Minyo, or folk songs, have been passed down through the generations in the various regions of Japan. Many minyo originated from “commoners” – farmers, fisherman, housewives, and merchants – recounting their daily lives, their stories, and their hopes. Other minyo tell of religious, historical, or seasonal events. In the past, these songs were sung daily, playing an active role in people’s everyday lives. Today, these songs are performed at festivals and at Obon – a celebration honoring the passing of one’s ancestors – by those few practitioners who endeavor to keep these songs alive. Minyo songs are accompanied by shamisen (a three-stringed plucked instrument), taiko (drum), kane (bell), and shakuhachi (flute).
Matsutoyo Sato was trained in minyo and shamisen by Matsuko Sato in Okinawa, Japan, over five decades ago. After coming to California in her twenties, she established Matsutoyo Kai, a minyo group and school. She holds a natori (professional performing status) and has a long record of establishment, impact, and respect as a teacher in both the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.
Matsutoyo was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2013, sharing the rich cultural traditions rooted in minyo with apprentice Nana Kaneko.