AloHaisai Launches a Scenic Music Video of Kitanakagusuku, Okinawa
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
This past January a mash-up version of the famous Okinawan children’s song “Tinsagu Nu Hana – Balsam Flowers” in Uchinäguchi (Okinawan language), ‘Ölelo Hawai‘i and the Japanese language was released on the AloHaisai Okinawa YouTube channel (youtu.be/8nUJ2ZIAzAs). The feel-good four-minute video promoting sightseeing and tourism in Kitanakagusuku was produced by Kailua Hula Studio. KHS is led by its founder Taiki Nakamoto of Okinawa-shi who also performs the rap portions of the music video. Graceful hula, tropical melodies and an upbeat rap are performed while the video takes you through scenic Kitanakagusuku.
The village has the highest life-expectancy of women, averaging 89 years old, out of the 1,888 municipalities in Japan, according to a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare 2015 census. “On Ko Chi Shin,” a theme that encourages the development of new ideas based on the study of the past, can be seen in the visual mix of modern landmarks such as Rycom Aeon Mall with traditional images of Nakagusuku Castle, Nakamura House and akagawara, or red-tile roofs, throughout the village.
The Music Video and Its Lyrics
Namiko Kishaba chants the first Uchinäguchi verse of “Tinsagu Nu Hana” which says that staining your fingernails with pigment from the balsam flower is like painting your heart with the teachings of your parents. Kishaba’s fellow classmate, sanshin artist and minyö kashu (Okinawan folksong singer), Hajime Nakasone, coached her in chanting Uchinäguchi.
Seven-year-old Yuiko Masuda from Ginowan, with three years of hula under her belt, sits on a grassy area under a gajumaru (banyan tree) as she expresses the first verse’s lyrics with her hands. Taiki soon breaks into a rap about the beautiful village scenery and heart of the people as he strolls through familiar locations. The vocals are actually by Yuta Higa, member of the local rap group Glean Piece.
Sayaka Tamanaha dances at the center of a wähine group, including Mizuki Iida and Hana Miyazato. Their performance took me back to Tamanaha’s March 2019 solo performance accompanying Hawaiian music group Kupaoa’s song “Sweet ‘Apapane (red Hawaiian honeycreeper)” where I played guitar for Lälä Ka Pua.
Kailua Hula Studio käne dancer, Ryöhei Bise, played the sanlele – a portmanteau of sanshin and ‘ukulele. This three-stringed instrument was created by Machidaya Company Director Muneo Machida. Not featured but playing the sanshin is minyö kashu, Töru Yonaha.
Namiko sings lyrics written by Ryöhei in ‘Ölelo Hawai’i. Hawaiiana teacher and musician Shigeru Jimbo from Yokohama — who used to play with my University of Hawai’i classmate in the band Kawaihae — served as the advisor on the ‘Ölelo-Hawai’i lyrics.
In one segment, Taiki’s rap pays tribute to Kahalu‘u-born Tarö Higa who spent his early years living in Kitanakagusuku where he learned to speak Uchinäguchi and Japanese. Later as a teenager, Higa returned to Hawai‘i to help on the family farm. The U.S. was soon drawn into World War II; Higa, already a PFC in the U.S Army, joined the 100th Infantry Battalion. Higa sustained two shrapnel injuries battling in the European front; he returned to the states after earning two Purple Hearts. In the Pacific theater, Higa later risked his life during the Battle of Okinawa by entering caves unarmed to coax numerous Okinawans and some Japanese soldiers to come out of hiding to surrender to the safety of U.S. soldiers. He later helped rebuild Okinawa by sending pigs donated by Hawai‘i to replenish the depleted numbers. As Higa’s parents are from Kitanakagusuku, the members of Kailua Hula Studio hope to perpetuate his memory through their production and lyrics:
Now I’m talkin’ about Higa Taro
Kare ga todoketa shimakutuba ima nao
Okinawa America soshite Hawaii
Sorezore no roots tsunagu tamashii
tooku hanareta kokyou no tame ni
Inochi wo moyashita kokoro no sakebi
Senka no naka wo kakedashita
Nagashita namida heiwa no kake hashi sa!
Now I’m talking about Taro Higa
The island language he brought still continues today.
