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Posts Tagged ‘ryukyu odori’

November 2 (Sunday), Los Angeles

After seeing Majikina Norihiro’s troupe perform kumi udui at the Ginowan Civic Hall back in September, last week I got to see him and his group again, along with performers from the Los Angeles branch of the Majikina school of dance, at a traditional Okinawan dance and theater program called “Nuufa Gukuru,” held at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo. I didn’t even know of JACCC before this production; I guess I can add that to my list of potential places to look for jobs when tenure-track positions don’t pan out. At the very least, it’ll be a place to keep my eye on, as to what events and exhibits they’re doing. And, as a bonus surprise, two of the sanshin players invited to LA to play accompaniment for the dances were my teachers from the Nomura-ryû school of sanshin from Hawaii, Norman Kaneshiro-shinshii and Keith Nakaganeku-shinshii!

In my post about the Ginowan performance, I wrote of kumi udui as something to be appreciated, perhaps more so than being enjoyed – I would have said the same thing for classical dance, such as Ryûkyû odori or Nihon buyô. But, today, I really enjoyed myself. I don’t know if there was an actual difference in the style or manner of performance, or if i was just that I was sitting so much closer, with a much better view, or whether maybe it just takes that one more time before it “clicks,” and you suddenly start to actually appreciate and/or enjoy the art form. The first half dozen times I saw Noh, I certainly didn’t “appreciate” it, though I was certainly trying to. And then, one time, I saw one Noh performance in Kyoto that was just so much more captivating, and moving, than any I’d seen before that.

To be sure, I won’t pretend that I have come to possess some deep, true, appreciation for these very subtle arts, which can sometimes be so slow moving, and so obscure in the symbolism or aesthetics of gesture and movement… I also graded this weekend tens of undergrad papers on the role of elegance and refinement in the Tale of Genji, and I won’t pretend that I truly appreciate any of this as deeply or as genuinely as the historical Japanese seem to have…

A performance of Chikuten 作田節, filmed and posted by YouTube user kumiken34. Thanks, kumiken!

But even so, I did get something out of Chikuten, a slow, elegant dance tonight. And I thoroughly enjoyed some of the more lively, more folk-style dances. My favorite was easily Watanja, which I sadly cannot seem to find a video of online, and which features a variety of figures each entering and dancing separately, one by one, each in a different style, and then hopping into a small ferry rowboat together. Seeing this sort of made it click for me just how much so many Okinawan dances feature “characters” of one or another social type – the fisherman, the market woman, the bold nobleman, the refined noblewoman, each with their own style. And here, they’re all mixed together, highlighting it. And, plus, some wonderful small humorous moments of acting in character, such as when a young woman with a basket of fish sits in the boat, and the nobleman fans away the smell.

A still from “Watanja,” showing the various characters, each with their own dance style. Photo from Majikina Honryû LA.

Another interesting thing about today’s performances was that all of the pieces were composed in the 20th century, most of them in the postwar, and yet they are near as I can tell fully within the stylistic forms (and themes content) of the more truly classical pieces. For Ryukyu even more so than Japan, it would be easy to draw a dividing line, between those things performed in the time of the Kingdom, and those composed only after the kingdom’s fall. But I saw no language in the program indicating these pieces are considered shinsaku (“new pieces”), or considered outside the standard classical repertoire. Is the Okinawan dance tradition simply ongoing, with no such dividing line?

The kumi udui we saw scenes from that night, Chindera nu Turaju, more so than Yuki barai, played as a dance drama. Brief exchanges of dialogue, with a minimum of “acting,” interspersed with dances to represent travel, combat, or other action. This, combined with the mode of chanting, makes it highly stylized to be sure, but still I didn’t have too much difficulty following it…

… and that’s all for the notes I wrote that night. I suppose I could try to force myself to come up with something more to say, but perhaps it’s better to just leave it at that… It surely won’t be for a while, but I hope to get to see some more kumi udui again before too long, expand my experience of it. And, now that I know that it’s possible, and not all that difficult, to go down to LA and back up in a single day, and still have plenty of time to poke around Little Tokyo, I just might do it a tad more often. Fortunately, that samurai exhibit at LACMA doesn’t close until February.

