One of the things I wanted to do and which friends highly suggested I do was to watch local cultural performances. I managed to stumble upon one as a street performance after my cooking class which was really cool. I say stumble, but in reality I heard drums and I followed the sound of it.
But while I’d been out wandering around the main road I had spotted a restaurant with a sign for a couple performances, one traditional dance the other traditional music. When I’d been looking online for local performances and shows a club kept coming up but I didn’t really feel comfortable doing that on my own even though a lot of the reviews had been from families who’d had a great time. I wanted something super chill, like dinner and a show. It turned out there’s actually a lot of places that offer that. The difference is the food and price.
Because you’re going for a show specifically it means that you’re paying for a cover charge. So this was probably one of the most expensive meals I had in Okinawa and I didn’t eat much. They had a lot of sets and meals with very different price points. Some I found reasonable, others I found too expensive. But almost all of them were too much food for me by myself.
I went up to the staff member standing outside the restaurant and told her that I wanted to attend the show. I was early, the first show started at about 7pm. To watch the show I had to take the elevator up to the floor they told me then followed the staffs instruction to the right room. You do need to take off your shoes and the space required sitting on the floor on traditional tatami mats. There were little cushioned seats without legs with backs so there was back support. And the majority of the space seemed set up for large groups. I was the only one on my own.
At my table there was a check card. The staff would come over and take the order then put it to the tab for the table number. When you were ready to go you just took your check card downstairs and paid for your food, drinks, and the cover charge.
I ended up ordering Hiraya-chi which was a savory pancake with tuna, scallions and bonito. It was 580 yen.
They had a large amount of alcoholic options. I however find it difficult to find drinks with alcohol in them that I like and thus loathe to waste the money on something that I might not finish or feel obligated to finish even though I don’t like it. So instead I got mango juice (380yen) and then later tea.
One of my concerns was that I wanted to stay for both shows. But I didn’t know if it was possible to do so without ordering more food, but there wasn’t anything else on the menu that I wanted. Thus the later tea. Everyone else was ordering more beers and drinks and after the first show no one got up to leave. So I figured it was safe to stay for the traditional music. It was.
The first show was dance. While photos for the event included traditional Okinawan clothing called ushinchi which included the very big and beautiful hanagasa, an ornate hibiscus inspired hat. The type of dance which includes this traditional clothing is called Yotsutake. However none of the dances included this traditional clothing and instead they were mostly in Zo-udui style.
The Zo-udui dances are suppose to be the dance of different average citizens and their daily lives. These dances were very slow and deliberate in movement. Almost like watching a very very slow form of tai chi.
There were faster ones and more silly ones with singing.
The second show used the traditional Okinawan instrument. It’s a three string snake skin banjo called a sanshin. It’s considered a 600 year or older tradition and a part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
Two performers came out onto the stage and talked about the songs and history in Japanese. There was an older man and a woman performing. The man played the sanshin and the woman played a drum. Unless they were talking then the woman played her own sanshin. After the first song they started talking to the audience. The woman spoke English and asked me where I was from, if I did indeed speak English, and if I knew any traditional Okinawan songs. She explained some of the songs as the show went on for me in English and sometimes switching to Chinese or bits of Korean depending on who she was talking to. I had expected —since I was the only very obviously non-Japanese person in the audience— that they wouldn’t take the time to explain things for me. I was really touched by that. In retrospect it was a restaurant/ Izakaya in a very busy tourist area, but still I was pleasantly surprised.
One of the songs they played was the most popular song in Okinawa, Haisai Ojisan which I was told was a well loved song in the region as well as throughout Japan. They also explained to me the difference between Haisai and Haitai. In English the song sometimes get’s translated to “Hey old man” but I was told it’s closer to the Korean 안녕하세요annyeong haseyo which doesn’t directly translate as a greeting of hello but instead: “Peace be with you”.
Another song that they played included some audience participation it was a song for Orion beer. It delighted everyone in the audience. I was a bit confused thinking the participation was earlier in the song but it was actually towards the end where we were to all cheers when we said “ari kanpai” with the performers.
The final song was a part of Kachashi and hiked the audience participation up to an 11. Being the only person on their own in the audience I got called upon along with a couple other people from the audience to come up to the stage and do the dance. It’s a very simple dance. You hold your hands above your head and sway them left to right then back to the left. It is a gendered dance. If you identify as male your hands are meant to be closed like fists and if you identify as female then your hands are open with palms facing forward. It was fairly simple and thankfully everyone got up and participated from a couple of families to what seemed like a huge very drunk work dinner. It was fun and I appreciated that it was a simple dance. Usually I would rather run away than participate but I’m glad I did this time anyway.
When the show was over, a kind lady who seemed to be in charge of herding the drunken business party offered to take my picture with the performers. I didn’t even think about it. But I’m glad I did it because I got to hold the sanshin. Afterwards I grabbed my stuff and the card and headed downstairs to pay. I don’t think there was any rush to leave, a lot of the other groups continued to hang around and drink a little longer. It was technically an Izakaya after all.
The total price of the night was about 2,000 yen