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Okinawan Folk Songs

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The Sound of Ryukyu Evolved on the Island and Loved by Many: Okinawan Folk Songs

Folk songs of peoples’ lives have been passed down on each island, creating various songs sung by people in each region.

 

The lyrics of these songs use regional language, creating a unique atmosphere and essence. And, even today, many new songs are being created in this style. 

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Tubarama

Kosei Miyara

Takao Miyara

Kanako Hatoma

Natsuko Shinzato

Hiroya Yokome

This is a representative folk song in the Yaeyama area which expresses feelings towards people’s own hometown and their lovers.

安里屋ゆんた

Asadoya Yunta

Tetsuhiro Daiku

This song was created to capture a conversation-like exchange between a beautiful girl, Kumaya from Yaeyama, and a government official who fell in love with her. It is a folk song in Yaeyama. 

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Ichin Ayagu

Takayuki Oshiro

This song teaches about the importance of money and working diligently.

永良部百合の花

Erabu Yuri nu Hana [Lilies in Erabu]

Mayumi Yamakawa

Shimauta Shojo-ten

(name of the group)

This is a folk song on Okinoerabu Island. The song expresses the feelings of the island people towards the influence of the lily-growing business on the development of the island. 

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Shirakumu Bushi (White Clouds Song)

Rinji Kadekaru

Yoshikazu Nago

Looking at the white clouds floating in the sky and wishing the clouds can deliver a message to loved ones; this song is about the sadness of a long-distance relationship. 

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Chijuya Gwa (Plovers)

Lucy Nagamine

This song portrays how the main character who is living away from home misses his/her family and friends. The character sings in the way you would talk to birds in an attempt to divert his/her loneliness.

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Umi nu Chinbora Gwa

(Rapa Whelk on the Beach) 

Mayumi Yamakawa Shimauta Shojo-ten

(name of the group)

Chinbora means small turban shells. The song was created based on a song called Meuta Swinbora from Ie Island.

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Yumi Buni (Dream Boat)

Dai Taira

The boatmen in the lyrics represent people who live up to their dreams. This song also tries to portray the supportive message that if you believe in yourself and act on it, dreams will come true. 

うねぬやゆんた

Unenuya Yunta

Kosei Miyara

Takao Miyara

Kanako Hatoma

Natsuko Shinzato

Hiroya Yokome

This is a unique folk song sung in the local language in Yaeyama.

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Takana Bushi
(also called Zanzaburo Bushi)

Tetsuhiro Daiku

Takana was a village that existed on Iriomote Island. It is said to be difficult to understand the lyrics but the song is widely popular in the Yaeyama area. 

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Paradise Uruma-jima

Otome Tsubaki

(name of the group)

Hatsumi Nakasone

Reiko Nakasone

Aya Kochi

Mie Katori

In Okinawa, the word uruma in songs means “an isle of coral.” This song introduces a lot of the charms of Okinawa.

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Ume no Kaori
(Scent of Plum Flowers)

​Shuken Maekawa

The line “I’m longing for the moment when the plum tree that I have been carefully cultivating will bloom” gave hope to people during the war.

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Karimata nu Isamiga

Kiko Miyaguni

Keiko Miyaguni

Keii Adaniya

Toshitaka Maji

This is a folk song on Miyako Island. The song portrays in rhythmic sound an argument between Isamiga, a beautiful bride living in Karimata, and her mother-in-law. 

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Nanyo Kouta [Song of the South Seas]

Takehiro Miyagi

This song is about migrant workers who went off to work in the South Seas. It portrays the heartache of those who left and those who have to wait for them.

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Tsuki nu Kaisha [Beautiful Moon]

Lucy Nagamine

 

This is a classical lullaby in Yaeyama. The song is sung emotionally while admiring the beautiful moon.

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Acchame Gwa / Toshin Doi (Ships from Tang)

Fukumura Etsuko

Minyo Kenkyu-jo

(Fukumura Etsuko

Folk Song Institute)

Acchame Gwa; This song is a fast rhythm song, and it is sung as the music for the kachashi dance (a folk dance to express celebration). “Acchame” means “walk-dance” (or hopping around while walking) and it has interesting footwork.

Toshin Doi (Ships from Tang) ; This is a zomeki, or party, folk song. Zomeki means partying loudly. The song expresses the excitement of local people when they see a ship arriving at the port in Naha.

