Melody Takata
August 12, 2019

Sensei Hideko Nakajima was a master artist specializing in the Japanese shamisen, a three-stringed plucked lute. ACTA was privileged to support her work through a Traditional Arts Development grant in 2004 and an Apprenticeship award in 2003, and we are grateful for her contributions to the field of Japanese music in California.

Read on to learn about the life and accomplishments of Nakajima Sensei in the words of her apprentice Melody Takata.

Sensei Hideko Nakajima passed away at her residence on July 15, 2019 in Richmond, CA at the age of 85. She was born on May 19, 1935 in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. Nakajima Sensei enjoyed a lifelong career in the performing arts in both Japan and the US. At age 6, she began her studies in Nihon buyo (Japanese classical dance), shamisen (3-stringed lute), vocals, and accordion in Tokyo. She experienced a successful career as a professional singer in Japan where she made several recordings with King Records and was contracted to join a performing arts troupe of young women that traveled to Hawaii and the mainland US including the San Francisco Bay Area where she would eventually decide to settle.

Nakajima Sensei on the cover of an album by King Records. Image courtesy of Melody Takata.

Nakajima Sensei received the highest degree possible, the “Shihan” degree, from Hideo Fujimoto, the founder of the Fujimoto-Ryu School of Shamisen Music in Tokyo (1987). In honor of her mother, she pursued a teaching career in shamisen and founded in San Francisco a branch from the Tokyo School, “Fujimoto Hideki Kai,” in which she taught shamisen, enka (popular singing style), and minyo (Japanese folk singing) to numerous students in Sacramento, Fresno, and the Greater Bay Area. She was awarded certificate merits of excellence as a teacher in the U.S. from the Fujimoto-Ryu School in Tokyo. She received an award as Master Shamisen Teacher from The Alliance for California Traditional Arts.

Nakajima Sensei playing the shamisen, or three-stringed lute. Photo: Amy Kitchener/ACTA.

The kanji or character for her name (Hideko) means “Child of the Rising Sun” and truly encompasses her warmth and tremendous charisma both on and off the stage. In addition, she was fiercely independent, a strong leader, possessed a wonderful sense of humor, thoroughly enjoyed swimming, spending time with her dog and especially teaching and performing with her students in a variety of local festivals such as the Ethnic Dance Festival and the SF Cherry Blossom Festival. Her ashes will be scattered at sea off the coast of San Francisco County. She has no surviving relatives but is greatly missed by her many students and friends.

A tribute and a memorial service for Nakajima Sensei will be held at 11:00 am on Saturday, August 17, 2019 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California at 1840 Sutter Street, SF, in the Issei Memorial Hall.

Nakajim Sensei (L) with her 2003 apprentice Melody Takata at an ACTA convening.

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