Songs of Okinawa: The Bonds of Community *RERUN
Songs are part of the fabric of life in Okinawa Prefecture. When a song rings out, everyone naturally starts to dance. Okinawa is a prefecture in the south of Japan composed of a main island and more than 100 smaller islands. In times of happiness and sadness too, the rhythms of Okinawa fill the air. Singing songs always reminds Okinawan people of home. We lend our ears to the sound of Okinawa to hear these islands' stories.

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.