When Clarence and Judith Murata adopted their infant son in 1962, they never imagined that he would grow up to become a leader in the field of Okinawan music in Hawai‘i through uta-sanshin — the time-honored art of singing poetry while playing the three-stringed Okinawan sanshin. At the urging of his grandmother, Margaret Hanayo Murata, and his parents, young Grant Sadami began pursuing his interest in Japanese — and soon, Okinawan — performing arts. For years before Grant could drive himself to his classes, his father shuttled him to a bevy of lessons: Japanese and Okinawan dance, koto and, finally, sanshin.
From the age of 12, young Grant was tagging along with Issei and Kibei-Nisei musicians — listening, watching and soaking up like a sponge whatever techniques or stories they were willing to share with the Hawai‘i-born yonsei. Over the years, those mentors would help him master his craft.
“He started Afuso Ryu Choichi Kai in Hawai’i as the only member with the support of his sensei, Living National Treasure of Japan Choichi Terukina, in Okinawa, as well as family and friends,” said Kenton Odo, who became one of Murata’s first Afuso Ryu uta-sanshin students. Today, Odo is himself a sanshin teacher and Murata’s top student.
Murata faced other challenges, noted Odo. “Not even knowing that he was [biologically] Okinawan at the time — and even taking flack for not being Okinawan and yet wanting to play Okinawan music. Also, being yonsei when English was the language spoken at home, and learning to read and write Japanese and learning to speak Uchinaaguchi [without any formal lessons].”
With Hawai‘i commemorating the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Hawai‘i of the first Japanese immigrants — the Gannenmono — Terukina-Sensei reminded Murata that he, too, should honor the Gannenmono for laying the groundwork for Murata’s great-grandparents to come to Hawai‘i, and to say “thank you” to the parents who raised him; to his many musical and cultural mentors; and to his dedicated students and many friends. To that group, Murata adds Terukina-Sensei.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, he will express his gratitude in a performance titled “Hou On Sha Toku — A Selfless Resolve With Sincere Honor and Gratitude,” at the Hawaii Theatre. The program will feature performances by Murata and his students, top musicians from Okinawa, including Grand Master Choichi Terukina, and classical Okinawan dances.
When Murata became Terukina-Sensei’s student in 1983, he also committed himself to building an Afuso Ryu uta-sanshin movement in Hawai‘i. Today, said Odo, that ‘ohana includes “over 200 students, past and present, three shihan (master instructors), five kyoshi (certified instructors) and over 100 mago-deshi (descendant students)” — all of whom have certificates from the Afuso Ryu organization in Okinawa. Receiving the certificate, Murata tells his students, also means they have an obligation to give back to the Hawaii United Okinawa Association and its member-clubs by performing for them, because many of them were recipients of grants from HUOA and the Okinawa Prefectural Government.
Nine Hawai‘i Afuso Ryu uta-sanshin students returned earlier this month from Okinawa with new certificates. Five received shinjinsho (first level) certificates — Sansei Cassy Nakagawa and Wesley Waniya, and Yonsei Devan Kawamura, Wreyn Waniya and Cuyler Yogi. Four students received yüshusho (second level) certificates — Sansei Naomi Oshiro and Bob Yonahara; Yoko Kaneshiro; and Yonsei (and Hawai‘i Herald writer) Jodie Chiemi Ching.
Terukina-Sensei said it was time for Murata, who was given the nickname “Sandaa” by the father of one of his sanshin-playing friends, to present a solo recital dedicated to the parents who raised and nurtured him and to his grandmother, in gratitude. Their guidance and support shaped him and influenced his resolve to preserve and carry on the art of uta-sanshin for future generations.
General seating ($50) and VIP tickets ($150) are available online at www.hawaiitheatre.com, at the Hawaii Theatre Box Office or the Hawaii Okinawa Center. Sponsorships ranging from $300 to $5,000 are also available. The concert has been designated an official Gannenmono event and is endorsed by the Hawaii United Okinawa Association. For more information on the concert, contact Sean Sadaoka at