A year ago when we were in Okinawa, my wife and I took a sanshin (三線) lesson. Big fans of Okinawan music, it was something the two of us had been meaning to do for many, many, many years, but, well, kids have a way of putting those kinds of things on hold.
If I can find the time—don't hold your breath—I will try to explain a little—the very little I know, that is—about the instrument. For now, let me mention that the shamisen (三味線), which is used to accompany kabuki or bunraku puppet plays and Japanese folk songs, has its roots in a Chinese instrument called the sānxián (三弦) that was introduced through the Ryūkyū Kingdom (modern-day Okinawa) in the 16th century. The sanshin and shamisen can be considered distant cousins, if you like. One major difference in how the two instruments are played is the "plectrum". While the shamisen is strummed with a flat, fanlike bachi made of wood, the sanshin is plucked with the horn of a water buffalo. The sanshin in Amami Ōshima, just north of Okinawa, is played with a stick. Not sure what it is made of though. Will look into that later.
The song we learned was not a difficult one, but we succeeded in butchering it all the same: Ippē Kanasandō (いっぺーかなさんどー)
いゃーが するくとぅ なすくとぅや
Iyā suru kutu nasu kutu ya
The things you do, the things you make
Wanne ippē chinikakati
I can never stop thinking about them.
Kanasandō ya kanasandō
I love . . . I love . . .
Wanne ippē kanasando
I love you so very much.
いゃー“Iyā” and うんじゅ “Unju” mean “you” in Uchinaguchi (うちなー口), the dialect of Okinawa. In Japanese, it can be translated as anata (あなた), kimi (君), or o-mae, (お前).
A word similar to いゃー (汝, nanji, meaning you, thou, or thy) is やー (家, ie, meaning home, family). The younger generation, under fifty, use the two terms interchangeably.
For someone in a lower position (a junior, a younger person, or one’s inferior) use: いゃー (Iyā)
いったー (Ittā) is the plural form
For someone in a higher position (a senior, an older person, or one’s superior) or people you are not familiar with use:
うんじゅなー (Unjunā) is the plural form
The meaning of unju, incidentally, is 御所 (Gosho, an ancient imperial palace).
We have seen するくとぅ (suru-kutu) in an earlier post. The Okinawan dialect lacks the “o” sound, and many Japanese words that contain お (o) are pronounced as う(u). 事 (koto) becomes くとぅ (kutu).
Wan (わん) is a common way to refer to oneself not only in Okinawa but also in Amami Ōshima. Wā (わー) is also fairly common.
私が Wanga (わーが), used when I is the subject of a clause
私たち Wattā (わったー), plural form of “Wan”
私は Wanya (わんや)
私は Wannē (わんねー)
私も Wannin (わんにん), Wānin (わーにん)
私の Wannu (わんぬ), Wānu (わーぬ)
私には Wangā (わんがー), Wāgā (わーがー)
Ippē (いっぺー) means “very, a lot, terribly”. I may be wrong, but I think ippē comes from "ippai" (いっぱい) which can mean "a lot" or "full", among other things.
きにかかてぃ (Ki-ni kaketi/chi)
The てぃ(ti) ki-ni kaketi is pronounced like a “ch”
Kanasandō (かなさんどー) sounds a lot like the standard Japanese word kanashii (悲しい, “sad, unhappy, pathetic”), but actually means “cute” (かわいい) or “dear, beloved, precious” (愛しい). Today’s kanashii and the Okinawan word kanasandō actually share a common etymological root.
Kanasandō (かなさんどー) can be interpreted to mean “I love you” (愛してるよー), “I’m crazy about you” (大好きだぞー), “I’m always thinking about you” (いつも想っているぞー). I think we have all had that kanasandō feeling some time in our lives.
There was a hit in 1983 called かなさんどー (Kanasandō) by Maekawa Shuken (前川守賢, 1960~). Here's a bad recording of the song sung by Maekawa: