Sanshin no hi ~ Sanshin day

Every year on March 4th it’s Sanshin no hi (or Sanshin day). And so yesterday, people from around the Ryukyu Islands were getting out their sanshin to play and party together. The date is derived from the kanji for san, which means three, and shin which means four. A major annual Sanshin no hi event is also sponsored by RBC, the Ryukyu Broadcasting Company, and they broadcast three live radio shows of Okinawan music beginning in the morning and going on right up until 9 pm. Many of the important singers and sanshin players appear, as well as a number of local groups from around the islands. Audience members are encouraged to come with their own sanshin and play along too.

This year’s RBC extravaganza was the 19th since these events began and I was attending for the second time. The original events were held on Okinawa’s main island, first in Naha and then in Ginowan, but for the past ten years people have converged on Yomitan-son Bunka Centre Otori Hall for the festivities. One of the best things about this feast of Okinawan music is that tickets are free on application and they are much sought after, despite the fact that Sanshin no hi is not a public holiday and this year it was on a Friday.

One of the performances of Kagiyadefu

Every hour – on the hour – throughout the day, there is a performance on stage of the traditional ‘Kagiyadefu’ by many different groups of musicians and dancers dressed in traditional Ryukyu style. These were followed by performances from a large number of well-known singers and musicians – so many that most had time to play only one or two songs. The afternoon show began with an exciting but all too brief appearance of the famed Miyako singer and sanshin player Genji Kuniyoshi who played and sang a lively version of ‘Kuicha’ surrounded by a group of Miyako dancers. Now in his 80s, Kuniyoshi managed just the one song but it created a great atmosphere for those who followed.

Other highlights were the performances of Tetsuhiro Daiku and his wife Naeko; the appearances of Minoru Kinjo with his daughter Yoko Kinjo; and then another father and daughter duo, Hirokazu Matsuda and Shinobu Matsuda. As expected, Yoriko Ganeko’s appearance was impeccable in every way, while the great veteran singer Yuki Yamazato sang again as part of a trio with Katsuko Yohen and Keiko Kinjo. Kazutoshi Matsuda’s song ‘Hama Sodachi’ was also a memorable moment.  Of the female vocal groups, both Four Sisters and Deigo Musume used backing tracks which ended up sounding a bit too much like karaoke. More interesting were Yui Yui Sisters who stuck to their own singing and arrangements and sounded very good indeed. The ubiquitous Toru Yonaha popped up everywhere to provide backing sanshin and fue for many of his fellow artists throughout the day and evening.

Yuki Yamazato

Sanshin no hi is not only celebrated in the Ryukyus but in many places around the world where there is an Okinawan connection. There were live radio link-ups at various times for compere Naohiko Uehara to talk with members of sanshin groups in places as far and wide as London, Paris, and Sao Paulo. Uehara’s assistant compere Ran Oshiro has been practising sanshin for only two months but she also performed a respectable version of ‘Kagiyadefu’ alone on stage. The genial Campus Records owner and Okinawan music authority Bisekatsu is one of the organizers and he was on hand throughout the day offering me food and drinks as well as introducing me to another interesting singer, Yutaka Nakasone from the Miyako Islands. He also ushered Yuki Yamazato out of the dressing room shortly after her performance to have her photo taken. Bisekatsu was last seen in the car park searching for his car at the end of the evening.

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