Japan Society Explores Okinawa with Series This Fall

Japan Society begins its 2015-2016 Performing Arts Season with Traditional Dance from Okinawa, with Live Music, showcasing Okinawa’s distinctive regional performance styles for the first time since 2004. Part of Japan Society’s Okinawan Vibes series introducing the unique culture of Okinawa through film, talks, tastings, workshops and more, this program, which is co-presented with Yokohama Noh Theater, plays two performances only, Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m. Pre-performance lecture led by Dr. James Rhys Edwards, doctorate in Ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles, begins at 6:30 p.m., prior to each performance and is free for ticket holders.

A warm breeze from Okinawa opens the season with traditional dance from Japan’s southern island chain. Traditional Dance from Okinawa, with Live Music features a stunning array of works – solo, paired and group performances accompanied by seven musicians including instrumentalists and chanters – performed by a group of leading dancers and musicians, who are alumni and faculty members of the prestigious Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts. This program offers four pieces from Okinawa’s classical court dance tradition, developed during the period when Okinawa was an independent kingdom known as the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 15th through 19th centuries, and four pieces from its popular folk dance tradition (zo odori), playful dances that emerged after the end of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Through movement, symbolic props and tropical-colored costumes, these dances take audiences on a trip through the rich history and culture of the archipelago.

Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu

Izumi Higa. Photo
© Yoshiaki Kanda, courtesy of Yokohama Noh Theater.

Traditional Dance from Okinawa, with Live Music features dancers Satoru Arakaki, Sayuri Chibana, Izumi Higa, Kota Kawamitsu, Sonoyo Noha, Yoshikazu Sanabe and Ayano Yamashiro, and musical accompaniment with the Uta-sanshin (chanting and performance of Okinawa’s three-stringed banjo with a body covered by snakeskin) performed by Shingo Nakamine, Kazuki Tamashiro, Hiroya Yokome; Koto (zither) performed by Hokuto Ikema; Fue (flute) performed by Hideo Miyagi; Kokyu (Japan’s only bowed lute) performed by Natsuko Morita; Taiko (drum) performed by Satoshi Higa.

Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu

© Yoshiaki Kanda, courtesy of Yokohama Noh Theater.

Prior to the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879 under the Westernized Japanese government, Japan’s southern island chain was an independent nation known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. In the Ryukyu Kingdom, in ceremonial terms under Chinese rule, the islands developed their own unique culture, including a stately dance tradition called Ryukyu Buyo, or Ryukyu dance. Traditional Dance from Okinawa, with Live Music focuses on the classical dances, or court dances, created during the Ryukyu Kingdom period for the entertainment of the visiting Chinese emissaries, and the popular dances (zo odori), which emerged after the end of the kingdom out of the classical tradition. The classical dances are elegant and deliberate, with dignified melody and rhythmic musical accompaniment. When the classical dances originated, all dancers were men of the warrior class, but today women practitioners dominate the art form. After the Ryukyu Kingdom came to an end, the popular dances evolved as the classical dancers, who previously offered their performances strictly at private banquets for aristocrats, began reaching out to general audiences. Soon, a new repertoire emerged, to appeal to a wide audience. In contrast to the rarefied atmosphere of classical dance, with its stylized and sophisticated aesthetic, the zo odori popular dances convey an atmosphere of freedom and joy with their usage of the typically cheerful rhythms found in Okinawan pentatonic music, while remaining as sophisticated as the classical court dances.

Traditional Dance from Okinawa, with Live Music
Friday, September 18 at 7:30 p.m. (followed by MetLife Meet-the-Artists Reception) and Saturday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)
Tickets: $40/$33 Japan Society members


Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu
Okinawan Dance & Music Workshop + Onnagata Demonstration
Saturday, September 19 from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.
Tickets: $45/$40 Japan Society members
Leading alumni and faculty from the prestigious Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts teach the basic moves and melodies of traditional Okinawan dance and music. Participants will learn the dance Karaya, have the opportunity to try the sanshin (Okinawan shamisen) and witness a behind-the-scenes demonstration of a performer transformed into an onnagata (male actors who impersonate women) on stage.
Maximum 20 participants. Some dance/movement experience required. Participants must wear socks and activewear (no jeans). 


Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu

Paradise View © Osamu Muranaka

Paradise View Film Screening
Friday, October 2 at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets: $12/$9 seniors and students/$5 Japan Society members
Go Takamine’s rarely screened first theatrical feature is a pioneering work of Okinawan cinema, filmed almost entirely in Okinawan dialect. Taking place shortly before the resumption of Japanese sovereignty over Okinawa, Takamine’s film tacitly addresses the island prefecture’s complicated history of occupation and feelings of dislocation through the story of a small community and its preparations for a wedding between a local girl and a Japanese teacher. On the periphery of these events is Reishu (Kaoru Kobayashi), who quits his job on a US military base and uses the extra time to catch snakes and play with ants – and get the bride-to-be pregnant. Takamine’s leisurely paced film is full of uniquely Okinawan touches that mix in aspects of the island’s folklore, accompanied by Haruomi Hosono’s spare and evocative score. Screening in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the film’s release. Followed by a reception.


