By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
To celebrate its centennial, the Okinawa Association of America may have taken a cue from the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland adage: Hey kids, let’s put on a show! But this is no barnyard musical. “King Sho Hashi—Dynamic Ryukyu,” involves nearly 100 performers from Okinawa and Southern California celebrating Okinawan culture in a showcase of dance, drumming and martial arts. It will take place on Aug. 28 at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, culminating a series of events to celebrate OAA’s 100th anniversary.
“This musical show is the centerpiece of our centennial celebration. We’re very excited about this,” said Chogi Higa, OAA president.
Local youth, as well as 40 performers from Okinawa will share the stage, under the leadership of Okinawan director/producer Daiichi Hirata. Hirata, 40, well known in Okinawa, has worked with 30,000 children in the islands, incorporating modern dance and history into his energetic performances. He was here last month to meet his young dancers and take them through the dance steps.
“Mr. Hirata was really fun, he has a nice personality and it’s nice to be working with him. I’m excited to be part of it,” said Kyo Yohena, 15, a student at Santiago High School in Riverside who has performed Ryukyu buyo for four years.
“My dance is a blended performance of classical and modern dance and it doesn’t matter how well you dance or how poorly you dance,” Hirata said. “It doesn’t matter, just that you have passion to perform the dance is the key.”
“King Sho Hashi—Dynamic Ryukyu” tells the story of the 15th century monarch who is a legendary figure in Okinawan history. The show will incorporate Eisa, a Ryukyu dance for the departed loved ones, and shishimai, the lion dance.
“Okinawa culture is very diversified because of the cultural influences from East Asia and the surrounding islands, we created our own culture,” Hirata explained. “So therefore the blended cultures bring different types of dance.”
The show was put into jeopardy when the young Okinawa performers had to initially cancel their trip due to swine flu concerns.
“When they canceled they were so disappointed, especially because OAA was so looking forward to the performance,” said Hirata.
But like in an old Hollywood musical, despite momentary mishaps somehow things turned out alright in the end and the number of performers from Okinawa even increased by 12.
“The government pressured them that they cannot travel as a group, so they are coming on an individuals basis, out of their own pocket,” Hirata said. “The children are very excited because they can celebrate the anniversary here in Los Angeles, this will only happen once in a hundred years.”
Other events to celebrate OAA’s centennial will commence on Aug. 22 with a memorial service at the OAA Center in Gardena. The main events will take place Aug. 27 to Aug. 30 and will include a Kenjinkai leaders conference on Aug. 28 which will gather Okinawa kenjinkai from across the country and an open meeting for the next generation of kenjinkai leaders.
“Going back to the history of OAA, we appreciate the Issei pioneers who paved the way for us. They created the foundation for us. Our duty is to hand down OAA and Okinawa’s culture to the next generation, that’s why we call it Ichi Nu Ichimadin (from generation to generation),” Chogi said.