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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kumi Odori 組踊, Shikina-en 識名園 and Okinawa

When I was 14, I wanted to visit Okinawa because I fell in love with an Okinawa girl.

Unfortunately, said Okinawa girl was a member of Japanese pop group called SPEED (... where all four members were from Okinawa).

Looooong after my teens ended, I finally had the chance to fulfil my dreams when I was invited to the Okinawa International Film Festival last month to be one of the speakers at the Asia Content Gathering Symposium (other speakers include my pal Lim Kah Wai the Osaka-based Malaysian filmmaker, the Okinawan filmmaker Soichi Takayama and Cambodia Film Commission CEO Cedric Eloy).

My profile on the Asia Content Gathering Okinawaw 2014


Anyway, the trip to Okinawa was an eye-opening experience because, despite the fact that the place is part of Japan, it feels rather different... culturally, aesthetically, architecturally.

I spent most of the time at Naha, the main city in Okinawa.

On March 20, the organizers took us foreign speakers to a half-day tour, in which we were supposed to visit the filming locations of "The Path of KUMIODORI", a local Okinawa short film that was screened at the film festival. Kumiodori (or Kumi Odori) being the name of the traditional dance originated from Okinawa.

The first place we went to was Shikina-en, a world heritage site. It was a garden used by the Sho family, rulers of the Ryukyu Kingdom (which the Okinawa islands were a part of during the 16th to 19th century)

I could understand its appeal. The main Shichi-na-udun building, made mostly of wood, was soothing.


And opposite the building was a very nice pond, with Chinese stone bridges. (the place was also used to receive the Chinese envoy)

The pond at Shikina-en

People hanging out at Shikina-en

Pond at Shikina-en

Wide view of Shikina-en

I walked into the Shichi-na-udun building.

Walking into Shichi-na-udun

Inside the Shichi-na-udun residence

And was treated a Kumi Odori performance by The Path of KUMIODORI lead actor Takefumi Kamiya.

Kumiodori performance

I was mesmerized by the performance, especially with the combination of the shamisen music, the singing and the slow deliberate dance movements. I have heard traditional Okinawa music before in other films, and have always loved them.

Later during the tour, and after I failed to finish a bowl of epic Okinawa soba for lunch...

Huge bowl of Okinawa noodles

We were all taken to the National Theatre Okinawa for more Kumiodori performances.

National Theatre Okinawa

Inside National Theatre Okinawa

After the performances, we got to try out the costumes. I, being the modest person I am, of course opted only to dress up in king's garb.

Yeah! I was dressed up as a king, baby!

Group photo after the Kumi Odori tour (March 20, 2014)

But of course, this isn't about me looking regal in king's garb, I was once again, rather mesmerized by the Kumi Odori performances.

There was a "male" dance.

There was a "female" dance. (traditionally, Kumi Odori are performed only by men)

And a monkey dance, performed by young Takenoshin Kamiya, son of Takefumi, and also a lead actor in The Path of Kumiodori.

That's the beauty of my job, to be able to go to places I would otherwise never have the chance to go. My days in Okinawa were short, but it was invaluable to catch a glimpse of their tradition and culture.