Inside the Book
Read an excerpt from Chapter 2. The People's Music
The minyo godfather: Rinsho Kadekaru
But it is Rinsho Kadekaru whose presence looms largest over the first generation of Okinawan recording artists. Born in the centre of the main island near Koza on 4 July 1920, he began playing the sanshin at seven and was one of the last to take part in the mo-ashibi revelries which he first joined from the age of 13, gaining a reputation there as a musician which quickly spread. He was also performing in the local Eisa festivals by the time he was 16 as one of the main singers.
At around this time he decided to go to mainland Japan. In order to do this he stole some money (he says “borrowed”) from his parents. This was the proceeds which they had hidden from the sale of a cow. Kadekaru and his sanshin, along with a friend, caught a ship to Kobe, and he walked the rest of the way to Osaka (a distance of 31 km or 19 miles). His original plan had been to look up an aunt who ran a factory in the city with the idea of obtaining work there. In the easy-going style of Okinawans, however, he took instead the first job that was offered him at another factory in Osaka, and it was only after one and a half years there that he realized his aunt’s factory was actually situated in the building opposite his own workplace. Finally making contact with her, she informed his parents back in Okinawa of their errant son’s whereabouts. During this time Kadekaru played sanshin and sang regularly in the evenings after a hard day's work at the factory. Eventually, when he was 19, he had to return to Okinawa for a health check as a preliminary to enforced military service. He was sent back to the mainland and made to do two years military service during the war, which he detested. When it was finally over he took off again to travel around the Pacific islands of Micronesia, eventually returning to an Okinawa still devastated by the war. He found work as a theatrical accompanist in 1949.
Beginning in the 1950s he travelled to almost all of the Ryukyu Islands (the only exceptions being the Daito islands and Kohama) where he played and sang in all kinds of events, from theatrical performances to local rituals and celebrations, and founded the Minyo Kenkyujo (Minyo Study Centre). Discovered again in the era of Choki Fukuhara’s Marufuku Records he went on to make around 250 recordings for Marufuku and other labels, recording and performing until shortly before his death at the age of 79 in 1999. A total of 82 singles were released – 40 on Marufuku, 15 for another label, Maruteru Records, and various others for different labels. In all there were 23 albums and countless other recordings on compilations. In 1969 Kadekaru started singing regularly at Aiko Yohen’s minyo club Nantahama, in Koza. He was to perform there for the next 26 years. In 1973 came his first mainland public appearance in Tokyo, which was organized by the journalist, music critic and entrepreneur Rou Takanaka.
Kadekaru’s voice sounds thin and wavering at times on both the older as well as the newer recordings but continued listening brings forth special rewards of its own. Never demonstrative in his singing, he nevertheless manages with what seems like a minimum of effort to extract the full meaning with every performance. He was a master interpreter of Okinawan song and a very accomplished sanshin player. In the year of his death the Ryukyu Minyo Association awarded him the title Minyo Meijin – Master of Minyo. But he was not averse to breaking the rules either and no blind respecter of the old ways. It may surprise many purists looking for that perfect sanshin snakeskin to learn that Kadekaru was just as happy to play the synthetic kind, was a regular smoker, and for relaxation liked nothing better than a day’s gambling down at his local pachinko parlour.
Kadekaru, in the best tradition of Okinawan singers and musicians, enjoyed making up his own words and setting them to traditional melodies. Sometimes he might even improvise new lyrics at the time of recording, and not surprisingly he recorded just about all the classic and well-known minyo that everyone else does nowadays. In his 1994 recording for Victor he is reported as improvising a totally different text for the song “Magukuru nu Hana” (Flower of Sincerity) which came to mind while he was in the studio. One very well known song associated with him is “Jidai no Nagare” (The Passage of Time) in which he takes a traditional melody and adds new words of his own. Describing the fate of Okinawa as it has been taken over and changed by various outside forces, these poignant lines are often quoted:
From rule by China to rule by Yamato
From rule by Yamato to rule by America
How astonishing the changes in this Okinawa of ours!
Kadekaru is said to have thought up the words for this song while waiting for a bus after a recording session for radio in the late 1950s. Since then, of course, there has been a further change as Okinawa was handed back to Japan by the Americans in 1972. The Okinawan film director Go Takamine, who made a documentary of Rinsho Kadekaru for release only on video, has updated the song by supplying his own extra lines detailing the return to rule by Yamato, an Okinawan term for Japan. Another new version of the song, known as “Shin Jidai no Nagare”, with words by Shouichi Chibana, is worth quoting in full as an illustration of the situation in Okinawa. Following the first verse above, the song continues:
Claiming rule by America was wrong
Rule by Yamato returned
We never know which is better
Our money changed from yen to dollar
Then became yen again
With every change we lost
Cars ran on the right side before
Now they run on the left
Confusion reigns forever
Long ago the hills and forests were ours
Where we picked oranges freely
Now as bases, they have become American
Long ago the seas were ours too
We could have a dip at any time
Now the resorts keep us out
Change after change is our fate
But bases on the island never change
When will things become better?
To our ancestors, palms together, Uu TohtuKadekaru’s son Rinji also became a musician and during the 1990s he sometimes accompanied his father on sanshin and violin. In 1998 he made a fine album of his own entitled My Sweet Home Koza. Rinji Kadekaru’s hoarse-sounding vocals are remarkably and uncannily like those of his father.