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At Minyo Club [Shima Umui] You Can Immerse Yourself in the Music and Voice of Misako Oshiro, a Treasure of the Okinawa Minyo Folk Music World
post : 2019.12.30 21:00
As she made her way slowly to the stage, a hush fell over the audience. There was a mixture of excitement mixed with a bigger expectation among the customers as the woman dressed in a kimono with vertical stripes of purple hemp leaf patter began her Chindami (tuning) on her Sanshin. All are waiting in anticipation and they’re all ears as they think, “I can’t wait to see this live performance.”
In a dignified manner, the lady strums the strings on her Sanshin and begins to sing. The room is filled with a completely different air. Everybody’s drawn to her singing which she presents like she’s telling a story, and quietly, people are guided to the wonderful world of Okinawan Minyo (folk music) with her leading the way.
Her name is Misako Oshiro. A legend of the Okinawa Minyo world and some call her the queen, or the leader. She is an Utasha (a singer) of Okinawan Minyo and has established herself as one of the treasures of the industry through her career that expands over half a century.
On the underground floor of a building just one street in from the major Route 58 in Higashimachi, Naha, is Shima Umui, the longest standing Minyo Club (Okinawan folk music club) in Naha, run by Minyo singer, Misako Oshiro. People across Okinawa and Japan, and even overseas gather here at Shima Umui, and we can say 100% of the customers come to see Misako Oshiro.
Born in 1936, and at age 83, she still remains the same after all the years when she used to travel across Japan only with her Sanshin, freely flying and singing like a bird. With the exception of some nights when she has other commitments to perform live elsewhere, she’s here at Shima Umui every night, playing her Sanshin and singing on her stage. Among such performers in Okinawa, she is likely the oldest performer today.
Her club welcomed its 23rd year, and Misako-san shares, “I want to keep the place comfortable and relaxing for my customers, and I try to keep the prices reasonable. Before Shima Umui, she ran Kata Umui, which was in business longer.
Misako-san apprenticed under the late Teihan China, a prominent figure who contributed greatly to the Okinawan Minyo industry, and in 1962, Misako-san debuted with the song Kata Umui, composed by Mr. Teihan. Her clear, high toned voice was highly acclaimed and describes as Ichu-gui, meaning a “voice like silk”. Immediately after her debut, she started Kata Umui, and kept the club going despite relocating several times. After Kata Umui, which she ran for about three decades, she changed the name to Shima Umui in 1996 when she finally moved her club to Higashimachi.
Misako-san says, “The last song that Teihan Sensei made was Shima Umui (Shima Umui Bushi). He said that it was my song. After he passed away, I decided to name this club Shima Umui, the last club I would run.” As she spoke quietly and carefully like she was choosing her words, I sensed her deep respect to her teacher, and her commitment as a business owner.
While she was performing, many people in the club took out their cameras to take photos and videos. Among them, there were older gentlemen who were keeping rhythm with their fingers as they listened intently with their eyes closed, and women who were entranced as they listened.
Shima Umui offers a comfortable atmosphere for all to immerse themselves in the world of Okinawan Minyo and Misako-san’s Sanshin and songs in whatever way they like.
At times, people among the audience joined in on stage and begin to sing entertaining songs that draws great laughter throughout the club, and some picked up a Sanshin and presented their skills, too. Such spontaneous fun is another unique feature about Minyo clubs.
Following a gentle, slow ballad was an up tempo and cheerful rhythm of the Kachashii, and immediately, a man jumped up and said, “You’re in Okinawa, so dance!” He went around audience and got everybody on their feet, saying, “let’s all dance!”
Misako-san said earlier, “It makes me happy to see the audience dance.” And from her spot on the stage, she watched with a gentle smile as people got up to dance, one after another.
With the contagious enthusiasm of the local, regular customers, the club was filled with great energy and Minyo Club Shima Umui was bursting with song and dance.
I asked, “What is Uta (music and singing) to you?” Misako-san responded with a charming smile, “Well, let’s see. I’ve spent my whole life with Uta. All I have is Uta. That’s all I have.”
“I have to pass on the language in the songs while I’m still alive, so I started a school to teach. If I can pass on the knowledge to them now, they will pass it on to the next generation,” she shares. She’s hard at work in teaching her apprentices and in doing her part to bridge the generations and in passing on the traditions.
Perhaps it’s because she wholeheartedly dedicated her life to her singing and music that she exudes an innocence in her smiles and expressions, like a young girl.
Listening to Misako-san sing her songs that she says, “Uta is heart” and “Uta is about telling a story,” and enjoying drinks with her and others in the audience, I felt that I got closer to the spirit of Okinawa.
Misako-san continues to charm and attract Minyo fans everywhere, but where does her strength and allure stem from? Seeing is believing. Visit Misako-san at Shima Umui, and I’m sure you’ll experience it yourself. That’s just who Misako-san is.
Shima Umui (Misako Oshiro’s Minyo Club)
Address: B1F Ichibankan Bldg., 4-6 Higashi-Machi, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 20:00 to 2:00
Closed: Tuesdays & Wednesdays
Okinawa CLIP photo writer Mika Asaka