Grant “Sandaa” Murata
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

On Saturday, Jan. 24, Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone-Sensei, shihan, or master instructor, and director of the Jimpu Kai, Kin Ryösho Ryükyü Geinou Kenkyusho, will present a multifaceted and multicultural performance at the Leeward Community College Theatre.

Following in the tradition of her paternal grandmother, noted Ryükyüan koto grandmaster Nae Nakasone, and her late uncle, Harry Seisho Nakasone, a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship recipient in Okinawan sanshin, Cheryl-Sensei continues her family’s tradition of transmitting the cultural traditions of the Ryükyüs through Okinawan traditional court dance and performing arts.

Cheryl-Sensei was already displaying an extraordinary interest in Okinawan dance at the tender age of 2. Whenever her grandmother and her uncle would perform together, she would mimic the dance motions she had seen in performances. Cheryl-Sensei attributes her love for the dance art to the influence of her maternal grandfather, Kamayei Arakaki. With the support of her parents, Seiko and Elsie Otome Nakasone, she began her formal study of Okinawan dance when she turned 7. Cheryl-Sensei continued to study Okinawan dance in high school and while at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1972.

After graduating, Cheryl-Sensei decided put her sociology career plans on hold so she could visit Okinawa for the first time. In Okinawa, she was introduced to dance master Kin Ryösho, founder of the Jimpu Kai Kin Ryösho Ryükyü Geinou Kenkyüsho. Establishing this relationship with Grandmaster Kin forever changed the path her life would take.

Kin Ryösho-Sensei was the son of Kin Ryöjin-Sensei, the famed Ryükyü court musician and founder also of the Afuso-ryu Gensei Kai. Like his father, Kin Ryösho was strict about the performing arts traditions of the Ryükyüan court and Shuri aristocracy.

While studying with Kin Ryösho-Sensei, Cheryl-Sensei participated in the Ryukyu Shimpo Geinou Konkuru, attaining all three levels of proficiency in Ryükyüan dance — she earned her Shinjinsho in 1973, Yuushuusho in 1974 and Saikoosho in 1975 — becoming the first foreign-born artist to pass all three levels. Cheryl-Sensei became so close to the Kin family that she was invited to live in Kin-Sensei’s home to further her studies one-to-one with Kin Ryösho-Sensei.

Thereafter, whenever she visited Okinawa, she was welcome to stay at the Kin home. Kin-Sensei declared her his protege and she trained extensively in the art of Kumi Wudui (classical Okinawan operatic dramas), as well as classical men’s and the highly acclaimed women’s dances of the Ryükyüan court.

In 1997, Kin-Sensei presented Cheryl-Sensei her Shihan, or master instructor credentials, and designated her Shibu-cho (head instructor) of the Jimpu Kai Kin Ryösho Ryükyü Geino Kenkyusho. However, before Cheryl-Sensei returned to Hawai‘i, Kin-Sensei reminded her that teaching was the basis of furthering her own learning. Mindful of those profound words, she returned to Hawai‘i to pursue her passion for Okinawan dance, determined to make it, not sociology, her career. And that is what she has done for more than five decades.

The Jan. 24 “Jimpu Kai and Friends” performance will feature a variety of traditional Okinawan performances as well as numbers from other musical genres. ‘Ukulele stylists Honoka and Azita and sanshin players of the Ryükyü Koten Afuso-ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Choichi Kai, Hawaii, will collaborate, which should make for an interesting sound. Cheryl-Sensei is also directing a scene from the Kumi Wudui “Hanaui nu En,” with musical accompaniment by the Ryükyü Koten Afuso-ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Choichi Kai, Hawaii.

The “Jimpu Kai and Friends” show will also feature Michael Gonhata and Puna Taiko contributing kumi daiko and hula by Halau Kawailaniakea, led by Kumu (teacher) La‘alea Arista. This circle of “friends” coming together and sharing their talents will also make for a very meaningful and memorable performance. All Cheryl-Sensei will say is, “Otanoshimi ni!” — “It will be heartwarming!”

“Jimpu Kai and Friends” is just one part of what promises to be a busy and auspicious 2015 for Jimpu Kai Kin Ryösho Ryükyü Geinou Kenkyusho Hawaii Shibu.

In June, Cheryl-Sensei and her students will travel to the motherland, Okinawa, to present “Ryükyü Geinou no Yu-be.” The performance will be held June 12 at the Japan National Theater (Kokuritsu Gekijo) in Naha City.

Since the passing of their beloved dance master Kin Ryösho-Sensei in 1993, the main Jimpu Kai School in Okinawa has been somewhat leaderless. Although Kin-Sensei’s son Yoshiharu was named head of the school, his failing health has prevented him from doing much in the way of instruction or performance, thus leaving the school without much of a presence in Okinawa’s cultural landscape. In Hawai‘i, however, his direct lineage is active in the local Uchinanchu community.

As the unofficial heir to Kin Ryösho-Sensei’s legacy, Cheryl-Sensei hopes to put the Jimpu Kai name back on the map, so to speak, by presenting this recital in Okinawa. It will highlight the main teachings that Kin Ryösho-Sensei was noted for, namely the Shuri style of Kumi Wudui and dance. This truly “dream come true” performance will be a culmination of Cheryl Yoshie Nakasone-Sensei’s 50-plus-year career as an Okinawan dance artist, instructor and director of the Jimpu Kai Kin Ryösho Ryükyü Geinou Kenkyusho, Hawaii Shibu.

Tickets for the Jan. 24 “Jimpu Kai and Friends” performance at Leeward Community College Theatre are $30 and can be reserved with the Hawaii United Okinawa Association at (808) 676-5400, or Doors to the LCC Theatre will open at 3:30 p.m., with the performance scheduled to begin at 4.

Grant “Sandaa” Murata, a Hawai‘i-born sansei, is shihan (master instructor) and chapter president of the Ryükyü Koten Afuso-ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Choichi Kai, Hawaii. He has been playing uta sanshin for nearly four decades.


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