Okinawan Traditional Performing Arts


Kumiodori is a theatrical performance where a story is carried out using lyrics, music and dance. Kumiodori was created by Chokun Tamagusuku (1684-1734), who was appointed Odoribugyo in 1718 during the times of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It was created with Okinawa’s indigenous performing arts and tradition as its basis, with influences from mainland Japan’s Noh and Kabuki in order to entertain the Chinese envoys, “sapposhi”, coming to crown the new king. (note: sappo—the tributary system in which the enthronement of a king would be granted by imperial edict from China). It was first performed in 1719 at the feast held after King Sho Kei’s enthronement ceremony.  Chokun created 5 masterpieces and the following Odoribugyo also created new pieces. At present, approximately 70 masterpieces have been identified

Ryukyuan Dance

Odoribugyo created Ryukyuan Dance along with Kumiodori to entertain the sapposhi during the times of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The dances completed during these times are called “Classical Ryukyuan Dance”, and are separated into rojin odori (elders’ dance), wakashu odori (young boys’ dance), nisai odori (young men’s dance), the onna odori or ha odori (women’s dance). As opposed to the classical dances, dances newly created after the latter 20’s in the Meiji era were called zo odori (popular dances). It expresses the lives and emotions of the common people with lilting rhythms and choreography.

Sanshin Music

Ryukyuan Music is largely divided into classical music and folk songs. Classical music is the general term used for the music that was mainly performed in the Ryukyuan royal government during the times of the Ryukyu Kingdom. This music developed through maintaining a deep relation with Kumiodori and Classical Ryukyuan Dance. Sanshin(*1) were used as main instruments accompanied by the koto(*2), drums, flute and kokyu(*3). Folk songs originated from classical music and were inherited among the general public. The lyrics of the folk songs on Okinawa's spirit are consistently full of sentiment where many pertain to how people positively struggled through their severe island living.
(*1)three-string plucked lute with a snakeskin-covered body
(*2) Japanese 13-string long zither
(*3)three-sting bowed lute in the shape of a small sanshin

Okinawan Plays

Okinawan Plays started with the end of the Ryukyu Kingdom when the successors of royal performing arts who supported the Ryukyuan royal government moved from Shuri to the commercial streets of Naha and started to perform for the public. Okinawan Plays resulted from the fusion of stage arts from the times of the Ryukyuan Kingdom and the nature of the common people’s spirits, and it is said that its general styles were completed in the 40’s of the Meiji era. It grasped the sentiment of the people of the islands who were cornered in their lives by the status policies, poverty and adversities, and many of the pieces describe the people’s temperament and sentiment where they comforted each other and valiantly lived on even if they couldn’t change their sorrowful destiny.

Folk Performing Arts

Okinawa is considered to be a treasure house of folk performing arts. Performing arts were created for village and island feasts and are still passed on all over Okinawa today. Many of the performing arts, including shishimai (lion dance), bo odori, dances, Noh farces, plays, and Kumiodori, were performed on temporary stages where the performers and audience burned with enthusiasm together to sing and dance.