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Okinawan Music

Robert Garfias
Department of Anthropology





I have been invloved in the study of Okinawan music for some years now. It is a pity that no adequate recordings of this music are avavilable in the US or in Europe. There are not even readily available in Japan.

Here are a few of my favorites, ripped from commercial cassettes bought in Okinawa some years ago.

Classical Music

The disctinction between folk and classical is not as clear as it is in other places, like even Japan. It is the old music of the court, but it also remained close to or connected to what was going on in the folk music.

1. Kajiyadefu Bushi. A song of greeting and good wishes, often the first piece played in an OKinawan music concert.

2. Kuti Bushi. A slow elegant song and dance.

Minyo (Okinawan Folk Music)

1. Hatoma Bushi. Originally from the Yaeyama Islands, this song has become a standard in the Okinawan repertoire.

Yaeyama Islands

The southern most islands of the Ryukyus are the Yaeyama group, some of which are quite close to Taiwan. Yaeyama has its own folk and classical tradition and is some of the loveliest music in the Ryukyus. Here are a few examples.

1. Basu no tori. The song of the eagle, this also accompanies a dance. The second part goes into the lively Sakiida bushi.

2. Mamitoma. Classical Yaeyama with a strong feeling of the folk.



On one of my early visits to Okinawa I bought a number of 45rpms. Only years later did I rediscover them and realize that they were recordings made by Miyazato Haruyuki. When I returned to Okinawa in 1990 Miyazato was still alive and very active in the Afuso Ryu tradition of Okinawan classical music. He was in fact the head of the school. Although the Afuso tradition had fewer members than the Nomura Ryu, which claims thousands of members and many in Hawaii, the US and even in Brazil and Argentina, the Afuso numbers had been slowly growing and this was largely due to the efforts of Miyazato Haruyuki.

He was probably a student of Furugen Seiho, one of the few students of the last court musician to the king of the Ryukyus, Kim Ryosho. Before WWII Kim Ryosho had visisted Hawaii and found many people there anxious to learn from him, however, he did not think that any of them were worthy of his tutelage. Kim Ryusho made some recordings shortly before his death in 1928. These were followed by a few recordings made by his student, Furugen Seiho.

Here the story gets interesting. Miyazato Haruyuki was drafted into the Japanese army during World War II and was sent to Manchuria. He was there captured by the Russians and following the usual Russian practive he was kept a prisoner and not repatriated for over ten years.  Meanwhile in Hawaii, Nakasone Seisho (Harry Nakasone) had a produce business in Honolulu and was a sanshin player. He invited Kochi Kamechiyo, a noted Nomrua Ryu singer and sanshin player (the two functions are always performed by one person) to Hawaii. Times were very, very hard in Okinawa after the war and so so he gladly came and was happy to teach anyone who wished to learn. As a result there were thousands of Nomura ryu musicians in Hawaii and this in turn spread to California and even to Brazil and Argentina. During this period in Okinawa, Furugen had few students and the Afuso Ryu was dwindling.

When at last Miyazato was repatriated to Okinawa he began to teach very actively and by the time of his death in the late 1990's Afuso Ryu had thousands of adherents, never as many as the Nomura Ryu but now safely well established. One of his students, Owan Kiyoyuki, now on the faculty at Ryukyu University, for many years devotedly took a tape recorder along to his lessons with Miyazato sensei and over the years was gradually able to complete a series of recordings of the complete repertoire of Okinawan classical music in the Afuso tradition, 186 performances.

I am here including only the Japanese Columbia 45s that I found in Okinawa in 1966.

Miyazato Haruyuki, voice and sanshin

Tawada Sumi, kutu

1. Nufwa Bushi

2. Kasa Udui

3. Naga Unna Bushi

4. Sanyama Bushi-Shitadashi-Nakahu

5. Tsikuten Bushi-Haitsikuten bushi


Personal Information
Professor of Anthropology
Social Sciences, UCI
Irvine CA 92698
Room 3336 SBGB
Telephone: 949 824-6644
Fax: 949 824-4717

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