Okinawan Folksongs Performed in India

Okinawan Folksongs Performed in India: Songs of the Okinawa Islands A Rich Variety of Beautiful Traditional Songs from the Okinawa Islands of Japan, Accompanied by Sanshin and Shimadaiko

India is considered one of the world's great treasure houses of music, and one of the most important aspects of that music is song. On this tour, the uniquely rich vocal culture of Okinawa, Japan will be introduced through beautiful concerts in four Indian cities where the culture of song is deeply rooted: Calcutta (east); Mumbai (west); Chennai (south) and Delhi (north).

a Map of East Asia
*Click the image to enlarge

Okinawa consists of a group of islands in the most southwestern part of Japan. It was invaded by Japanese mainlanders from the feudal Satsuma domain (encompassing mostly modern Kagoshima Prefecture) around the 17th century. Before that time, the islands comprising modern Okinawa Prefecture and the Amami Islands of Kagoshima Prefecture were grouped together as the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was in a tributory relationship with nearby China and was strongly influenced culturally by China and other Asian countries through trade. These various influences gave rise to unique languages and cultures in Okinawa, with especially rich song traditions. For example, the three-stringed, plucked sanshin used in this performance is said to have come to the Ryukyu Kingdom from China sometime in the 15th century. Similarly, there are various theories regarding the origins of the shimadaiko, and it's speculated that it too has historical ties to China, or even India.

a Map of Okinawa
*Click the image to enlarge

It must be remembered, however, that different islands within Okinawa have their own distinct languages and cultures. This applies to songs, as well, with different regions producing unique performance styles and compositions. Generally speaking, however, Okinawan songs can be divided into three main types: those from the main island of Okinawa itself and its immediate surroundings; those from the Miyako Islands; and those from the Yaeyama Islands. In this performance, the focus is on songs of the Yaeyama Islands, which include Ishigaki Island, the home of the three performers.

Two singers will bring a rich and colorful tapestry of songs to India: HATOMA Kanako (vocals, sanshin), who sings with straight, free-flowing beauty in a high, female register, and OSHIMA Yasukatsu (vocals, sanshin), who sings in a male register marked by a gentle, warm depth that is highly evocative. These two vocalists are accompanied by Satoshi “Sunday” NAKASONE (shimadaiko, percussion), whose rhythms create fresh worlds of astonishing variety, ranging from the calmly lyrical to sonorous, fun songs that completely envelope the audience.

The songs of Okinawa also vary depending on when they were composed. In this program, there is a progression from an a cappella song that predates the importation of the sanshin from China, through traditional songs accompanied by sanshin, and on to modern and contemporary works, thus introducing Indian audiences to the multifarious appeal of Okinawa vocal art.

* Some of the songs on the program are introduced below.

Tour Schedule (Sunday, November 15 - Thursday, November 26, 2009)

a Map of India

Mumbai [Concert]
Date: Sunday, November 15
Venue: Chavan Center
Chennai [Concert]
Dates: Wednesday, November 18 - Thursday, November 19
Venue: Rani Seethai Hall

[Musical Exchange Program]
Date: Friday, November 20
Venue: ABK-AOTS Dosokai, Tamilnadu Centre
Delhi [Musical Exchange Program]
Date: Monday, November 23
Venue: The Japan Foundation, New Delhi

Date: Tuesday, November 24
Venue: Shri Ram Centre
Calcutta [Concert]
Date: Thursday, November 26
Venue: ICCR Calcutta

A Partial List of Songs on the Program (Descriptions by Miki NAGATA)

Matsuingane Yunta

"Yunta" refers to work songs from the Yaeyama Islands that predate the introduction and popularization of the sanshin from China.  They were widely sung by groups of people working together, and were performed either unaccompanied or with hand claps. Many of them involve men and women singing in alternation. Many yunta are still sung on the islands, including Asadoya Yunta, Sakiyama Yunta, and Maya Yunta.
Matsuingane Yunta is about a clever man (named Matsuingane) who builds a fine house despite many difficulties.