Obake Family Day: Experience Japan’s Ghosts & Goblins
Sunday, November 1 at 11:00 a.m.
Tickets (Adults): $15/$13 Japan Society members
Tickets (Children ages 3 to 12): $10/$8 Japan Society members

Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu


Obake Family Day returns to Japan Society, this time with more ghosts and goblins than before! With Obake Family Day passports in hand, kids will have the opportunity to take a trip to the southern islands of Japan where they will hang out with Gochan and Kijimuna, two friendly yokai who live in Okinawa, and learn about the unique culture of this region. On this trip, kids can create an omamori (good luck charm) to ward off evil spirits, play a fishing game and try on bingata (colorful Okinawan fabric) outfits before striking a pose in front of an Okinawan landscape together with Gotchan and Kijimuna. All materials supplied. For children of all ages with parental supervision.


Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu

Shuri Castle

Explore Okinawa: Art, Culture and Cuisine from the Ryukyu Islands
Tuesday, November 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $18/$14 Japan Society members, seniors, and students
Okinawa Prefecture is a chain of islands that forms an arc off the southwestern tip of the Japanese archipelago. Located near the center of East Asia, Okinawa has developed a unique culture through its tropical climate and trading with other Asian countries since the 14th century. In this program, participants have the chance to delve into the strikingly unique culture of the tropical islands of Okinawa. Takao Kadekaru, Senior Executive Director of the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau, introduces the Okinawan way of life through history and local culture. Hiroko Shou, Professor Emeritus of the University of the Ryukyu and a specialist in nutrition, speaks about Okinawan cuisine and its relationship with longevity. Textile artist Hiroshi Jashiki discusses Okinawan arts and crafts, including the vibrantly colored bingata textiles. Moderated by yours truly, Susan Hamaker, freelance writer and President of the Okinawa American Association of NY. Followed by a tasting reception of Okinawan cuisine.


Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu

Workshop: Traditional Okinawan Karate
Saturday, November 7 at 1:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Participant Tickets: $30/$25 Japan Society members
Observer Tickets: $10/$8 Japan Society members
Originating in Okinawa, karate is an internationally known martial art practiced by people of all ages. This is a rare opportunity to participate in a special hands-on workshop with Okinawan karate masters who are traveling from Okinawa specifically for the occasion. The workshop features four different styles of Okinawan karate. Session 1 is conducted by Master Choko Kyuna of the Shorin style and Master Tsuyoshi Uechi of the Isshin style. Session 2 is conducted by Master Masanari Kikugawa of the Goju style and Master Kazuya Takara of the Uechi style. These workshops are limited to experienced karate practitioners only (5 years or more). Observation seats are available for beginners and non-practitioners. Workshop participants are invited to a reception starting at 7:30 pm.


Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu

Okinawa, the Birthplace of Karate
Saturday, November 7 at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $13/$10 Japan Society members, seniors, and students
Explore the philosophical principles of karate through the true Okinawan masters. Originating in Okinawa, karate has become an international sport for both the spirit and the body. To native Okinawans, karate is known to involve both spirit and discipline, creating a well-rounded human being together with the martial art. Master Choko Kyuna, Chairman of The Society for the Advancement of Traditional Okinawa Karate, leads this lecture program, which includes a live demonstration by masters of four distinguished Okinawa karate styles. Followed by a reception.


Okinawa, Japan Society, Okinawan Vibes, bingata, dance, Ryukyu Kingdom, karate, Go Takamine, Uchinanchu

Workshop: Creating Bingata, Okinawa’s Vibrant Textile
Sunday, November 8 at 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Tickets to each workshop: $30/$25 Japan Society members
Explore the distinct hues of bingata, a resist-dyed textile originating in Okinawa filled with vibrant colors and embellished with intricate and unique patterns on each piece. Bingata, from “bin” (color) and “gata” (pattern), is created through a delicate process using a kata-gami (stencil) and the careful application of color and shading. This beautiful cloth was often worn by royal families, aristocrats and warriors of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Known for its dynamic colors accenting the elaborate designs, bingata shows off the vibrant and unique nature of Okinawa.

Workshop 1, 11:00 a.m.
Participants will create their own kata, the stencil employed in the bingata dyeing process, by using traditional patterns prepared specifically for the workshop. The kata itself can be also be utilized as a decorative item. All materials, including a frame for the kata, are provided.
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM: Kata-making workshop
1:00 – 1:30 PM: Teatime–enjoy Okinawan sweets with tea and coffee

Workshop 2, 1:30 p.m.
Using bright pigments and striking colors, participants will have a chance to practice the bingata dyeing process. A kata is specifically designed and created for this special workshop.
1:30 – 2:00 PM: Teatime–enjoy Okinawan sweets with tea and coffee
2:00 – 4:00 PM: Bingata dyeing workshop

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website.