Mission Accomplished, Thanks to My Big Village

Jodie Chiemi Ching

It was about a year ago that I decided to take on the challenge of earning my Yüshü-shö certification in classical Okinawan uta-sanshin, the art of singing and playing the three-stringed sanshin instrument simultaneously. Yüshü-shö is the second of three major certifications — Shinjin-shö being the first and Saikö-shö being the third.

“What in the world was I thinking?!”

I had reasoned that my boys were a little older now, 11 and 13, so they didn’t need my attention as much as they did before. Also, much of my work as a writer guided me toward subjects connected to my ancestral roots, and I was ready for a new challenge.

Some Background

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate to have received an Okinawa Prefectural Government scholarship for the descendants of Okinawan immigrants. The scholarship allowed me to study at the University of the Ryukyus (also referred to as “Ryudai”) for a year. I attended classes at Ryudai during the day; at night, I studied uta-sanshin at Grandmaster Choichi Terukina’s dojo, Ryukyu Koten Afuso Ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Choichi Kai, in Naha.

Prior to leaving for Okinawa in 1998, I had begun studying sanshin with Choichi-Sensei’s first and top Hawai‘i student, Grant “Sandaa” Murata, who continues to be my teacher today.

Choichi-Sensei encouraged everyone who came as exchange students to train for Shinjin-shö, the first level certification. Having no idea of what I was getting myself into, I readily agreed. “Hai!” I said enthusiastically.

Although there isn’t much I remember from 20 years ago, a few memories have stuck with me. I remember the tears of frustration as we worked every day to polish and perfect the song we were learning, “Nufwa-bushi,” a bittersweet love story.

Whenever one of us got discouraged, Choichi-Sensei was especially empathetic and supportive. “Daaiijoouubu,” he assured us. I trusted him that everything would be OK and continued to persevere.

Another emotion I recall is the feeling of “Yatta! . . . I did it!” It was a reward, but it also made me realize that if I worked hard, I could overcome any obstacle. I guess that’s why I am such a glutton for punishment –– I love that amazing feeling of accomplishment.

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