Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto Celebrates 50 Years of Koto Music at Lakeside Theater in Oakland on March 20

Congratulations to Oakland native Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, who is celebrating 50 years of playing and performing koto, a traditional Japanese 13-stringed zither with an afternoon of music at Lakeside Theater in Oakland on Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 4pm. Muramoto, her students and friends will be joined by koto players from Japan, Canada and the U.S. for this festive occasion.

The roster of distinguished artists includes Shigeo Tachibana, shakuhachi master from Chiba, Japan; and Linda Kako Caplan, Canada’s premiere koto master. This unprecedented event also brings together masters from three of Japan’s koto traditions: Shoko Hikage (Sawai School), Tamie Kooyenga (Todo School) and Michiyo Koga (Miyagi School). A joint performance by koto masters from different traditional koto schools rarely occurs in Japan, because of social decorum and koto’s traditional rules.

The concert is a reunion for musicians who played in Muramoto’s Murasaki Ensemble some 20 years ago. They include Lita Kazuho Buttolph, Carol Kasumi Takao, Melinda Kazumari Nakagawa, and Michelle Kazuakimi Suwabe. Murasaki Ensemble alums will join current members of the ensemble — Jeff Massanari, Matt Eakle, Vince Delgado, and Alex Baum.

Muramoto has been instrumental in keeping alive a musical tradition with roots in the U.S. concentration camps of World War II. Her mother learned the koto as a young girl, while interned at Topaz camp (in Utah) from teacher Haruko Suwada, and at Tule Lake (in California) from Mitsuko Sanemitsu Oda. Beginning at age five, Muramoto learned koto from her mother, who ran a koto school with as many as 70 private students at its peak. Muramoto assisted in the school recitals — and achieved her own teaching “Shihan” credentials in 1976, with Yushusho honors, from the Chikushi Kai in Fukuoka, Japan.

Over the past half century, Muramoto has been privileged to work with and perform with many great musicians, artists and celebrities. She has taught hundreds of students and has trained new teachers, among them her son Brian Mitsuhiro Wong and Felicia Kazuou Bock. Both recently passed their teaching exams with special honors.

While continuing to teach and perform, Muramoto has been researching the story of traditional Japanese artists of the American concentration camps. As she notes, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 –which extended an apology and granted reparations to Japanese Americans incarcerated by the federal government during World War II — led to an outpouring of research about the internment. Muramoto was surprised to discover, however, that there was little documentation of the role of traditional Japanese arts (such as ikebana, Kabuki theater, and koto) in the camps, or of the artists who kept Japanese culture alive in the campus, despite potential accusations that these activities proved their disloyalty to the U.S. Muramoto has been conducting interviews and collecting artifacts of that era, hoping to shed light on an important and little-known aspect of the internment.

Each selection performed at the March 20 concert will represent an important juncture in Muramoto’s musical journey. In the process, she hopes to honor the teachers who came before her, sharing their knowledge and expertise. She also hopes that the celebration concert will help nurture the continuance of this musical and cultural legacy by her students, new teachers, and colleagues.

Special Guest Artists:
Shigeo Tachibana, shakuhachi, Chiba, Japan
Linda Kako Caplan, Chikushi Kai, Toronto, Canada

Koto teachers:
Shoko Hikage, Sawai Soukyokuin, San Francisco, CA
Tamie Kooyenga, Todo Kai, Walnut Creek, CA
Michiyo Koga, Miyagi Kai, Sacramento, CA
Kashihiro Ohzato (Debbie Barker Brune), Chikushi Kai, Roseville, CA
Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, Sawai Soukyokuin, Oakland, CA
Felicia Kazuou Bock, Chikushi Kai, Oakland, CA.

Murasaki Ensemble musicians:
Matt Eakle, flute
Vince Delgado, percussion
Jeff Massanari, guitar
Alex Baum, string bass
Koto teachers with Chikushi Kai:
Michelle Kazuakimi Suwabe (San Diego & San Mateo, CA)
Lita Kazuho Buttolph (Portland, OR)
Carol Kasumi Takao (Tempe, AZ)
Melinda Kazumari Nakagawa (Marina, CA)

When: 4 p.m., Sunday, March 20, 2011
Where: Lakeside Theater (in the Kaiser Center, near Lake Merritt
300 Lakeside Drive
Oakland, CA
Parking: Complimentary in the Kaiser Center garage
Tickets: $15 general, $10 students and seniors with ID

Co-Sponsor: J-Sei
Tickets can be obtained in the following ways:

1) PayPal: tickets can be obtained through Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto’s website on PayPal. We will send an email confirmation.
2) If you would like to reserve a seat and pay at the door, please send an email to, and bring your printed confirmation to will-call.

About J-Sei – Serving Seniors Since 1971
J-Sei, formerly JASEB, is a community and cultural organization that brings generations and families together to nurture and pass on Nikkei values and tradition through a broad array of services and programs. Some of our senior programs include a nutrition program, stimulating and social classes and lectures, a pilot Transportation Program, and bilingual case management and referral services. Our resources, information and services are relevant to the entire continuum of care for seniors, as well as their families and all ages of the Nikkei community.

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All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2011 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang is an actor, performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

As a photographer and videographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive and social media presence. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden.

Selections of Lia’s archive of Asian Pacific Americans in the arts, fashion, journalism, politics and space are now in the newly created LIA CHANG THEATER PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO in the ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS COLLECTION housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection.

Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre,, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle,,,,,, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog.

Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Koto Oyako don CD Release Concert, w/Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto & Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, Numi Tea Garden, Oakland,11/13
A night out with Gordana Rashovich, Flora Goforth in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
André De Shields stars in Chicago Premiere of Charles Smith’s The Gospel According to James at Victory Gardens, 5/14-6/12
Photos:The Working Theater’s Off-Broadway production of HONEY BROWN EYES by Stefanie Zadravec at The Clurman
Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden, Alexander Calder, Lia Chang in Art & Healing Exhibit at Snug Harbor on SI
Juicy Buns at Ollie’s
The Dish on Susur Lee and Shang
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.

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