Kumi Odori



Kumiodori is a Japanese performing art found on the Okinawa islands. It is based upon traditional Okinawan music and dance, but also incorporates elements from mainland Japan, such as Nogaku or Kabuki, as well as from China. Kumiodori dramas recount local historical events or legends, accompanied by a traditional three-stringed instrument. The phrases have a particular rhythm, based upon traditional poetry and the distinctive intonation of the Ryukyu scale, and are performed in the ancient language of Okinawa. The physical movements of the performers evoke those of a pythoness at traditional rituals of ancient Okinawa. All parts are performed by male actors, and techniques unique to Okinawa can be seen in the methods of hair-dressing, costumes and decorations used on stage. Kumiodori plays a central role in preserving ancient Okinawan vocabulary as well as transmitting literature, performing arts, history and ethics.


Kumi odori was born out of the necessity of diplomatic acts. In 1372, King Satto of Chuzan consented to follow the tribute system with China and, as part of this system, Chinese envoys settled in Okinawa for approximately six months out of the year whenever the succession of a new king needed to be confirmed by the Chinese emperor. It was essential that these important visitors be entertained, so kumi odori was developed in 1719 by the odori bugyo, or minister of dance, Tamagusuku Chokun. Appointed to the position in 1715, his main responsibility was to commission entertainment for the lavish banquets held for the visiting emissaries. He had previously made five trips to Japan, stopping in both Satsuma and Edo (today’s Tokyo). While there, he studied all the fine arts, gaining knowledge of kyogen, kabuki and Noh, which greatly influenced his work (Foley 3). He was inspired by the Chinese arts as well, and at this time Chinese literature, Confucianism, and even the sanshin, an instrument later adapted for kumi odori performances, had been absorbed into Okinawan culture. Kumi odori was staged for the first time at the Choyo banquet in spring of 1719: Shushin kaneiri (Possessed by Love, She Takes Possession of the Temple Bell) and Nido tekiuchi (The Children’s Revenge), which were Chokun’s first works, were performed by male aristocrats and remain a major part of the repertory to this day.


Elements Of Kumi Odori: 







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