Ready…Set…Tobe!

Ready…Set…Tobe!

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Five Reasons Why You Should Not Miss “Tobe! Uta Sanshin!”

Jodie Ching
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

TOBE! . . . FLY!
Choichi Terukina-Sensei, a National Living Treasure of Japan in the Afuso style of Okinawan uta sanshin (singing and playing sanshin simultaneously), has always believed in seeking makutu, which, in Okinawan language, means “the ultimate truth.” Music is his starship for connecting humankind and sharing truth and messages of peace around the world.

On Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Hawaii Okinawa Center, the school Terukina-Sensei established in Hawai‘i — Afuso Ryu Choichi Kai Hawaii — will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a program of music, dance and theatre. Whether you are a newcomer to Okinawan performing arts or a longtime aficionado, here are five reasons why I hope you will attend this special performance.

Reason No. 1: It will be something different. You will be treated to the soothing yet haunting sounds of classical Ryükyüan music composed over 200 years ago, when Okinawa was an independent kingdom. That music became the foundation of today’s Okinawan music.

And then there is the amazing energy of Afuso Ryu’s members, including Terukina-Sensei’s young grandsons — 13-year-old Tomofumi and 3-year-old Ryuto — both of whom will be part of the production. The talent and discipline of these two youngsters will leave you in awe.

Reason No. 2: The show will NOT be boring. Some people are under the mistaken impression that koten, or classical Okinawan music, will lull you to sleep because of its slow pace. If that’s what you think, you are in store for a treat. When Terukina-Sensei produces a show, he makes sure that it is filled with musical solos, dances and performances in play form that are interesting and inspiring and that reveal entertaining stories from Okinawa.

This philosophy is rooted in the beliefs of Seigen Afuso, who established Afuso Ryu in the late 1800s. Seigen Afuso believed that the best way to master a song is by listening to it not only with your ears, but more importantly, through your heart.

He also believed that the mastery of uta sanshin is a lifelong journey and an evolution that is as much a philosophy of life as it is the learning of notes on a music sheet. When one is young, you singing from your heart in a way that is different from singing from your heart when you are older and have possibly experienced a deep love with a soul mate or the heartache of losing a loved one. The one lesson all Afuso Ryu sensei learn and pass on to their students is the importance of “singing from the heart.” This is a basic philosophy has been passed on from Seigen Afuso-Sensei and on through the generations.

Reason No. 3: It’s rare and authentic. Terukina-Sensei could have picked anywhere in the world to establish the first school of Afuso Ryu outside of Japan. He chose Hawai‘i, and in 1984, selected Grant Murata, a young yonsei already proficient in sanshin, to be Afuso Ryu’s first teacher in Hawai‘i.

By 1994, Grant “Sandaa” Murata had achieved certification as a kyoshi, or teacher, of Afuso Ryu — the first in Hawai‘i. Sandaa-Sensei continued his study of the Afuso Ryu style of uta sanshin, traveling back and forth between Hawai‘i and Okinawa, and finally receiving the blessing of the headquarters in Okinawa to establish the Hawai‘i chapter of Afuso Ryu.

Sandaa-Sensei credits the success of Afuso Ryu in Hawai‘i to support he received from respected musicians in the local community — people such as Nomura Ryu shihan (master instructor) Eugene Arakaki, a cousin of Terukina-Sensei; Yorito Tengan and Chuck “Chiso” Jitchaku; minyo (folk music) shihan Kiyoshi Kinjo and Shoei Moriyama; koto shihan Katsuko Teruya and Bonnie Miyashiro; and community supporter Dr. Albert Miyasato, among many others.

As artistic director and president of the Hawai‘i branch, Sandaa-Sensei has always encouraged Afuso Ryu students to further their study of uta sanshin by traveling to Okinawa and experiencing the unique teaching style of Afuso Ryu directly with grandmaster Terukina-Sensei. It is a face-to-face teaching style that fosters a lifelong bond between student and teacher.

Like Sandaa-Sensei did in his younger years, many students take advantage of the opportunity — and not just once. They continue to return to Okinawa, engaging in rigorous training and pursuing proficiency certification.

Onstage and off, the Afuso Ryu ‘ohana is a close-knit family that continues to grow. It is amazing to think that the Hawai‘i school got its start in 1984 with a handful of students who crowded in Sandaa-Sensei’s modest living room in Ainakoa, seeking to find themselves through their culture.

Today, uta sanshin classes are held at five locations: Aiea Hongwanji Mission, Soto Mission of Hawaii in Nu‘uanu, on Kaua‘i and Maui and in Los Angeles.

Kenton Odo and June Nakama, both shihan, along with Calvin Nakama, Sean Sadaoka and Melissa Uyeunten, all kyoshi, teach the Aiea Hongwanji Mission classes. Sandaa-Sensei, who is a shihan, his wife Chikako Shimamura, a kyoshi, and Tom Yamamoto, a shinjinsho who holds first-level proficiency in uta sanshin, lead the class at Soto Mission of Hawaii. Once a month, Sandaa-Sensei flies to Kaua‘i to teach students there, while Kenton Odo-Sensei teaches a monthly class on Maui. Additionally, Ryan Nakamatsu, a kyoshi from Hawai‘i, teaches classes in Los Angeles, where he currently resides.

In all, Afuso Ryu has over 700 members worldwide, with about 100 members making up the Hawai‘i branch.

Reason No. 4: The chickenskin factor. No matter how many times you hear it, Terukina-Sensei’s powerful voice will give you chickenskin and set your heart aflutter. Sensei’s voice is his trademark and it must be experienced live to be truly appreciated. His voice comes from a pure heart and makutu, and passing on this spirit to his students and those who listen to Afuso Ryu music is his ultimate goal. When you listen to the voices of his three shihan — Grant Murata, Kenton Odo and June Nakama — you know that he has infused in them this special gift. And now, as teachers themselves, they seek to share the gift with their students.

Reason No. 5: Peace and remembrance. Only people who have suffered through war truly understand the preciousness of peace. Okinawa was the only prefecture of Japan where World War II came ashore and into the small villages, forcing the people to flee and take refuge in caves, where some eventually died. In just three months of fighting between American and Allied forces and Japanese imperial forces, more than 100,000 Okinawan men, women and children lost their lives. Some were caught in the crossfire of battle; others starved to death or died of diseases such as malaria.

Classical Okinawan music survived the horror and sadness of losing loved ones in the Battle of Okinawa and helped to heal the people and instill peace in their hearts.

In this day of electronics and information overload, it is crucial that we connect our children to the ancestral values of people like Seigen Afuso, who believed that music is the path to discovering the essence of one’s heart. War, religious differences and materialism are about divisiveness. Music, taught Seigen Afuso, is eternal and a universal language that has no geographic borders.

Because of Terukina-Sensei, Seigen Afuso’s message of music as a universal language music made its way across the Pacific Ocean 30 years ago, and it thrives in the students of Afuso Ryu Choichi Kai Hawaii. Although far in distance and time, it will leave you with a feeling of a home for all.

Jodie Ching, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Japanese from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, studied at the University of the Ryükyüs in 1998. She is currently the office manager for a Honolulu accounting firm, as well as a wife and the mother of two young children. Ching has studied Okinawan dance with Tamagusuku Ryu Senjukai Frances Nakachi Ryubu Dojo and sanshin with Afuso Ryu Choichi Kai Hawaii.

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