Allison Yanagi-Sensei’s inspiration — her maternal grandparents, Bokuzen and Haruko Kaneshiro.
Allison Yanagi-Sensei’s inspiration — her maternal grandparents, Bokuzen and Haruko Kaneshiro.

Nomura Ryü Dentö Ongaku Kyökai Okinawa to Join Hawai‘i Concert

Jodie Chiemi Ching
Special to the Hawai‘i Herald

More than 20 years ago, Bokuzen Kaneshiro presented his precious sanshin to his yonsei granddaughter, Allison Ya-
nagi. It marked the beginning of her lifelong commitment to Okinawan performing arts. Today, Allison Yanagi — now Allison Yanagi-Sensei — is president of Nomura Ryü Dentö Ongaku Kyökai (in short, “Den-On”) Hawaii Shibu, a new school of Ryükyüan classical music in Hawai‘i.

The school will hold its debut performance, “ALOHA Den-On,” on Sunday, Nov. 19, at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. Proceeds from the 2 p.m. music and dance concert will benefit the Hawaii Okinawa Center and the Hawaii Okinawa Plaza, the Hawaii United Okinawa Association’s new for-profit venture currently under construction across the street from the HOC.

The concert also marks Nomura Ryü Dentö Ongaku Kyökai Okinawa’s 35th anniversary, which the organization will celebrate with its new “cousin” branch in Hawai‘i by bringing about 120 members from Okinawa. The delegation will include the kyökai’s president, Ichio Nakamura-Sensei; vice president and key organizer of the event, Toshikazu Tamaki-Sensei and Junichi Tomita, president of Okinawa’s Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper.

In many respects, “ALOHA Den-On” represents the passing of Ryükyüan classical music from one generation in Okinawa to another in Hawai‘i.

In 1997, Yanagi-Sensei received the Okinawa Prefectural Government Foundation scholarship, allowing her to study performing arts at the Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts, also referred to as Geidai. The following year, she joined Den-On in Hawai‘i.

Yanagi holds a shihan (master instructor) certificate in Okinawan kücho, or spike fiddle, and a kyöshi (licensed teacher) certificate in sanshin from Den-On. She is also recognized as a denshösha, or “official transmitter,” of the Nomura style of classical music by the Okinawa Prefectural Government. Additionally, she holds a shihan teaching certificate in Ryükyü minyö (folk music) sanshin with Nidaime Teishin Kai Hawaii Shibu. She has also studied dance with the Azama Honryu school of Okinawan dance and received the saiköshö (highest award) ranking from the Ryukyu Shimpo in 2016. Yanagi is an active member of her family’s Okinawan locality club, Chatan-Kadena Chojin Kai, for which she is a past president.

Yanagi’s cultural influences were always nearby. “My maternal grandmother, Haruko Kaneshiro, loved Okinawan music and dance. I remember as a child that my mother and I would accompany her to many concerts and recitals. She also played sanshin with Seikou Ikehara-Sensei and I used to mimic her playing when she practiced for her lessons,” Yanagi recalled.

“She always tried to get me to learn, formally, but I was very resistant, until college. One summer, on a whim, I decided to take Okinawan dance lessons and I instantly fell in love with it. I then wanted to learn everything I could about dance, music and different instruments, so I took an Okinawan music class at UH Mänoa in which the class culminated in a short performance at the end of the semester. To my delight and surprise, my grandfather gave me his sanshin to play for that performance and he told me to keep it. I hope to pass it on to my children, too.”

By now you may be scratching your head, wondering, “Wasn’t there a Nomura Ryü 50th anniversary performance just a few months ago?” Yes, there was, said Yanagi, noting that there are now a number of Nomura-style Ryükyüan classical music schools.

“The original Nomura Ryü organization is Nomura Ryü Ongaku Kyökai (which just celebrated its 50th anniversary). In the ’50s or so, I think a group of Nomura members in Okinawa broke off and formed their own organization called Nomura Ryü Ongaku Hozon Kai. There are others affiliated with Hozon Kai in Hawai‘i, but their group is very small.”

And now there is the new Nomura Ryü Dentö Ongaku Kyökai under Yanagi-Sensei’s leadership.

“Aside from music, there will also be special dance presentations,” Yanagi said of the Nov. 19 performance. “One that I am particularly looking forward to is like a mini kumiudui (Okinawan-style opera) called ‘Chou nu Unufweh.’ It’s a representation of rituals that took place at Shuri (ancient capital of Ryükyü) during the New Year celebration. Shizue Matayoshi-Sensei and Chieko Tamagusuku-Sensei [from Okinawa] will perform their ‘Kanayo Amaka,’ which is known for Tamagusuku-Sensei’s ‘duck walk’ at the end. The women of Den-On will also be featured, as three of us will perform solos.”

Yanagi-Sensei’s students are already advancing their skills and showing their willingness to endure the rigorous training required for certification.

“Yukiko Pierce, who is learning kücho with me, received her shinjinshö (first-level proficiency award) this year and looks forward to focusing on sanshin, as well. Dexter Teruya, who has his saiköshö in minyö, is expanding his sanshin skills with koten (classical music) and I look forward to him becoming an even more versatile musician.”

Yanagi credits her family for her numerous accomplishments in Okinawan performing arts. “Mom (Sandra Yanagi) is looking forward to the concert and wishes that my grandparents were here to see it.” She said her husband, Bruce Gushiken, albeit a low-key man of few words, has been supportive in his actions. “I think people in the performing arts community know what a supportive husband he is and what a wonderful parent he is, especially because I’m so busy with these kinds of events and lessons.”

Yanagi is also grateful for those who have supported her new school. “The organization of this concert and the establishment of this Hawai‘i branch of our school have been a long journey over many years, and if not for the help and support of many people, it would never have happened.

“My kücho teacher, Seiko Arashiro-Sensei, has always opened up many opportunities for me and my music. Grant ‘Sandaa’ Murata has been a huge supporter and daisempai (special mentor) for always calling on me to play with him and his students for various events and concerts,” she said. Yanagi noted that although they belong to “rival” schools — she, the Nomura school, and Murata, the Afuso school — “. . . his assistance and advice have been instrumental in making this concert happen.”

Yanagi noted that a concert like “ALOHA Den-On” requires the efforts of many people. “Thank you to my mother, husband and entire family for their encouragement and support. Of course, thank you to my students — Yukiko, Dexter, Kathy and Aaron — without whom there would be no Hawai‘i branch.”

For Allison Yanagi-Sensei, the concert marks the culmination of “a magical chain of events” that began more than two decades ago with the gift of a sanshin and the introduction to a culture that would find its home in her heart.

Tickets for “ALOHA Den-On” are $30 and can be reserved by calling the Hawaii Okinawa Center at (808) 676-5400. Anyone interested in studying either music and/or dance with Allison Yanagi-Sensei can contact her directly at 295-3828.

Jodie Ching is a freelance writer and blogger who also works for her family’s accounting firm in Kaimukï. She has a bachelor’s degree in Japanese from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and is a past recipient of the Okinawa Prefectural Government Foundation scholarship.


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