If you’re into Korean pop culture and music, you’re going to want to check out the boy group JO1 (jay-oh-one) from Japan. The group was formed through the reality competition show PRODUCE 101 JAPAN (similar to the popular girs group NiziU) in 2020 and released their debut single Protostar on March 4, 2020. The leader of the group, Yonashiro Sho, is from Okinawa and his profile page lists that he excels at the acoustic guitar, English, and weight training. Needless to say, the production quality is high, the songs are very catchy, and they look like K-pop stars! Best of all, most of their music is on Apple Music among other streaming services (link to their debut album).
There’s a world-class pro road cyclist from Ishigaki, Arashiro Yukiya, who has been in the pro peloton from 2006. Many people may not associate pro road cycling with Okinawa outside of the Tour de Okinawa and triathlon events so Yukiya is truly a standout. He’s one of a handful of racers from Asia to participate in the Tour de France and out of that group, one of the few to complete a Grand Tour. Yukiya is an all-rounder so he’s able to participate in all the different Tours from sprints to climbs. He’s currently riding with Team Bahrain Victorious and in 2021 (as of April) has raced in Paris-Nice, Milano Sanremo, and Tour of the Alps.
I remember watching him in the Tour de France from a few years ago and having so much pride in seeing him and hearing his name mentioned by the English-speaking TV commentators. Presently, there are only a few pro cyclists from Asia so having one from Ishigaki is a treasure to me.
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It’s been a long time coming but Agaritida is the first solo release from Okinawa’s Natsuki Nakamura who has been well-known on the island music …Natsuki Nakamura: Agaritida
I remember Kiiyama Shouten when they had their CD debut and thought it would be a one-time variety type of release. To my surprise they’ve kept going for over a decade and recently released a new single Akasatana with a very fun music video featuring popular Okinawan TikTokers.
To their credit (or to their record label), all of their albums from 2010’s Sayonara no Natsu to 2018’s Ocean Okinawa are available on iTunes and Apple Music (link). The new single will be part of a mini album of the same title to be released on 4/28 (next week!). Follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their YouTube channel.
h/t @sherryberry100 for sharing the music video!
Found about this on Twitter of a live performance of the song Okinawa Samba (from 1980) by Asano Yuko who is perhaps best known as an actress but she began as an idol singer. Upon first discovering the song, I read it as Okinawa Sanba as サンバ is also used for the Ryukyu instrument sanba (三板) so realizing that no one was playing sanba in the video but the music sounded like samba was kind of funny to me.
I also have a thread on Twitter that this post took me in rabbit hole while researching it. Lol.
Suzuhana Yuko, the vocalist of the Japanese folk rock band Wagakki Band, recently shared on her YouTube channel that she’s a fan of the sanshin and Okinawan folk music. She performs Asadoya Yunta and talks a bit about how she came upon the instrument and her love of Okinawa. In the video’s description, she writes in English (probably for her worldwide audience) of how the sanshin is not the same as the shamisen that’s used in her band’s music. Maybe we’ll one day see an original Okinawan folk pop/rock song on a future album of Wagakki Band like The Boom’s Shima Uta and Heiwa no Ryuka from the Southern All Stars.
I’ve posted about i-Dushi before and lately they’ve been very active on their YouTube channel (link). The video clip above is one of their older ones (2015) performing a cover of Umi no Koe and it has over 3 millions views! In addition to their original songs, they also do Okinawan versions of famous J-pop songs.
Living outside of Okinawa and Japan makes it difficult to find sanshin and supplies (kunkunshi, bachi, uma, karakui, etc.) so I’m always looking for online stores that service musicians outside of Okinawa/Japan. While you may not be able to have a real snakeskin sanshin shipped outside of Okinawa/Japan, you can a synthetic one shipped to you along with the aforementioned supplies.
An online store I’ve come across is the (bear with me as it’s a long name) Sanshin Craftsmen’s Business Cooperative Association of Okinawa (online store link). A great thing about them is what their name implies: they are an online store that features instruments and items from craftsmen with workshops in and outside of Okinawa. Another great thing about them is that they’re also active on YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms. They also have a sanshin class via Zoom (international students are also welcome to join) the intro of which is featured above.
They respond quickly to email messages so contact them with your questions. I can confirm the quality of the items and their shipping having recently received an order from them. There are other online stores out there but it’s difficult to tell if they’re still operating and it’s definitely something you don’t want to take a chance on.
If you know of any other online stores, be sure to leave a comment and I’ll take a look.