Okinawa traditional dance and music concerts in South Africa and Tanzania

Photo of Okinawa traditional dance and music concerts in South Africa and Tanzania


The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) was held in Japan in 2008. To mark this occasion, and to celebrate Japan-Africa Exchange Year, it was decided a group of eight performers would go on a Ryukyuan dance performance tour to four cities in the two African nations of Tanzania and South Africa. Young and talented members selected from the Alumni group of Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts, which has been engaged in an active program of performances in Okinawa Prefecture and elsewhere, will represent the colorful and lively beauty and harmony of Okinawa traditional performing arts. In Tanzania, the touring group will take part in the so-called National Festival of Arts and Culture, an international arts festival that takes place in Bagamoyo. The tour performances will center on both classical dance and Zo Odori, a genre that draws up the lives of people on the main island of Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, former Ryukyu Kingdom, and these dances will convey the diversity and attractiveness of Japanese culture to the people of Africa. This programme is in co-production with Japan Foundation, the Embassy of Japan in Republic of South Africa and Tanzania.

Touring schedule: October 12-19, 2008

Dar es Salaam [Lecture&Demonstration]
Dar es Salaam
October 12, 2008: 16:00
Venue: Ambassador Residence of Japan

October 13, 2008: 18:00
Venue: Russian-Tanzanian Cultural Centre

Bagamoyo [as part of the National Festival of Arts and Culture]

October 15, 2008: 20:00
Venue: TaSUBa

South Africa
Johannesburg [Mini performance for the children]
October 17, 2008: 10:00
Venue: St.Francis Care Centre

[Workshop and mini performance for the school pupils]
October 17, 2008: 14:00
Venue: The Japanese School of Johannesburg

October 18, 2008: 17:00
Venue: Gallagher Estate, Johannesburg

Pretoria [Performance]
October 19, 2008: 14:00
Venue: State Theater, Pretoria

Performed by: Selected members of the Alumni group of the Ryukyu
Performing Arts Department, Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts

Photo of Kazue Higa
Kazue Higa
Photo of Haruka Shinzato
Haruka Shinzato
Photo of Ayano Nishimura
Ayano Nishimura
Photo of Keiko Yonaha
Keiko Yonaha
Photo of Satoru Arakaki
Satoru Arakaki
Photo of Hiromichi Yokome
Hiromichi Yokome
(Vocals, Sanshin lute)
Photo of Kazuki Tamashiro
Kazuki Tamashiro
(Vocals, Sanshin lute)
Photo of Sanehito Takamiyagi
Sanehito Takamiyagi
(Shimadaiko drum,
hayashi accompaniment)


  • Hiroyuki Kinjo:Planning, Production(Alumni group of the Ryukyu Performing Arts Department, Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts)
  • Yukimi Shinzato:Production, Stage director(Japan Hall Service Co.,Ltd.)
  • Shinya Ohshiro:Sound(Pro-sound Stack Co., Ltd.)

An Introduction to Ryukyuan Dance

Photo of Ryukyuan Dance 1Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, is comprised of the numerous islands of the Okinawa archipelago islands. It is home to many forms of music and dance, almost all of which use the three-stringed sanshin lute for accompaniment.
Long ago in Okinawa's past, when it was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa enjoyed an era of wealth and prosperity built up through intermediary trade with China, Southeast Asia, Japan, and other lands. Okinawa absorbed much from various different cultures and developed its own distinctive court culture. The traditional performing arts of Okinawa symbolize that culture.
Ryukyuan dance can be divided into four main categories: Classical dance, which is also referred to as court dance; Zo Odori, which depicts the lives of the common people; modern choreography, which was created by dancers in the modern era; and folk dances, which has been passed down in every locality. A variety of performing arts exist in great diversity on the islands, even on some that are quite small.
Classical dance was developed as an art for entertaining emissaries from China at the court of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It was very refined.
In 1879, the Ryukyu Kingdom was eliminated and became Okinawa Prefecture under the Japanese government's program of abolishing feudal domains and establishing modern prefectures. Zo Odori, which took the lives of the common people in farming and fishing villages as motifs, made its appearance at that time. In contrast to the elegant, restrained formal beauty of classical dance, Zo Odori has an expansive rhythmical freedom that embodies the sunny disposition of the southern islands.
The performing arts of Okinawa never declined, even during historical periods of great adversity. They have continued to be a vital part of Okinawan life and an encouragement to the people. Okinawa, with its rich and vivid lineage of brilliant dance and song, is a treasure house of performing arts.
Built on a unique Ryukyuan musical scale and overflowing with passionate south-island emotion, the popular Ryukyuan traditional dance and music on this program have been pleasantly chosen to introduce a diverse of Japanese culture to people in South Africa and Tanzania.

Photo of Ryukyuan Dance 2

Scheduled Program of Performance

Yotsudake (Classical female impersonation dance)
Yotsudake written in Japanese characters

This dance, whose music sings "how joyful it is to be dancing on this day of celebration," is one of the premiere examples of celebratory dance in the classical women's dance genre. The dancers' costumes are made of the distinctively Okinawan bingata fabric, dyed in vivid colors, and they wear large hanagasa flower-shaped hats decorated with red flowers and blue ocean waves that symbolize this southern island. The sound of the yotsudake bamboo clappers they hold adds a brilliant note to the celebratory occasion.

