Lillian Nakano (Kineya Fukuju)

We at ACTA were saddened to hear of the passing of Lillian Nakano in February of 2015.

In 1936, Lillian Nakano was an eight year old growing up in Hawai’i. At that age, she was attracted to the sound of the shamisen and immediately began studying shamisen as well as Japanese dance with Master Hanayagi Kasho. Her studies were interrupted by war and her family’s internment in Jerome, California and Heart Mountain. Upon release in 1945, she resumed studies, and in 1955, under the tutelage of Madame Kineya Shofuku of the prestigious Kineya School, received the “natori” certificate and a professional name, Kineya Fukuju. Mme Shofuku Kineya then told her, “to teach is to learn.” Lillian performed for many years before she realized what that meant. Lllian says, “Indeed, the learning and studying process never ends, but it is always enriched by interaction with students and peer members of the art. The art form is inextricably part of who I am, part of my heritage and identity as a Japanese American. The passing on of the form to future generations is to me the preservation and celebration of that heritage and identity.”

The shamisen is a Japanese long-necked, three string lute with a square shaped body. It is the main instrument of the kabuki theater and other classical narrative ballad forms of music. Around the eighteenth-century, a genre of music called “Nagauta” established itself as distinct from the repertoire of kabuki theater because of its sophisticated compositions and demands on the player.

Lillian Nakano was also a a longtime civil rights activist and leader in the grass-roots effort that won reparations and an official apology for Japanese Americans incarcerated by the federal government during World War II. Lillian Nakano served as a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2000 with her apprentice, Glen Horiuchi, who sadly passed away that same year.