravesites where some of Commodore Perry’s crew is buried, and then went to the shrine of Akainko, who is believed to be the person who brought the sanshin to Okinawa.  Norman’s voice was not at its best as he had gone out the night before, and also had caught a cold.  He tried his best to offer the uta sanshin music at the shrine, and while we were doing the music, another group appeared at the area.  When we were done with the song, we turned around and saw it was a group of sanshin, odori and taiko sensei and others who we knew from before.  They came with the Okinawa Times Newspaper tour and were making their rounds to places connected with music and dance.  The were so happy to see us and asked us to join in the gassho of sanshin. It was like the ancestors had sent them to help Norman make a good offering of music with the help of this group from the Nomura Ryu Hozonkai.  It was such a nice surprise.

We then continued to a sacred place in Kadena, where folklore has it that a giant serpent lived in the lake there.  It is here that once upon a time, a boy was to be offered up to the serpent so that there would be no trouble in the village.  However, his sister decided to go instead, and as she was about to be sacrificed, a saint came down from heaven to save her.  This area is also said to have been the birthplace of Amawari

What was so interesting and great about this tour was that it was being conducted in Uchinaaguchi by young Uchinaanchu from this NPO group.  They are striving to help grow interest in Uchinaaguchi among the students, and to offer programs as well as assistance for academics, especially to students of single parent families.  It was so amazing and heartwarming to see the dedication and passion of this organization.

Our last stop was the symposium at Okinawa International University, where we discussed the importance of Uchinaaguchi and how it is connected to us through our roots.  Everyone also presented the current programs which have been started to try and revitalize.  It was the first time in Okinawa that numerous organizations were gathered in the same place to share and discuss this issue.  There were over 100 people in attendance.  Ukwanshin also did a mini concert at the end which also included hula and eisaa demonstration from Ryuku Kajimaya of the Okinawa International University.  Brent and mana from our group did Ulupalakua, Hatoma and Meekata.  The Parents and children of the Ninufwa immersion school joined inwith Tinsagunu Hana, and Akata Sundunchi, and the Hands On students presented a Kami Shibai, folktale in Uchinaaguchi.  It was a great event.

The night ended with the Hands on group taking us to dinner, and at the end, the tour members shared their emotions and experiences of their visit to Okinawa.  Tears flowed again as everyone shared, including the Okinawa staff of Hands On.  Although we only spent a day with them, we felt we knew them for a log time, and we promised each other to work together and create an exchange with Hawaii and Okinawa.


Norman Performs At The Nomura Ryu Kochi Kamechiyo Concert In Urasoe

Tonight we were hosted by the Nomura Ryu Ongaku Kyoukai at the Tedako Hall in Urasoe.  This was the 116th anniversary of the birth of Kamechiyo sensei.  Norman is the grandchild student of Kochi sensei.  The show had a cast of 1000, and Norman was chosen to have one of the solo songs in this performance, as he represente Hawai`i.  He did a great job and promised to continue on the legacy of Kochi sensei.  Thank you to Norman and Nomuraryu Kyoukai for this nice evening.

Ukwanshin Tour Day 7

Today we started our day at Shikina En, Royal Gardens.  This area was heavily damaged during the war, but was reconstructed to its splendor.  The quiet gardens and pond gave the feeling of going back nto time as you could imagine the royal family relaxing and entertaining their guests with the court music playing int the background. It seemed as if this was a much needed visit as it took us away from the hustle and bustle, and just gave our minds and spirits time to reflect and relax.

We then went to one of the highest points in Shuri.  Bin nu Utaki is a sacred site that is mentioned in many songs and dances, such as Kudai Kuduchi.  This Utaki was visited especially after returning from a journey.  Here we came to pray and give thanks for having a safe journey back “home”, and to also look at the restored gate and walls that was done through the help of Uruma seinenkai of Hawai`i.  This was another connection to our Hawai`i ancestors that helped us to realize the concern and love for Okinawa by our issei, although they were separated by the vast Pacific Ocean.  It made us think of how we need to keep our connection like them.

We then left for a special visit to Matayoshi Kanjeeku.  matayoshi san is the only silversmith left that makes traditional LooChoo accessories through his lineage of 6 generations. He has been designated as a National Living Treasure, by the Japanese government, and strives to preserve and pass on his knowledge of his art and the history and stories behind it.  He is very concerned that he does not have a apprentice that will continue his work. He is 81.  Matayoshi san gave us very good insights and heartwarming stories, as well as a message to keep our traditions alive through passing things on and remembering our past.  This was one of our most valuable visits which connected us to LooChoo’s great art of making hairpins, “jifa”, and jewelry.

After lunch we continued to a wholesale folk craft shop and then to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum where we saw exhibits on history and traditional arts.  Our day ended with a performance at Naha Tenbusukan, given to us by Atsuko Tamagusuku Sensei and her students. Norman and Eric also participated in the performance, but the highlight was when we called up Brent and Mana from our group to dance Hatoma Bushi.  The crowd went crazy and the heeshi from everyone was almost deafening ad the boys danced.  Many of the Okinawa audience cried as they watched, and said that they could see the love for the culture and how much the boys want to do the best they can to represent Okinawa.  Couple of the audience we met after, said they were embarrassed that Okinawans here don’t give off the kind of energy and dont dance form the heart like Brent and Mana.  It was really something to experience and also a great experience for the guys.