屋慶名クワディーサー

Yakina Kuwadisa (also known as Yakina Kufadisa) [Kuwadisa Tree in Yakina]

Shuken Maekawa

This is a love song that describes the wonderful way the branches of the kuwadisa, a kind of leadwood tree in Yakina, spread out. The song is also about the beautiful women in the Yakina district. 

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Kugan Mowi Gwauya / Jibu Nisheta

Toru Yonaha

Featured song of Tsujiyama, a creative dance produced by Yuko Majikina.

Kugan Mowi Gwauya: This song teases men who are having frivolous fun in brothels.                                                   

Jibu Nisheta: This song makes fun of young men from Gibo in Shuri who are excited about heading to Tsuji, the red-light district. 

ムチついしゃ小

Muchitsuicha Gwa 

Yui Uehara

Shimauta Shojo-ten

(name of the group)

Muchi does not mean rice cake; it is plaster to lay roof-tiles. This song was created for those engaged in tough roofing work to cheer themselves along. 

だんじゅかりゆし

Danju Kariyushi [Celebration Indeed]

Miyagi Josei Group

Yoshiko Murakami

Yayoi Kina 

Erisa Nagado

Noriko Kinjo

This song was created to see off those who were leaving ocean-surrounded Okinawa, moving to another country or going to work as migrant workers on a ship. Today, this song is sung to wish for good luck at parties or celebrations. 

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Haiban nu Samure (Samurai and Abolition of the Feudal System)

Rinji Kadekaru

Ryoichi Nago

An old man, a former Ryukyu royal government official who lost his job due to the abolition of the feudal system, sings about the changing times and his struggles. 

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Shirakumu Bushi (White Clouds Song)

Takehiro Miyagi

Looking at the white clouds floating in the sky and wishing the clouds can deliver a message to loved ones; this song is about the sadness of a long-distance relationship. 

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Ashibi Amaka [Splash around Amaka Spring]

Hajime Nakasone

This is a love song between a man and a woman who wish to be intimate like a mandarin duck couple living around Amaka Spring. The song is a fast, upbeat one. 

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Kui Katare

(Talking about Love)

Hajime Nakasone

The song’s lyrics change depending on the singer, but the line “Nobody must find out how those two feel about each other” which creates mystery is sung by everyone.  

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Michibata Sanjinso no Uta [Fortune Teller on the Street]

Toru Yonaha

Featured song of Tsujiyama, a creative dance produced by Yuko Majikina

This song comically asks the audience if they want to buy the book of divination (or book on eastern fortune telling).

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Mashunku Bushi

Yui Uehara

Shimauta Shojo-ten

(name of the group)

This song is about Mashunku and Nabi, two beautiful ladies from Ie Island. It is like a modern-day version of a beauty pageant that compares the two ladies.  

なりやまあやぐ

Nariyama Ayagu

Fukumura Etsuko Minyo Kenkyu-jo

(Fukumura Etsuko 

Folk Song Institute)

This is one of the famous folk songs from Miyako Island. It is a message from a wife who knows her husband well, and it asks him to follow her instructions to keep their marriage happy.

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Okinawan nursery rhymes

Otome Tsubaki 

(name of the group) 

Hatsumi Nakasone

Reiko Nakasone

Aya Kochi

Mie Katori

Okinawan nursery rhymes

1. Bebe nu Kusakaiga

 [Little Lambs’ Grass-cutting Choir]

2. Mimichiri Boji

 [Ear-cutting Monster]

3. Hana nu Kajimaya 

 [Flower-like Pinwheels]

4. Akata Sundunchi

 [Akata Shuri Palace]

5. Tinsagunu Hana 

 [Balsam Flowers]

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Kendo Bushi (Prefectural Road) 

Miyagi Josei Group

Yoshiko Murakami

Yayoi Kina

Erisa Nagado

Noriko Kinjo

This is a song describing the pain of workers engaged in the construction of prefectural roads. The lyrics express the sentiments of workers who are overworked by supervisors at construction sites and who are gradually awakening as the song goes on to a sense of their rights.

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Irabu Tougani

Kiko Miyaguni

Keiko Miyaguni

Keii Adaniya

Toshitaka Maji

This song expresses the pure emotion of young people. It was commonly sung by young people living in fishing villages.

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Photo gallery

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Most significant feature of

Okinawan music

Ryukyuan music scale

The music scale used for Okinawan folk songs is called the Ryukyuan music scale. Typically, these songs use a pentatonic scale with the notes C, E, F, G, and H put to lyrics from a Ryukyu-style poem that has lines of eight, eight, eight, and six syllables. 

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Other Okinawan performing arts can be found here: