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Ryukyuan Dance

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Highlight of the Ryukyu Dynasty Culture: Ryukyuan dance

Ryukyu buyo or Ryukyuan dance is one of the traditional performing arts passed down in Okinawa, and is designated as a national intangible cultural asset. Ryukyuan dance was developed as royal court entertainment of the Ryukyu Dynasty, and there are different kinds of dances such as female performance, which attracts audiences with its bingata (Okinawan fabric using a special dyeing technique) costumes and graceful movements, and other dances that include youth, elder, and pair dances.

 

From the Meiji era (from about 1868 onwards), the dances were available to the public, and while traditional classical dances carried on, other dances vividly expressed the lives and emotions of ordinary people, and a creative dance developed after the war established a new style of Ryukyuan dance.

CLASSICAL DANCE

Classical dance can be classified into various dances such as rojin odori (old people’s dance), wakashu odori (a dance for youngsters), nise odori (young people’s dance) and onna odori (female dance), and musicals called kumiodori. These performing arts were not created overnight. 

 

The root of these performances is in performing for ritual events that have been in Okinawa since long ago. Many festivals are still actively held all over in Okinawa and many performances can been seen on such occasions. These performing arts can be called folk performances. Many movements from the choreography of these folk performances come from classical dance.  

 

Okansen odori (performances to entertain envoys from China), which is an Okinawan classical dance, was established in the 18th century. The foundation of these performances was established with the help of others by Chokun Tamagusuku (1684 – 1734) who was the odori bugyo, or government official in charge of royal court entertainment, and they were later refined by other artists. 

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Kajadi-fu (also known as Kagiyade-fu)

Toshimi Ashimine

Sueko Shiroma

This dance is the most popular classical dance performed at celebrations. The song expresses the most joyful occasions using the depiction of the moment when a long-awaited flower opens.   

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Yotsudake

Akiko Yamakawa

Naoe Oshiro

Azusa Maehara

This is a female dance that requires beauty from inside out. The performers dance wearing a big hat that resembles a flower while making clear sounds with yotsudake (castanet-like instrument made of four pieces of bamboo stem).

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Karaya

Michiko Maekawa

Ritsuko Tamaki

 

Graceful movements express young women spending time together observing the beautiful moon. It is also called the Moon-viewing Dance.

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Me-nu Hama [Beach out Front]

Naoki Yamada

Kentaro Takai

Shota Yamauchi

This dance describes the scenery of the beach where birds fly over and rowboats pass by. 

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Wakashu-zei [Young People’s Flags]

Yuriko Tanahara

Shinobu Sokei

Waving flags in a big movement is the character of this dance. This young people’s dance is to wish for the peace and security of the nation, and a bright future for the youth.

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Chikuten

Shizue Tamagusuku

The dance and song express appreciation of fans that people use in daily life and express the feeling of being touched by the cool breeze created by the fan.

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Takadera Manzai

Hiroaki Taguchi 

On the way to avenge their parents, brothers visit the Sueyoshi-gu shrine to ask for protection. The dance confirms the will of the mission.

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Eji nu Manzai

Jinichi Uza

The story portrays the emotion of Hanja Ufunushi [Great Master of Hanja], who thought he was betrayed and then decides to confront his friend. This dance is describing a scene from kumiodori, “Chushin Migawari no Maki” [Loyal Fellow Becomes an Enemy].

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Shudun

Hiroko Koja

This is a masterpiece of classical women’s dance. The movements in choreography summarize a woman’s strong feelings troubled by unfulfilled emotion.

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Amaka [Amaka Spring]

Mitsuko Kinjo

In the first half, the dance portrays the connection between a man and woman using the movements of two mandarin ducks, but the latter half of the song lyrics foreshadow the breakup of the couple while expressing a deep affection for each other.  

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Kudai Kuduchi

[Back from the Capital]

Reiko Ota

Masumi Toyama

Fumiko Azuma

Chinatsu Kinjo

The dance portrays the scenery from Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima) to Ryukyu, and expresses the emotion of homecoming.

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Agichikuten

Yukihiro Gushi

Nobuaki Ohama

The lyrics of this song wish for longevity, prosperity of offspring, and a good harvest, which makes the dance celebratory.

