The "women's dance" Amakawa and its bunkai

Motobu Naoki

Translation by Aaron Meldahl

Amakawa (Amaka'a) is an onna-odori, or "women's dance," and is further categorized as te-odori. Te-odori is danced without props, employing only hand gestures. Examples of props used in other dances include Chinese-style fans in Chikuten-bushi, spool and spindle in Kasekake, and floral decorations in Nuchibana. In Amakawa however, no props are used except for rings on the fingers.

The seven-dance repertoire of onna-odori has been said to be the creation of one Tamagusuku Chokun (1684-1734). This theory was first advanced by Mr. Goeku Chosho (1890-1957) after the war, but as many of the lyrics accompanying the dances were written after Chokun's death, historians today are skeptical of such a claim.1


It is not known exactly who created Amakawa and when. However, the author of the poem used in the lyrics was an ancestor of the Motobu Udun, Motobu Aji Chokyu (1741-1814). Therefore, it seems that the period of its creation could be no earlier than the middle of the 18th century. The oldest recorded performance of Amakawa comes from 1790, when it was danced at the Satsuma estate in Edo.2 It also may have been created around this time. As Motobu Chokyu would have been 49 years of age, it is conceivable that he was an active collaborator in the creation of the dance, or even its composer. The compsers of Ryukyuan dance were, like Tamagusuku Chokun (who was a Shuri aristocrat and head of the Hedona family), for the most part Shuri aristocrats of the udun or tunchi rank. Thus, it may be that Motobu Chokyu was one as well.


At the time, cultured members of the aristocracy were familiar with ryūka (Ryukyuan poetry), waka (Japanese poetry), ryūkyū buyō (classical dance), sanshin, and bujutsu. For example, Tamagusuku Chokun was not only a master of dance, but also a celebrated poet and musician. These men were each active in a number of fields and together gave birth to what we know today as Ryukyuan Dynastic Culture, or ōchō-bunka. Amakawa later assumed its current form by the addition of another song called Chunjun-bushi and was performed for Chinese envoys in 1838 at the so-called inu no ukanshin.

Motobu Udundi Kobujutsu Kyokai has presented Amakawa at a number of research presentations in the past. In this dance appear a number of techniques--such as koneri-te, ogami-te, and oshi-te--that have been used in ceremonial dance since antiquity. These techniques strongly resemble those in the mai no te transmitted by Motobu udundi. If the creator of the dance for Amakawa were anancestor of the Motobu Udun, it would be possible to confirm the import of the similarity.

From 1974 on, Uehara Seikichi sensei investigated the commonalities between Motobu udundi's mai no te and ryūkyū buyō with the buyō master Shimabukuro Koyu. They were pioneers in this field of research, which is of great academic significance.


1. Yano Teruo, Okinawa Buyō no Rekishi (Tsukiji-shotan, 1988), 131-142.

2. Yano, 146.


Dance: Shimabukuro Kimiko (president of Chihirokai Shimabukuro Kimiko Ryubu Renjo, professor at Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts, Motobu Udundi shihan)


Amakawa bunkai: Performers: Shimabukuro Kimiko and Tokita Katsuya (Motobu Udundi kyoshi 7-dan). Explanation: Miyagi Takao (Motobu Udundi shihan)


From Mai and Bu Seventh Joint Research Presentation, 1990