Most of us are familiar with the Japanese phrase, “Kodomo no tame ni,” meaning “for the sake of our/the children.” It usually refers to generational sacrifice: The Issei endured backbreaking labor in Hawai‘i’s sugar plantations and pineapple fields so they could give their American-born Nisei children a better life. The Nisei sacrificed their lives in World War II to protect their immigrant parents and ensure a life full of opportunities for their Sansei children. It’s a broad generalization, but I’m sure you get what I’m trying to say.
Now substitute the word deshi, or student, for kodomo . . . so, “Deshi no tame ni” — “for the sake of my/the students.”
I hadn’t really thought about this until the Nov. 17 weekend, when my longtime friend and the Herald’s advertising manager, sanshin master Grant “Sandaa” Murata, held a dokuenkai — a solo performance — at the Hawaii Theatre.
I have known Sandaa for almost 35 years. I call him “Sandaa-Sensei” or “Sensei” even when I’m on his case because I need his ad list to figure out which ads will go on which page. We call it a “dummy” — it’s basically a blueprint for the actual issue.
“Urusai bäsan” he teases me, which means “pain in the butt old lady.” I give him a stink eye . . . and then we laugh.
But there are times when his dedication to Okinawan music and his musical accomplishments blow me away. He took off a few days before his performance to practice one-on-one with his teacher from Okinawa, Choichi Terukina-Sensei, whom the Government of Japan has designated a living national treasure in Okinawan uta-sanshin (singing and playing sanshin simultaneously). In October, Sensei had gone to Okinawa to practice face-to-face with Teru-
kina-Sensei, which is the Afuso Ryu philosophy of teaching uta-sanshin, supplemented with musical notes.
In this Gannenmono year, Terukina-Sensei and former Consul General of Japan Yasushi Misawa, who became one of Sandaa-Sensei’s students, encouraged him to present a dokuenkai as an expression of gratitude to his non-Okinawan parents who adopted him and his younger sister at birth, raised and nurtured them, and supported his Okinawan musical pursuits, unconditionally; to his many Okinawan and Japanese music teachers and mentors; and to everyone who supported his cultural journey over the years. At the performance, now-retired KZOO Radio announcer Keiko Ura recalled meeting him for the first time as a young boy no older than 10. He was thumbing through the Okinawan music records at the old Hokama Music Store on South King Street. When Keiko–san approached him, he told her that he liked Okinawan music.
I used to think he was a weird guy. I mean, how many local-born and raised teenagers would rather listen to Noborikawa Seijin than the Stones? I knew only one: Grant Murata. And, he always seemed older than his birth age in his speech and mannerisms especially. That’s because he spent so much time with the Okinawan elders, soaking up as much as he could from them.
It was not until his Dokuenkai weekend that I realized how much that phrase, “Deshi no tame ni,” reflected how far Sensei had come in his 56 years of life. Throughout the planning of the performance, he said numerous times that he hoped that by doing the recital his top students would do their own in the not-too-distant future.
At an after-performance party with his students and supporters, with Terukina-Sensei in attendance, he talked about why it was so important to send the Afuso Ryu students to Okinawa to study with Terukina-Sensei and his son Tomokuni-Sensei and to earn their proficiency certificates in Okinawa. But prior to sending them off to take the test, Sandaa-Sensei and his wife Chikako worked with the students several times a week, in addition to their regular class. Deshi no tame ni.
Several of Sensei’s students of Okinawan ancestry had benefitted from spending a year in Okinawa on prefectural government scholarships that also enabled them to study with Terukina-Sensei. But there is an age and ancestry restriction for those scholarships. Sandaa-Sensei might have qualified by age at one time, but not by ancestry, because as far as he knew, he was not Okinawan.
But such was life. Even if he could not apply for the scholarship, many of his students could. He encouraged them to take advantage of every opportunity to study with Terukina-Sensei and to listen to his thoughts — and then come back to Hawai‘i and share the music they had learned with the community.
Twenty years ago, in 1998 at age 36, Sensei learned that his biological mother was, in fact, a Sansei Okinawan. She was in high school when she learned that she was pregnant with him. Knowing she could not give him the life she wanted, she allowed Clarence and Judith Murata to adopt her baby.
Since 1989, when, in his 20s, he opened the Hawaii Terukina Choichi Kai, Sensei has been focused on growing Afuso Ryu in Hawai‘i and the United States. It wasn’t until I saw the page in Sensei’s program booklet that I realized what an impact he has made in perpetuating Okinawan music in Hawai‘i. Take a good look at the Afuso Ryu Choichi Kai USA lineage chart on the page. Most of the 47 names you see under Grant Sadami Murata are Sansei or Yonsei, the youngest being 18-year-old Wreyn Waniya, who graduated from Punahou School in June and started college in Colorado in September. Between those two months, he and his dad, Wesley Waniya, flew to Okinawa and took and passed the shinjin-shö test. Most of these deshi have never lived in Okinawa or Japan and can barely speak Japanese.
Behind them are over a hundred more students still attending weekly sanshin classes with Sensei, his two shihan, Kenton Odo and June Nakama, and five kyoshi. They are all a family — the Afuso Ryu Choichi Kai USA ‘ohana in the U.S. Some will take the giant leap and take the proficiency exam; others will not. But they will continue to be a part of the Afuso Ryu family because they see in their sensei the commitment to “deshi no tame ni.”