The spirit connects each root: Okinawa, America and Hawai‘i.
This is a cry of the soul of lives lost for his homeland,
He ran boldly into the fires of war.
His flowing tears, a bridge of peace!
As the video continues, it features a pair of küpuna in red mu‘umu‘u and lei gracefully dancing hula: Mitsuru Shimojo on the right side of Taiki’s mother, Misako Nakamoto, who leads her own Mahalo Hula Studio with over 400 students. Taiki has strong connections with Hawai‘i as his mother’s older sisters, Sadako Iwashita and Fumiko Tamayose, married and moved to Hilo and Käne‘ohe, respectively, over 50 years ago.
Taiki’s rap flows on about local foods: äsa (Okinawan seaweed), göyä (bittermelon) and tempura (battered and deep-fried items) sold at local market Shiosai Ichiba. The scene quickly changes to the kouminkan (community center) in Shimabuku and Adaniya where ladies prolong their longevity by exercising every Monday. The video ends with Kailua Hula Studio’s dancers swaying, the Ryükyü tradewinds blowing their vibrant colored dresses, at the modern landmark, Rycom Aeon Mall, which pre-sents a spectacular view of the village and Pacific Ocean from the open-air 5th floor terrace.
My Hawai’i ‘Ohana in Okinawa
Five years ago, Hawaiian band Lälä Ka Pua asked me to be a member with my six-string Ovation guitar. Prior to that, I enjoyed performing with Kiakaha Krew — which included myself, three local Hawai‘i buddies who served with me in the Air Force at Kadena Air Base and one Japanese guy — from 2007 to 2009. Fond memories include weekly practices and performing at hotels, dinner shows, festivals, weddings and at the annual hö‘ike (show) for the hula hälau (group/school) that we supported.
Those were fun times, but since then, our individual careers and lives took us on different paths. I continued to travel often for military duty while my guitar strings gathered dust for the next several years until May 2016. That’s when Tsutomu Shimabukuro, president of Zenon Music and manager for Lälä Ka Pua, asked me to join their group. I was reunited with keyboardist, Ayako Shimabukuro, and ‘ukulele player, Takako Oshiro, whom I had not seen since the Kiakaha Krew days, at a dinner event full of food and music at a Hawaiian café near my house.
I thought I would ease into the entertainment scene by performing with the girls at some small gigs, but six months later we were taking the stage with Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Kamaka Kukona from Maui at a charity event held at Sawafuji Mirai Hall in Nishihara and sharing the program with other names like Hilo musician Kuana Torres Kahele, kumu hula and California-resident Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu and Kailua-Kona brothers Kina and Kalani Ah Sing who dance and teach hula in Tökyö.
My network of Hawaiiana-practitioner friends continued to expand when I performed with Lälä Ka Pua in support of Kailua Hula Studio’s hö‘ike in March 2017 and 2019 in Okinawa City. Started in August 2011 and led by Taiki, the group of over 300 members holds classes at various public halls on Okinawa’s main island, Miyako Island and Kume Island with their main office in Kubota, Okinawa-shi, while also participating in festivals and competitions throughout the prefecture.
Taiki, who took his first trip to Hawai‘i in 2000, has visited almost every year since then. He is fascinated with the commonality of island cultures and lifestyles, the respect shown to elders, and the numerous lessons learned from hula that can apply to life. He and his members hope people worldwide will visit Okinawa to enjoy its beautiful view after the COVID-19 pandemic settles down. He dreams of working with the people of Hawai‘i and taking a mixed Okinawan and Hawaiian production there to perpetuate both chimukugukuru (the soul, spirit and heart of Okinawa) and the Aloha Spirit here in Okinawa. In the meantime, I wish them the best as they prepare their hö‘ike program to celebrate their 10th anniversary next year, and I hope that people everywhere will one day have the chance to meet the guy who coined the term, “AloHaisai!”
Note: A special mahalo to Kitanakagusuku-born member of Kailua Hula Studio, Asami Thayer, for her kökua in helping me gather all the necessary information regarding the group and its video so that I could share their aloha with you.
Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment. There, he met his future wife, Keiko, and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin is now retired from the Air Force and the Air Force Reserves. He and Keiko have two adult children and live in Yomitan.