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When I first started this blog, I wanted to give it a name that would not be too specific to any one topic – I didn’t want to pick a title that would express only my interest in kabuki, for example, or to pull from a reference to any one artist or artwork. I thought a title of something doing with tea would work well, suggesting the idea of sitting down with a bowl of tea and thinking about, or talking about, any number of different cultural topics. And I struggled to find a title that would work – I was originally thinking of going with some Japanese saying related to tea, like 滅茶苦茶 (mechakucha), meaning “all mixed up, confused” (lit. “ruined tea, painful/difficult tea”), or 無茶 (mucha, lit. “no tea” or “lacking in tea”), similarly meaning “absurd, ridiculous.” But, then I wanted to not represent myself as confused or ridiculous, but rather as someone who has some sense of what he’s talking about. Of course I’m happy to be self-deprecating, but I also wanted to give the thing an air of authority and respectability. Yes, I am just another shmo, another nobody writing about his adventures in Japan. But, I’m also a graduate student, and an aspiring scholar and expert. So, I thought, better to be a man with tea, rather than a man without tea.

But, I’ve known all along that the title is terribly awkward and clumsy, and that 有茶 (yûcha) or 茶有 (chaari), “to have tea”, the natural opposite of mucha, isn’t a real word, or saying, of any sort. So, I’ve been thinking for a while now about what I might change the title of the blog to. And, today, I have two ideas, both based around the classical Okinawan song Nubui Kuduchi (上り口説)。

The song is a travel song, sung in association with the journey of Ryukyuan scholar-officials “up” to Satsuma, or in sending them off on their journey. Along with the associated dance, it was also performed in Kagoshima, as part of entertainments for Satsuma officials.

The song opens with 「旅の出立ち観音堂」 (たびぬ’んじたちくわぁんぬんどー, Tabi nu njii taachi Kwannun-dô), meaning roughly “at/before departing on a journey, Kannon Hall.” The Shuri Kannon-dô, also known as Jigen-in, a temple in the Okinawan royal capital of Shuri and housing an image of Kannon, bodhisattva of compassion, was one of several places scholar-bureaucrats typically prayed for safe journeys before departing for Kagoshima or Edo.

And so, in short, I am thinking of two possibilities for a new title for this blog:

(1) Nubui Kuduchi – A Song of Travel, referencing not only my actual travels to and within Japan, and my posts about visiting various sites, but also referencing the “journey” more generally, as I continue to explore and learn and grow.

(2) Tabi nu njiitachi – The Departure Point, because I feel the journey is never over, and we are always, constantly, starting again, departing upon new journeys, new directions. And, maybe, if it’s not being too self-important or anything, if any one of my blog posts should prove a departure point for someone else to want to investigate a topic further, that would just be incredible.

So, What do you guys think? Do you like (1) or (2), or neither? Why? Do you have suggestions for another, different, title?

Thank you so much. Ippee nifee deebiru.

The Shuri Kannon-dô in Shuri, Okinawa, also known as Jigen-in, where scholar-aristocrats would pray for safe journeys before traveling to Japan. Photo my own.

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8/8

After a rather productive and fun day yesterday, today I decided I needed to try to take it easier. My legs are sore from all that walking, and while I fortunately haven’t gotten sunburned at all (woo!), it’s probably better to give that a bit of a break too.


