Every Tuesday at 7 p.m. HST for an hour and sometimes longer, Okinawans and Okinawans at heart can now tune in to the lively, heartfelt and highly informative “Yuntaku Live!” video-streaming broadcast co-hosted by David “DJ” Jones and Hawaii United Okinawa Association President Lynn Miyahira, a combination of weekly variety show, community news wire and cultural performance sponsored by HUOA on Facebook and YouTube (see the organization’s video pages at facebook.com/pg/HUOA.org/videos/ and youtube.com/channel/UC61hEnfb8TenI9Aq6o_dTnQ/videos).
On April 14, the show’s Facebook Live premiere drew viewers from all over the Hawaiian islands as well as from L.A., Seattle, New York, Montana, Brazil, Argentina, and Okinawa. According to Jones who reviewed the pilot’s success during Yuntaku’s second episode (April 21), that first show had reached 11,600 social-media feeds so as to capture the attention of 5,800 viewers, which produced 3,700 engagements (which communicate audience excitement by such actions as liking the video, commenting on the live feed, etc.). This means that about half of all who had heard about the weekly streaming show had tuned in to watch it live, and that well more than half of all audience members actively participated in some way. The Uchinanchu community is clearly enjoying the chance to “hang out” virtually together, while watching guests in the traditional and contemporary performing arts talk story about their craft then demonstrate it with gusto.
Alongside other HUOA-produced media works [such as the organization’s much-viewed, recent Irei No Hi (Okinawa Memorial Day) video], “Yuntaku Live!” can also be watched post-broadcast on HUOA’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Originally intended to run only through May, it looks as if it will continue through the summer, as it also supports Uchinanchu restaurants, diners and okazuya during the COVID-19 crisis, through the co-hosts praising their food and showing their menus.
In the first episode, Jones and Miyahira explained how the impetus for the show had been to inspire Okinawan families and friends during the government stay-at-home orders. They emphasized that their community has always been resilient and strong-willed, and thus members should be able to get through the pandemic together. They had conceptualized Yuntaku as a virtual space to appreciate, and learn more of, musical and dance traditions of their ancestors, in a friendly, talk-show format: “We thought this would be a great idea today, to bring some Okinawan music and culture to your living room virtually, and hopefully, it will uplift you.” With Jones proudly sporting his Orion t-shirt, Miyahira taking host breaks to grind her home-cooked bowl of Sun Noodles, and inaugural guest, sanshin-musician Kenton Odo, lifting an Orion bottle to toast the hosts and audience, the popular series launched.
“Yuntaku Live!” offers an original and moving, if improvisational (sometimes longer-running than planned!), mixture of talk-story conversation and honed musical craft performed by practitioners spanning the generations. From acts by young but experienced artists Mehana and Makani, the 12- and 13-year old Okinawan-drum players from Lisa Tamashiro’s Chinagu Eisa Hawaii, to special acts performed by musical treasures with decades of skill such as the Herald’s own Grant “Masanduu” Murata, Shihan master sanshin instructor and President of the Ryukyu Koten Ongaku Afuso Ryu Choichi Kai USA, “Yuntaku Live!” combines substance of educational content with skillful entertainment.
The show’s unpredictability due to the live-broadcast nature also makes it earn its name, “yuntaku,” which in Uchinaguchi means “chit chat.” “Yuntaku Live!” demonstrates a rollicking fresh and fun flow that often surprises viewers, like the best of talk shows. For instance, in the first episode, Jones praised Odo for the kanji artwork visible in his guest’s background. This inspired the sanshin player to share a story of how community members had gotten respected musical mentor Terukina-Sensei to put his signature to a tourism-industry calligrapher’s script that scrawled out the “Yareba dekiru” (“if you try, you can do it!”) catchphrase of that sensei, a vivid reminder of his teaching philosophy. During this talk-story moment, Odo swept his home camera across the room to the wall area, so as to capture that calligraphy and signature onscreen, much to the co-hosts’ delight.
This improvisational dimension can also get deep, as in the episode where Murata-Sensei shared his story of how a DNA test he took recently to help a family member, made him discover that he was, in fact, biologically half Okinawan. This validation came after a lifetime of viewing himself as an odd “Yamatunchu” (Japanese-descended, non-Okinawan person) who had always felt inexplicably drawn to learning Uchinanchu musical history and practitioner traditions from various community elders. In another broadcast, young mediamaker, string musician and lyricist Brandon Ing explained how, as an English teacher in Okinawa, he had invented a musical curriculum which integrated Uchinaguchi words and poetic forms with English phrases and Western pop-culture music. His songs became part of animated musical videos that helped preserve Indigenous Okinawan dialects when they had been under threat of disappearing due to Japanese-language assimilation in the classroom.
Other guests sharing social history and cultural artistry include June Uyeunten Nakama, Dazz Toguchi, Frances Nakachi Kuba (and Senjukai Hawaii), Keith Nakaganeku, Allison Yanagi, Jon Itomura (and the Hawaii Okinawa Creative Arts), and Herald editor-in-chief Jodie Chiemi Ching. These inter-generational, committed artists are all exemplars of the community’s “yareba dekiru”!