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Dramas of Okinawa

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(c) Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties

Filming DateNA
Filming PlaceNational Theater Okinawa, Urasoeshi, Okinawa

Okinawa-shibai literally means dramas of Okinawa. Both dialogue dramas in which Naha dialect is used, and Kageki, or dramas with songs are called Okinawa-shibai.

Reasons for selection

One of the most representative folk performing arts of Okinawa, born out of the of Ryukyu court performance.

Area where performed


Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Theatre

Detailed explanation

Okinawa-shibai literally means dramas of Okinawa. Okinawa is the southern half of the Ryukyu Archipelago which is located between Kyushu and Taiwan. Okinawa is also the name of a prefecture in Japan which consists of about 70 islands. Once there was a kingdom in Okinawa and Okinawa-shibai is closely related with court dance and music.

Since 1404, Chinese emperors have delegated many members of their court to Okinawa to take part in ceremonies for the kings of Okinawa. Every king gave a warm reception to these national guests from China, not only with a splendid dinner but also with performing arts. These performing arts are called Ukansen-odori, as the fleet of vessels on which delegates came was called ukansen, literally meaning crown ship. The transmitters of Ukansen-odori received a hereditary stipend from the kingdom.

The final Ukansen-odori was held in 1866, because the Okinawa Kingdom ended when it surrendered its castle in Shuri to the Meiji Government of Japan in 1879. As the performers of Ukansen-odori lost their income, they started to give commercial performances to earn their living. They organized many theatrical companies and, at the height of their prosperity, were performing at more than 40 theatres.

Within a short time, theatrical companies completed dialogue dramas in which Naha dialect is used. After that they started Kageki, or dramas with songs, which is accompanied mainly by sanshin, or lute of Okinawa, and taiko, or drum. Important works of Kageki include Okuyama no Botan, Iejima-handoguwa and Tomariaka. Both dialogue drama and Kageki are now called Okinawa-shibai.

Publication and textual documentation

Okinawa Shibai to Tomoni [Living with play in Okinawa]

Okinawa Shibai [Play in Okinawa]

Audio documentation

not yet available

Visual documentation

There are plenty of VTRs.

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

The Board of Education in Okinawa Prefecture
1-2-2 Izumizaki, Naha, Okinawa 900-8571, Japan
Tel : (81-98)866-2731 Fax : (81-98)867-4350

Data provider

Ms. Hiroko Yamamoto
Editorial Advisor
Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)
Address: 6 Fukuromachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-8484, Japan