Island Voices: Rinsuke Teruya

Rinsuke Teruya was an Okinawan singer, musician, occasional actor and comedian. He is remembered as one of the first generation of shimauta singers who recorded and appeared at the original Ryukyu Festivals held on mainland Japan. Unlike most of the other great island voices he was known as much for his comic performances as for his singing and sanshin playing. Nowadays his son Rinken Teruya is well-known throughout Japan for his leadership of Okinawa’s popular Rinken Band, but father Rinsuke continued to perform independently right up until his death in 2005 at the age of 75.

The Teruyas are a musical family who began with a music shop selling both sanshin and records and Rinsuke’s own father Rinzan was also a musician. Rinsuke himself first achieved popularity in Okinawa during the 1950s with his watabusho (watabu show) which is a style of performance he developed in which songs are interspersed with anecdotes, chat, and bits of comedy and satire in the Okinawan language. The biggest influence came from his mentor, the dentist and comedian Buten Onaha, who he had met while both were in a detention camp during the devastation of post-war Okinawa.

Rinsuke Teruya's album Smile

Rinsuke Teruya’s themes frequently mocked the unenviable situation in which his island people found themselves the victims of Japanese and American power, but always using laughter as his main weapon. His style of talk and song could still be heard as recently as 1998 when he released the album Smile. An amiable, slightly eccentric figure in multi-coloured hat and yellow-rimmed glasses, he also played his own modification of a sanshin which has four strings, and found time to be featured in a cameo role in the Okinawan film Pineapple Tours. He dubbed himself “President of Koza”, and was awarded the Okinawan Prefectural Achievement Prize in 2000.

His Smile album was released by Omagatoki. Shortly after Rinsuke Teruya’s death the family’s label Rinken Records also made available two albums of his watabusho on CD as well as a live album, Ryukyu Festival ’74. This is a fascinating document of the performances at Hibiya Yagai Ongakudo in 1974. Rinsuke Teruya’s track is sandwiched between songs from Miyako’s great singer Genji Kuniyoshi and a youthful Tetsuhiro Daiku. Also released in 2005 was Victor’s five album Various Artists compilation Ogonjidai no Okinawa which collects Okinawan music of the 1950s and 60s. The 4th CD of this series, available separately, is devoted to Rinsuke Teruya and features the man himself on the opening track and then covers of his songs by the likes of Four Sisters, Rinsho Kadekaru, and Shouei Kina.

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3 Comments on “Island Voices: Rinsuke Teruya”

  1. toranosuke Says:

    I don’t know why, but there’s something about dynasties, about lineages, that just really intrigues me.

    There’s something about the story of Rinken Teruya, and Rinsuke, and Rinzan, that strikes in me the same interest that I also have for kings and for daimyo, for learning about the story of a family across time…

  2. Dan Says:

    Was that also Teruya Rinsuke in the decidely odd movie ‘Untamagiru’?


    • Yes, he was also in Go Takamine’s 1989 film ‘Untamagiru’ (which I haven’t seen). Another of Takamine’s movies, ‘Tsuru-Henry’, features the singer Misako Oshiro in a leading role.


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