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Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkan Celebrates New Year with Traditional Performances

• The 51st Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai New Year Party was held on April 1 at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, and a variety of the traditional Okinawa dance, music, and martial arts were presented. One of the best delights was Okinawa’s homemade dishes, such as tempura, simmered meats and vegetables, grilled salmon, colorful sushi and more.
• As a guest of honor, Consul General Naoki Ito applauded the Kenjinkai’s efforts to spread Okinawan culture in the Chicago areas and beyond for more than 50 years. He also talked about Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Okinawa last February to attend the 20th Anniversary Reception of the Okinawa Liaison Office of Foreign Ministry. He reported that FM Kishida has promoted direct foreign investments to Okinawa to strengthen its economy as a part of his “Local to Global” project. CG Ito concluded his speech saying that he would like to enjoy a perfect Saturday afternoon with Okinawa culture.
• Among other guests were Mr. and Mrs. Manabu Yoshiike, President of the Chicago Japanese Club; Principal Toshimasa Asai of Chicago Futabakai Day School, who had lived in Okinawa for about 40 years, and Consul Shinichiro Nakamura.

• Paula Schmidling, President of the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai, spoke about the enthusiasm of Uchinanchu Festival, which was held last October in Okinawa. About 40,000 Okinawans around the world got together over a three-day period, and one thousand sanshin (three-string instrument) players played music together at the opening ceremony. Schmidling said to the attendees, “Save money to attend the next Uchinanchu Festival.” The Festival is held every five years.

• The Kenjinkai’s performance started with “Kajyadefu”, which is performed in the celebrating occasions.
• M.C. Minori Yamaki introduced performances back to back such as sanshin music led by Yoneko Capel; Asatoya-yunta played by a newly organized ukulele group; sanshin duo by a newly married couple Tom and Yoko; Okinawa Shourin-ryu Karate led by Yujiro Uza; and Eisa with dance and taiko drumming.
• The last performance was, of course, “Kachashi”, the all participants danced together.

Focus: Yoneko Cabel

• Yoneko Cabel (79) is always playing sanshin with her smiling face. She was born in Uruma City, Okinawa Prefecture, and her marriage brought her to Chicago in 1964. At that time, her brother-in-law gave her a sanshin as a memory of Okinawa. While she knew the existence of Okinawa Kenjinkai in Chicago, her married life made her busy, so she just put the sanshin in her house as a decoration.
• About 30 years later, her daughter recommended her to join the Kenjinkai. She began learning sanshin while she enjoyed dancing and playing taiko drumming.

• For Cabel, playing sanshin was really a new thing. She called her brother in law in Okinawa and asked what she didn’t know about the instrument. She also asked a famous sanshin player Yukinobu Oshiro of the Kariyushi Kai to improve her skills. She practiced it every day after she returned home from her job.

• As she mastered playing sanshin, she created a new sanshin group in the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai, which had a dancing group and a taiko drumming group, so she could concentrate on playing sanshin.
• Cabel bought two sanshin instruments and lent them to people, who were interested in playing sanshin. While she diligently taught sanshin to other people, she sometimes faced difficulties in teaching because she wanted to pursue perfect performance. Some people got angry or made complaints. “I understand such emotion. I wanted them to become good players. It would be my great pleasure when their performance outplayed mine,” Cabel said.

• She has taught sanshin to more than 80 people in 20 years. Okinawa Kenjinkai in other states asked her to teach it or play it in their gatherings. Currently, she has eight to nine students and gave them lessons in her home and at Kenjinkai’s weekly practice.
• Cabel used to practice Okinawa dance when she was a teenager, so the sanshin sound was very special to her. “My fabulous feeling returns to my heart whenever I hear the sanshin sound,” she said. “I don’t have any certificate to teach because I just loved sanshin and started playing it; however, I want to teach anybody who is interested in playing it. For me, it is my pleasure to entertain people with sanshin. I am very delighted when people ask me to play,” Cabel sai

One of the best delights is Okinawa’s homemade dishes, such as tempura, simmered meats and vegetables, grilled salmon, colorful sushi and more.

The last performance “Kachashi”

Yoneko Cabel (C)