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Nubui Kuduchi

Takako Miyagi

Sayuri Chibana

Miyuki Tawata

Yukiko Miyagi

Yoriko Shinjo

This song explains the scenery of the long trip from Ryukyu (present-day Okinawa) to Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima), and it also depicts the sentiments of the people who wish for a safe voyage. 

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Nufa Bushi

Hiromi Nerome

This dance portrays the strong affection of a woman. The emotion is expressed in the ups and downs of the song which becomes calm to match the emotional state portrayed.

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Unnakuti Bushi

Miyoko Toguchi

This is a celebratory dance that expresses bright feelings with the beautiful shape of aji uchiwa (the fan a nobility ruler used) in the right hand, and in the content of the lyrics.

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Shundo [Ugly Child]

Akiko Yamakawa

Naoe Oshiro

Miyoshi Higa

Ritsuko Ashimine

The story explores the humor between two beautiful women and two ugly women with ugly masks. 

Zo odori (folk dance)

As the content of the dances followed a particular pattern, the new style of performance started to be requested.

 

Okansen odori or classical dance was created in the Ryukyu dynasty period whereas dances created after the mid-Meiji Era are called zo odori or folk dances.

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Nakazato Bushi 

Noriko Ganaha

Ryoko Higa

This dance depicts the deep emotion of a man and a woman who are in love with each other.

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Kabira Bushi

Mariko Arakaki

Eriko Arakaki

This is a dance drama which depicts a love story between a shizoku (nobility status man) and a courtesan. Usually, the script part is sung with the musical accompaniment called jiute, and the dancer choreographs the movements according to the song.

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Hatoma Bushi

Shohei Suzuki

Koya Miyazato

This dance is set on Hatoma Island of the Yaeyama Islands. It is an energetic male dance to express the joy of island people and appreciation for the harvest and a year of abundance.  

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Kanzeku [Metalwork]

Michihiko Kakazu

Shigeo Miyagi

Osamu Aka

This is a dance drama involving three characters. Each dancer’s movements express the strong lives of common people. 

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Hanafu

Miyoshi Higa

 

This portrays the deep and sad emotions of a courtesan who sends off her lover from Naha Port. It is one of the masterpiece folk dances. 

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Kanayo Amaka [Beloved Amaka Spring]

Seigi Tamagusuku

Yukichi Agarie

The choreography involves a couple exchanging a plant-dyed handkerchief which symbolizes love and a minsa woven belt that has patterns expressing eternal love. The sequence also copies the movements of playing with water with a dipper, which cheerfully depicts the flirtation between a young man and woman. 

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Tanchame

Kozue Miyagi

Yukino Nakachi 

This is a popular folk dance where young people in a fishing village express the joy of work and zest for life in a lively sequence. 

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Kanayo [Beloved One]

Toyoko Miyagi

The lyrics highlight the love between a young couple, and you can feel the brightness, kindness, sweetness, and playfulness that the dance sequence expresses. 

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Munjuru [Traditional Straw Hat]

Ayano Yamashiro

Sachiko Isa

This dance is performed with a hat made of straw. This hat which symbolizes the pure emotion of a farm girl has a different beauty from hanagasa (decorative flower-shaped hat used in court dances).

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Shunu Bugyo [Tax Magistrate]

Nouzo Miyagi

This dance portrays the story of island people making a fuss about showing hospitality to government officials who decide the tax. It makes a serious topic into something comical, giving a positive energy. 

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Hama Chiduri [Birds on the Shore]

Akemi Azama

Kiyoko Higa

Satoko Matayoshi

Kyoko Aharen

This dance has various hand movements to match the lyrics about the feelings for family, lovers, and friends that live in a hometown. 

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Photo gallery

Ryukyuan dance, an important intangible cultural asset

Distinctive dances that have been artistically refined in the history and tradition of Okinawa were designated as a national intangible cultural asset on September 2, 2009.

Also, the Ryukyu Buyo Hozon Kai (Ryukyuan Dance Preservation Society) was recognized as the preservation organization of these dances.  

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Other Okinawan performing arts can be found here: