From Traditional to Contemporary: Genealogy of Kumiodori in Modern Okinawan Theatre Called “Okinawa shibai

  • Shoko YONAHA


After the Kingdom of the Ryukyus was annexed by Meiji Japan in 1879, a new trend in theatre flourished in Naha, especially around the pleasure quarter of Tsuji. However from the beginning of the new era, Okinawans had to assimilate and adjust to a completely different social system while still adhering to the old one. Because of that Okinawan performing artists went through a certain period of time in order to create their new form of theatre called Okinawa shibai. Initially, Okinawa shibai (commercial theatre) programmes were mainly kumiodori and the court dances. However, after absorbing quite new Japanese theatre such as soshi shibai and shinpa for over 10 years, around 1907 (Meiji 40), they began to look back on their own traditional theatre kumiodori again and rushed to perform this old style of theatre as if they tried to regain their identity from the past.

Those days, even if Okinawans were obsessed with becoming Japanese, transforming their language and style of living in the face of the oncoming wave of modernity, with its elements of a new culture and finance brought from mainland Japan, they were also searching for something new and very Okinawan in the performing arts.

What the Okinawan actors recreated in new forms of theatre was the Ryukyuan opera called “Ryukyu kageki” and Ryukyuan history plays called “Ryukyu shigeki” (which is part of “serifu geki”, literally means “a play performed in dialogue”). The former was opera or musical theatre sung in the Okinawan language, and the latter was a series of historical dialogues in the form of a play. To create this new Okinawan theatre, as previously mentioned, they absorbed Japanese theatre, such as kabuki, soshi shibai, and even the Japanese version of Shakespearean plays which were uniquely interpreted in the context of Japanese culture and performed in Japanese in Tokyo and Ōsaka. Okinawan commercial theatre actors dared to view modern Japanese theatre, also discovering a new influence: that of Westernization.

In this paper, though the influence from mainland Japan cannot be overlooked, I will focus on the genealogy of kumiodori in Ryukyuan opera (kageki) and Ryukyuan historical plays (shigeki) in Okinawa shibai in general and how those who created the new Okinawa shibai embedded/applied the style and image of kumiodori into the new forms. I will also introduce and discuss the details of the main characteristics of the Okinawan theatres included and how tradition was transmitted and recreated in contemporary forms.


Kumiodori Okinawa shibai Ryukyu kageki Ryukyu shigeki Genealogy of kumiodori 


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© The Editor(s) and, if applicable, The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shoko YONAHA
    • 1
  1. 1.Independent Theatre CriticOkinawaJapan

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