Traditional Ryūkyū kumi-odori, karate … 165 prewar Okinawan photographs discovered (3)

Traditional “Kumi-odori” of the kingdom era presented to the younger brother of Shōwa Emperor (Hirohito)

Among the Okinawa-related photographs found this time in the Asahi Shimbun Osaka Headquarters, there was a photograph of the traditional Kabuki drama “Kumi-odori” of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. The location is believed to be the house frontage of the Nakagusuku Udun, where the royal family had moved after they had been chased from Shuri Castle during the “Disposal of Ryūkyū” (1879) by the Meiji government. There is “Tairan” (inspection by the empress or the crown prince) written on the back and therefore the photograph seems to have been taken when the Kumi-odori was presented to Chichibu-no-miya, the younger brother of the Shōwa Emperor (Hirohito), who visited Okinawa in May 1925.

The performance is Kumi-odori’s masterpiece “Nidō Tekiuchi,” and it is Tamagusuku Seijū (1868-1945) on the right end of the photo who plays Amawari, the enemy of the two boys in the play. Nidō Tekiuchi is a story of two brothers who vow to avenge of their father’s death. They go after Amawari, the murder of their father. One day, the brothers disguise themselves as girls and approach Amawari in a nearby field. The boys serve him plenty of alcohol and dance until he gets intoxicated and gives them his sword, and then they take his life.

Kumi-odori is a Kabuki drama to welcome the envoys of the Chinese emperor, and Tamagusuku Seijū was directly instructed by the official in charge of the “Ukanshin-odori” (Crownship Dances) when Ryūkyū welcomed the final envoys in 1866.

Shimabuku Kōyū (1893-1987), a dancer representative of postwar Okinawa, recalls in his book “Sekisen Memoirs” (Okinawa Times) that all the performances in 1925 were presented by “the best members of the local theater world.”

Tamagusuku Seijū studied the dances of the Ryūkyū royal government and nurtured the younger generation. In Tokyo he was introduced as the “Danjūrō of Ryūkyū” [in reference to the famous Kabuki stage name Ichikawa Danjūrō, which is bestowed upon actors since the 17th century]. Nakagusuku Udun, which was the setting for the photo, burned down during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The style reconstructed by Tamagusuku Seijū’s disciples after the war is the cornerstone of the current Ryūkyū classical theatre.

In the performance “Uchigumi Amakawa,” the costume was provided by the Shō family, a descendant of the last king, Shō Tai. Suzuki Kōta, an associate professor at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts Research Institute, paid attention to the sake tools at Tamagusuku Seijū’s feet. They look like metal and match the specifications ordered by the royal government for the crown ship dance. “If the costume is from the Shō Dynasty, the stage props may have been used in the actual crown ship dance. The stage props do not exist anymore and so the photo is valuable for learning about Kumi-odori during the Kingdom era,” he said.

According to Dan Antonsen Sensei, whose wife Masako is a student of a student of Tamagusuku Seijū,

“he disappeared during the battle of Okinawa in 1945. Nobody knows what happened to him or where his remains are. Kind of a mystery for the Ryūkyū dance society. His picture hung in Masako’s dojo all her life. This is the story as I understand it.”

Source: Ryūkyū traditional kumi-odori, karate … 165 prewar Okinawan photographs discovered (Ryūkyū dentō no kumiodori, karate… Senzen no Okinawa utsushi shita 165-mai o hakken). Asahi Shimbun, in collaboration with the Okinawa Times: Shiroma Tamotsu, Mano Keita, Shimazaki Mawaru, March 29, 2021.

© 2021, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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