Connecting with Okinawa’s Most Sacred Sites

Our tour reached the half way point today as we visited the most significant sacred sites and historical places in Okinawa.  We all woke bright and early to leave for the Azama Pier and board our boat to Kudaka Island.  This island is said to be the place where the gods descended to create the first Okinawa people and also brought the 5 sacred grains which still sustain the Okinawa people today.  We were guided by a “kaminchu”, or spiritual leader of the island to a few sacred areas on the south end of the island.  Unfortunatelly we couldn’t visit the north side because of the beginning ceremonies and prayers for an observance which signaled the arrival, mating and laying of eggs of the irabu, sea snakes.

We learned from the “kaminchu” that the head “guru” or priestesses of this island in the Hokama and Kudaka areas, were the most powerful and lead the ceremonies and rituals which date back to the three kingdom period of LooChoo.  These two priestesses were the ones who initiated other guru, including the high priestess Kikoe Okimi of Shuri.  The Hokama and Kudaka nuru were successors of their family line as to where other nuru came and learned their practice at Kudaka from the nuru on the island.  So this was actually the central place of training and education for priestesses and where even the Shuri king came to get advice.

After that we returned to the main island and continued to Sefa Utaki, which is connected to Kudaka Jima as a spiritual center.  Up to 400 years ago the center of spiritual power and training was on Kudaka.  After that they moved it to Sefa Utaki.  It was a big difference at Sefa Utaki, in that there were bus loads of tourists, and the way that they have fixed up the place since it has been designated a s a sacred site made it seem like any other tourist place.  We were told that the Japanese tourist have made it a main “power spot” to receive power.  This “power spot” belief has gotten very popular with Japanese and some online and tour companies have also made “power spot” tours to go to these sacred and private areas that only the locals used to go to.

Ukwanshin Tour 2012: Returning Back “Home”

Excited and anxious tour participants left Honolulu on a very pleasant flight on Hawaiian Airlines to Osaka.  However on our arrival into Osaka, we were 45 minutes late due to late departure from Honolulu, and the strong headwinds into Osaka.  We originally had a little over one 1 and 1/2 hour to connect to our JAL flight.  We ended up rushing in and out of customes, as the JAL agents called for us to hurry and re-check the bags for the connecting flight, and that the check-in counter will be closing shortly.  We were literally running through the doors of customs to check the bags in then go to the gate.  We made it all on, and could finally relax and be on our way to Okinawa.  Upon our arrival we were met by our friends, Chihiro, Mashi, Yukari, Yoshio, Shunki, Etsuko, and Yasuharu.  It was so nice to see familiar faces to greet us as we were all feeling the time difference catching up with us.

Our first day started with our traditional visit and prayers at Tamaudun, the Royal Tombs in Shuri.  During our prayers and song “Meekata”, the group felt a rush of emotion and some kind of connection or realization which I think brought everyone to the reality of some kind of purpose to the tour.  We then went on to Shuri Castle and had an early lunch where we enjoyed traditional Okianwan food in an old samurai class house of Shuri.

After our lunch we returned to the castle’s Ryutan Pond area to watch the Shuri Ryukyu Kingdom parade.  Here we saw how it might have been when the king processed through the streets on the third day after the lunar new year.  The weather was very nice and the cool breezes carried a little chill , especially if you stood in the shade.

After the parade, we visited Kwanyin temple where some of the group members bought omamori.  We then returned to the hotel to rest after a long day, and to catch up on our time and reflect on the day, and what it means to be here in the place where our ancestors came from.

Maui Okinawa Festival “Releasing Their Okinawan Spirit!”

The Maui Okinawa Festival was held on June 16th, at the Maui Mall in Kahului.  Maui Okinawa Kenjinkai members, their families and friends, worked hard with preparations as things went into full gear with food prep from one week prior.  The hard work and planning showed as locals and visitors alike were treated to home grown Okinawa pride.

Various groups were represented for entertainment as the time was filled with non-stop local Okinawan entertainment.  Participating was Maui Okinawa Taiko, Mukaito Taiko, Jimpu kai USA Kin Ryosho Geino Kenkyu-sho-Maui, Hawaii Taiko Kai-Maui, Maui Okinawa Sanshin, Afuo Ryu Choichi-Kai Maui,Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko Maui, Maui Ryukyu Culture Group, and as featured guests, Ukwanshin Kabudan.

The Okinawa Culture Room had displays and video of various Okinawan arts, food, music, dance and history.  There was also live demonstrations on cooking, music and culture throughout the day.  The entrance to the room was decorated like a gate from Shuri Castle, and cute Okinawan costumed girls greeted everyone with special fliers and pamphlets on Okinawa that were provided by the Okinawa Visitors and Tourist Bureau.

The food is always an attraction, and they were serving up maui’s famous “Ashitibichi” pig’s feet soup, which is usually a sellout.

The Maui Okinawan community should be proud of their work, especially the core families and individuals who are there to coordinate and provide manpower for all events and gatherings.  The young and upcoming leaders for the Okinawan community there are also to be applauded, as they worked hard to do the planning and bring together the vision of the event.  Thank you Maui for having Ukwanshin over, and for all your hard work!  Ippe Nifwedebiru!

Here are some links to video from the festival.

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.

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.