Nubui Kuduchi (Classical youth male impersonation dance)
Nubui Kuduchi written in Japanese characters

This dance was born out of the historical background between the Ryukyu Kingdom and the feudal domain of Satsuma (now Kagoshima Prefecture). The word nubui ("going up") refers to the voyage north from the Ryukyu Islands to Satsuma. The performance depicts the departure on an official mission from Shuri Castle, the background scenes and feelings along the way to the port, and the events of the journey by ship to Satsuma. This dance is also said to have been performed to entertain officials from Satsuma when they were invited to Shuri Castle.

Nnimajin (Classical female impersonation dance)
Nnimajin written in Japanese characters

This women's dance is a yoshuku dance that anticipates the celebration of a bountiful harvest of crops. The way the dancer waves the sheaf of rice ears in her right hand and the matching movements of her left hand, the use of the characteristic kneading movement, and other typical dance elements convey a sense of great gentleness and beauty. The accompanying song tells how this year's harvest is so enormously bountiful that the part that cannot be stored in the granaries is heaped up in the fields.

Chiduyaa (Zo-odori dance)
Chiduyaa written in Japanese characters

This piece relates the sadness of the traveler who is far from his home village, his heart filled with longing for the people left behind, as well as the emotions of those at home who saw the traveler off on his journey, expressed in overlapping layers through the imagery of plovers flocking as though in play on the seashore. The gentle hand movements are a distinctive feature of this dance. The costume is a kimono of konji (dark indigo) with a Ryukyu kasuri splash pattern worn in the distinctive Okinawan ushinchii style without a sash.

Karate dance
Karate dance written in Japanese characters

This piece takes the forms of the traditional Okinawan martial art of karate and choreographs them as dance. Karate originated as a method of self-defense for the people of the Ryukyu Islands, who had no weapons, and then developed from that. This dance is made up of movements from karate and other old martial arts that make use of ordinary household tools and implements. 

Tanchamaee (Zo-odori dance)
Tanchamaee written in Japanese characters
"Tancha" refers to a fishing village in the northern part of the main island of Okinawa. Surrounded by the ocean on all sides, Okinawa is a land blessed with the fruits of the sea. This dance depicts scenes in the fishing village, the men as they go down to the shore and catch little fish, and the young women who put the fish in baskets and take them to sell in town. The dancers are barefoot, and the men hold the paddles used to paddle their fishing boats while the women hold the baskets used to carry fish.

Teimatouu (Zo-odori dance)
Teimatouu written in Japanese characters

A depiction of a woman of the common people, this dance presents the love story of an official and a beautiful village girl. The dance highlights the innocent charm of the woman, who wears a kasuri pattern kimono with a shortened skirt.

Kanayoo-Amakaa (Zo-odori dance)
Kanayoo-Amakaa written in Japanese characters

This dance is a light-hearted, leisurely depiction of a man and woman who are deeply in love with each other. In the first part, the dance depicts the lovers exchanging vows in the form of a hanazumi handkerchief and a minsa obi (a narrow, indigo-dyed sash). In the last part, the two playfully splash each other with water at the seaside. This is one of the more popular Zo Odori pieces.

Kurushima kuduchi (Zo-odori dance)
Kurushima kuduchi written in Japanese characters

Kuroshima is an island of poetry and dance located to the south of the main island of Okinawa. This dance portrays the beauties of Kuroshima, using elements from the everyday lives of the islanders. The dancers express gratitude for the bounties of the sea and the land and the generosity of the people. Their light-hearted, sturdy forms enacting these themes are combined with a kuduchi song of entreaty and rhythmical hayashi musical accompaniment for a lively, enjoyable performance.

Ryukyuan Dance Workshop
This workshop provides an introduction to the steps, hand movements, use of the fingertips, and movements of the entire body that are among the techniques of Ryukyuan dance. It also offers explanations of the hairstyles, hair ornaments, make-up, musical instruments, and other elements, and provides some actual experience. This is a way to acquire a deeper understanding of Ryukyuan culture and dance.

Alumni Club of the Ryukyu Performing Arts Department, Okinawa
Prefectural University of Arts

The Faculty of Music of the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2000 with "Achakaranu Asati" and other performances. Alumni of the university's Ryukyu Performing Arts Department, who subsequently continued holding volunteer performances, formed this organization in July 2004. Since the organization was established, it has held its own organized performances, including the "Onko Chishin" (cherish the old and know the new) concert, a benefit concert for areas hit by the Niigata Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake, and its first regularly scheduled concert, titled "Classics."
Most of the members of this alumni organization are members of the Ryukyuan Dance Institute and the Classical Music Institute in Okinawa. They have received awards of the performing arts contest sponsored by newspaper companies, and been awarded numerous high awards, grand prizes, and arts support awards of various kinds. Many of the members are instructors or have achieved master status in their respective organizations.

The alumni organization's main activities are presently centered on the Kariyushi Performing Arts Performance Dispatch Project of the Okinawa Prefectural Culture Promotion Foundation, performances commissioned by prefectural tourism promotion departments, lifelong learning centers, and other such agencies. The alumni organization is actively engaged in these and other local events inside and outside the prefecture, with a focus on the classical performing arts of Okinawa. It is slated to hold its second regularly scheduled concert in March 2009.

[Contact Us]

Konno (Ms.)
Performing Arts Division, Arts Department
The Japan Foundation
4-4-1 Yotsuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0004 JAPAN
Tel +81-(0)3-5369-6063 Fax +81-(0)3-5369-6038

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