Sanshin, a Three-stringed Musical Instrument
The Sanshin, literally meaning "3 strings" in Japanese, is a traditional Okinawan musical instrument. It has a history of 600 years and was developed from a Chinese stringed instrument. It is also the ancestor of the familiar Japanese shamisen.
One unique style of poem and song from Okinawa is known as Ryuka. Ryuka have their own unique rhythm, with a fixed syllable structure of 8-8-8-6. In the 15th and 16th centuries, when Okinawa was an independent kingdom known as the Ryukyu Islands, Ryuka, performed to the sounds of the sanshin and accompanied by dance, was an important part of the culture across all sections of society. Young men and women in Okinawa would have enjoyed singing Ryuka to each other by the seashore. Today, Onna Village still hosts an annual Ryuka contest.
Young People Studying the Sounds of Okinawa
High school students on Ishigaki in the Yaeyama Islands learn local folksongs. All of the lyrics are in a traditional local dialect that the students cannot speak. The young people grow up surrounded by music and dance. At Yaeyama High, students study local music during school music lessons, a rarity for Japan. Most of the students will leave Ishigaki after graduation. They will take their musical memories with them as they go.