This is one of the most famous of the ancient songs that have long been sung on the Yaeyama Islands. The meaning of the word "tubaraama" has been variously explained as men and women paying each other visits, or the call of a woman to an attractive man. There are countless lyrics, and improvisation is common, so that new songs are constantly being created even today. Some famous lyrics that have been passed down since ancient times are given below.

I traveled down the Nakado road many times, but my love in the Nakasuji’ family refused to see me.

When I look at the sea, I'm reminded of my Yaeyama home; when I look at the mountains, I remember the island where I was born.

I took out the “Hanazumi Tisaji” (a cloth given for remembrance by a woman to a man when he goes on a journey) from the bottom of the kimono wicker case the lingering fragrance reminds me of my lover.


Photo of musiciansBecause the sanshin was considered an instrument for accompaniment, there are few purely instrumental pieces for sanshin in the Okinawan repertory. This piece is one of them. It was reportedly brought to Okinawa from Satsuma in the 18th century and was played at the Ryukyu Court on the main island of Okinawa. In Esa-bushi, the celebratory lyric is linked to good fortune. Its heroic and vibrant rhythm, combined with the dynamic shimadaiko accompaniment, is one of this concert's main attractions.


OSHIMA Yasukatsu (Vocals, Sanshin)

Official Website

OSHIMA YasukatsuBorn in Shiraho, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture in 1969, Yasukatsu Oshima grew up amid traditional performance art. His father’s family has been given the name Hibari (Skylark), an honorary title given to families who are accomplished singers, and he has three aunts who perform and teach traditional dance. His grandparents on his mother's side were performers and instructors of Yaeyama folksongs (Amuro School Preservation Society). Oshima delves deeply into  ancient island songs and classical Okinawan music throughout Okinawa, including his native Yaeyama Islands, the main island of Okinawa, and the Miyako Islands. He is also active as a singer of his own compositions. In addition to performing in Japan, he has appeared in over twenty venues overseas, including Europe, North America and South America. He has released five solo albums and two collaborative albums, the latest release being an album Oshima Yasukatsu with Geoffrey Keezer recorded in New York with the American pianist, Geoffrey Keezer. Oshima has also contributed to many other artistic projects, such as composing commissioned works and serving as the musical director for audio-book CDs.

HATOMA Kanako (Vocals, Sanshin)

Official Website (In Jpapanese)

HATOMA KanakoBorn on Ishigaki Island, Kanako Hatoma began learning Yaeyama folk songs as a third grader in elementary school when she started taking sanshin lessons from her grandmother, who lived on Hatoma Island.
After graduating from elementary school, Hatoma moved in with her grandparents and great-grandparents on Hatoma Island (her parents' birthplace), and entered middle school. Her big break as a performer came in 1998, when Sadao China visited Hatoma Island as part of a television program and heard her singing, which culminated in the release of her debut song, Chidori (Plovers) on CD. In 2000, Hatoma was a member of the Okinawa artist delegation that participated in a European tour  (Russia, France, Italy) sponsored by the Japan Foundation to commemorate the G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit. Her first CD album, Yoon no Michi (Dark Road) was released in 2001; her second, Tida nu Faa (Child of Sun) was released in 2008.

Sunday (NAKASONE Satoshi)

(Shimadaiko and Hayashi accompaniment)

Official Website (In Jpapanese)

Sunday (NAKASONE Satoshi)Born in Osaka, as a fifth grader in elementary school he moved to Shiraho on Ishigaki Island (his parents' birthplace). Nakasone is widely active both as a traditional performer of shimadaiko for classical Yaeyama music and folk songs, as a well as tradition-based drumming for rock bands. Working with ARA Yukito, one of Okinawa's most prominent singers of island songs, he is a member of the popular band, Parsha Club.
Nakasone's unique drumming style and powerful stage presence have made him a sought-after player among many musicians and a major artist on the Okinawan music scene. He has participated in overseas tours as well, including one to China, Mongolia, and Middle East sponsored by the Japan Foundation.

[Contact Us]

Performing Arts Section, Arts and Culture Department, Japan Foundation
4-4-1 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0004, JAPAN
Tel: 03-5369-6063 Fax: 03-5369-6038

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