Sanshin Live Show
Whether during the day or at night, one thing that livens up Okinawans is their music. You hear it on the radio, at the beach, and in izakayas. This folk music has been part of the island's’ history at least since the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom and is commonly known as Okinawan music, Ryukyuan music, or to foreigners as sanshin music. The basis of the melody is the sanshin, a japanese-style banjo with a small body covered with snakeskin, a long neck and three strings. The sanshin and the music it allows, is an important aspect of Okinawan culture, and one shouldn’t leave the island without experiencing it live.
There are several ways to get your sanshin fix while traveling the islands: The sanshin is usually present during the seasonal festivals; it is part of the exhibitions at museums such as the Ryukyu Mura in Onna; at stores specializing in this type of music; and there are izakayas specializing in sanshin live shows and traditional japanese food- a perfect combo.
On Kokusai Dori (International Street), one izakaya worth mentioning and visiting is Masayoshi Uehara’s Shop (Uehara Masayoshi No Mise). Situated on the second floor of Sam’s Maui, this inconspicuous sanshin live house is the home stage of Masayoshi Uehara, a seasoned folk singer and local celebrity who’s been mastering his craft since the 1950’s. Accompanying him on stage is an colourful ensemble including Uehara’s wife, and his niece who just happens to be Miss Okinawa 2011. The decor of the izakaya and the ambience created by the performers and the staff is a perfect mix that takes visitors back to more traditional times.
Masayoshi Uehara’s No Mise opens everyday at 6pm with the first show starting at 7pm. If you decide to join Uehara-san and company, you can join any of the four shows between 7pm and 11:35pm. The sanshin live show is the centre of it all, yet being an izakaya, there is delicious okinawan food on the menu and plenty of awamori to get the crowd even more excited about the show. There’s a 3,000 yen set menu which includes the cover charge for the performance, two food dishes, and one glass of awamori (or beer), and softdrinks. With food on the table and a drink in hand there not much else to do but to enjoy one of the island’s oldest traditions.
Uehara-san’s show starts with mellow tunes like the iconic songs “Shima Uta” (Island Song) and “Umi No Koe” (Ocean’s Voice), which sets the crowd in a nostalgic island mood. As the glasses of awamori go down, the songs get livelier and “Ojii Jiman no Orion Beer” is sang by everyone in the bar along with the typical “arri campai” or cheer that gets everyone excited and knocking each other’s glasses. This ode to the beloved local beer is one of the highlights of the show and of most of the sanshin live shows for that matter. The performance reaches its height as Uehara-san’s wife shows off her “Samba” (Ryukyu percussions) skills and Miss Okinawa leaves the stage to join the crowd for a round of folk dancing. The shows last for about 30 minutes and are the perfect starter for a fun night out on the streets of Naha City.