So, of course, what did I do but start the day by walking around in the hot sun. Went to Tomari, checked out the Foreign Cemetery, which was unfortunately closed. Boo. I asked in one of the shops next door, and he said that people often just hop the admittedly extremely low wall. I was tempted, but if I did hop the fence, then the entire time in the cemetery, I would have been quite visible to absolutely anybody passing by, and the gate was quite clearly closed. So, I decided to pass. I got a good shot of the monument noting the landing of Commodore Perry, and while there may be some individuals from that era buried there, the only graves I could see or read from outside the wall were all from the post-war era. So, I’m not going to bother hopping the fence only to find little or nothing of note…


Instead, I pressed on in hopes of finding Ameku Shrine, one of the Eight Shrines of Ryukyu (as designated as such by the Meiji government, so we can forget about that having any real historical/traditional significance in terms of the Ryukyu Kingdom). I thought this would be as easy as finding the shrines/temples in Onoyama Park. How wrong I was. Instead, I spent the next I don’t know how long traipsing around more or less the full perimeter of Ameku Park and seeing not only no way in, but also no signs mentioning the park or the shrine or pointing the way, at all. As it turns out, as I discovered the following day, the location of Seigen-ji (its associated temple) on Google Maps is mistaken, showing up on the wrong side of the Park (and Ameku Shrine doesn’t show up at all). Google Maps is a wonderful thing, but it cannot always be trusted to be perfectly accurate, so, sometimes it pays to back up your Googling with some more local expertise.


Spent most of the rest of the day at the Prefectural Museum, and shopping. Mostly for books, which was fairly successful, and for kariyushi wear (the Okinawa equivalent of aloha shirts), which was not so successful. I found a few shirts I absolutely fell in love with, but the prices were beyond unreasonable. I’m talking literally in the 10-30,000 yen (US$100-300) range. And when you’re a cheapo like me, who really would rather not spend more than $30 on any article of clothing if I can avoid it, that’s just absurd. Of course, in comparison to those very uniquely Okinawan designs, all the $20-30 shirts, with their very standard aloha patterns, just didn’t appeal any more, at all (if they even had to begin with). Fortunately, I did find one nice shirt, with a shisa pattern, that was extremely reasonably priced, and fits quite well. All my other aloha shirts have strangely developed giant holes in them, so I was in need of replacements… (I feel like I’ve talked about this already… sorry. To let you in on a little secret, these posts were all written out of order, and I’m being lazy and not taking the time to rewrite them based on what else I might have said elsewhere…)

I did make off with tons of books, though, including some bought at the museum, and some – new, full cover price, unfortunately – from various bookstores around town. Lots of good stuff for my research. Now I just need to find the time to read them…

And then, in the evening, I made my way to the Makishi area, which I thought I’d remembered as a good place to get original design T-shirts and such. The one store in particular that I knew of is now gone, which was a shame, but, that’s to be expected, I suppose, after five years; and meanwhile, the area immediately around the station looks quite developed up, with a new public square, with water features and a giant ceramic Shisa, and a new shopping center. It all looks really nice and new and shiny. That said, though, the shopping center itself feels kind of half-empty and sad…

Finally, I grabbed dinner at one of the live houses on Kokusai-dôri. I considered going to one of the numerous places with live sanshin music (folk songs, pop songs, etc.), but decided to change it up and go to the one featuring classical Ryukyu odori (Ryukyuan dance). The show was shorter than I expected, but quite nice, and the decor of the restaurant itself was incredible, with all the walls painted with scenes relating the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. In fact, one of the header bars which I’ve been using on this site here, which I basically just found on the internet (yeah, I know. sorry!), turns out to be one of the works from the walls of this restaurant. Pretty incredible. And, if you’re interested, all the artworks can be found in a nice paperback book called 「絵で解る 琉球王国 歴史と人物」 (“Understand history and historical figures of the Ryukyu Kingdom through pictures”), available at the restaurant, or indeed at any of the major bookstores in town, or on Amazon, for about 1500 yen.

And that, basically, was my day. Not the most exciting entry this time around, I suppose. In my next entry, I’ll talk about my final day in Okinawa: Shikinaen, and playing catch-up!

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