OBITUARY: Noted Shamisen Teacher Hideko Nakajima

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SAN FRANCISCO — Sensei Hideko Nakajima passed away at her residence on July 15 in Richmond at the age of 85.

Born on May 19, 1934 in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, Nakajima Sensei enjoyed a lifelong career in the performing arts in both Japan and the U.S. At age 6, she began her studies in Nihon buyo (Japanese classical dance), shamisen, vocals, and accordion in Tokyo.

She experienced a successful career as a professional singer in Japan, where she made several recordings with King Records and was contracted to join a performing arts troupe of young women that traveled to Hawaii and the mainland U.S., including the San Francisco Bay Area, where she would eventually decide to settle.

In 1987, Nakajima Sensei received the highest degree possible, “shihan,” from Hideo Fujimoto, the founder of the Fujimoto-Ryu School of Shamisen Music in Tokyo. In honor of her mother, she pursued a teaching career in shamisen and founded in San Francisco a branch from the Tokyo school, Fujimoto Hideki Kai, in which she taught shamisen, enka (popular singing style), and minyo (Japanese folk singing) to numerous students in Sacramento, Fresno, and the Greater Bay Area.

She was awarded certificates of excellence as a teacher in the U.S. from the Fujimoto-Ryu School in Tokyo. She received an award as Master Shamisen Teacher from The Alliance for California Traditional Arts. In addition, she was an artist-in-residence at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California for many years, teaching classes and holding her annual Fujimoto Hideki Kai concert.

The kanji for her name (Hideko) means “Child of the Rising Sun” and truly encompasses her warmth and tremendous charisma both on and off the stage. In addition, she was fiercely independent, a strong leader, possessed a wonderful sense of humor, thoroughly enjoyed swimming, spending time with her dog and especially teaching and performing with her students in a variety of local events, such as the Ethnic Dance Festival and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

Her ashes will be scattered at sea off the coast of San Francisco. She has no surviving relatives but is greatly missed by her many students and friends.

A tribute and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17, at the JCCCNC, 1840 Sutter St., San Francisco, in the Issei Memorial Hall.

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