The 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s Mitsufumi Ryu Taiko Hozon Kai was celebrated in Hawai‘i on April 14 with an exciting and colorful taiko, music and dance performance in the Hawaii Okinawa Center’s Albert T. and Wallace T. Teruya Pavilion. Titled “Hawaii ni Hibiku Uchina De-ku (Echoes of Uchina De-ku in Hawaii),” the program featured performances by Hawaii Taiko Kai’s 16 members along with nearly 50 performers from Okinawa, led by Morikatsu Kishaba-Sensei, head of the Mitsufumi Ryu organization. Hawaii Taiko Kai has an informal relationship with Mitsufumi Ryu Taiko Hozon Kai.
The performance honored the organization’s founder, the late Grand Master Mitsufumi Shimabukuro, who died in 2006. In 2003, Shimabukuro was designated a Living National Treasure of Japan for taiko in kumi odori music.
Hawaii Taiko Kai leader Terry Higa-Sensei noted in the program booklet that Ryükyü koten (classical) taiko traces its roots to the days of the Ryükyü Kingdom, when it was presented as entertainment for the royal court and for visiting foreign dignitaries. He said the day’s performance was designed to show the audience the evolution of Ryükyüan taiko — from the days of the kingdom to folk, modern and contemporary music.
Hawai‘i has played a role in Mitsufumi Ryu Taiko’s 50-year history. In 1985, the organization commemorated the 85th anniversary of Okinawan immigration to Hawai‘i with a performance in Okinawa that was sponsored by the Okinawa Times newspaper. And, in 1997, Mitsufumi Ryu Taiko Hozon Kai celebrated its 30th anniversary with a performance in Hawai‘i.
The April 14 performance featured a good mix of Okinawan classical, folk and contemporary taiko and dance numbers, including a few with some Hawaiian spice. Higa-Sensei joined the performers from Okinawa in several numbers. Musical accompaniment was provided by Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Nomura Ryu Hozon Kai of Okinawa and, from Hawai‘i, Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Nomura Ryu Ongaku Kyo Kai Hawaii Shibu, Jane Kaneshiro Sozan Kai and Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Nomura Ryu Dentou Ongaku Kyoukai.
Among the audience favorites was a taiko number titled “Hawaii Okinawa Soba,” performed by Hawaii Taiko Kai to the lively song, “Okinawa Soba no Uta.” They also performed taiko to “Hawaii He Mele No Ka Pipi Palupalu.”
The finale, “Hama Ashibi,” brought the Okinawan and Hawai‘i organizations together in a medley of favorite Okinawan songs that ended with a lively kachashi.
During the program, Kishaba-Sensei presented a shihan, or master teacher, certificate to Terry Higa-Sensei.
“It is a surprising honor, but also frightening,” said Higa-Sensei. “I have to live up to the standards that they have set.” Kishaba-Sensei added that all of the sensei that traveled from Okinawa believed that Higa-Sensei was deserving of elevation to shihan.
The guests from Okinawa were celebrated at a post performance aloha party.