Having immersed himself in Japanese culture and music for more than a decade, Kirk collaborates with Japan’s National Museum of Ethnology to produce a critical biography of Kadekaru Rinsho, a revered folk singer from Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island chain. This collaboration will not only produce the most comprehensive English-language monograph on the artist, but also a website to introduce Rinsho's life and work to the global audience.

Research Description

My research combines archival research with fieldwork and takes me to many places in Japan and beyond. Kadekaru Rinsho, the revered Okinawan folk singer and subject of my research, was born in Okinawa and eventually moved to mainland Japan in search of work. As a Japanese Imperial Army soldier he was later shot and taken prisoner in Micronesia. Although a notice of death was sent back to Japan in 1944, Kadekaru in fact survived and returned home the following year. As a professional musician he toured Japan and worldwide, particularly in South America where the Okinawan community there received him warmly. Remnants of Kadekaru's life thus remain in various places worldwide, and the archival leg of my research will eventually take me to all of them. My fieldwork in Okinawa includes interviews with Kadekaru's colleagues, family, and friends.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Specific to ethnomusicology, my vision of public scholarship entails producing ethnography that gives subjects a voice and a platform to relay their knowledge. Such an approach relies on our informants' expertise and experience as professional musicians, music business workers, teachers, and other, not only to bring to our ethnographies richer and more authentic narratives that are well-balanced in voice and content, but also to bring new ideas and different perspectives to the scholarly arena. More generally, public scholarship encourages collaboration between institutions and the community, each working toward a common goal and supporting one another.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

I believe this initiative opens up a world of possibilities for re-shaping the PhD experience, especially when the rapid progress of technology makes it increasingly easier for academia and the public to connect and collaborate with one another. This initiative allows me to team up with a former producer of Kadekaru's music to research and write a dissertation chapter correlated with resources in English and Japanese on a website dedicated to Kadekaru. We aim to expand our existing networks of local informants, researchers, and institutions in Okinawa and Japan, and to connect them with others at the UBC, in Canada, and abroad. Through presentations and exchanges we aspire toward new collaborative opportunities in research as well as in public service.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

I intend to work within academia not only to teach my subject area but also to propagate my research as widely as it may be applied. I do this in order to connect to others scholars who have similar interests, and to members of the community who find utility in this kind of research. I'm not entirely sure where this will lead me in the long-term, but the mystery is precisely what makes it interesting. I find that if one focuses on his or her passion, the career opportunities come; we need only be attentive so as not to miss them.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

I will work closely with the community in Okinawa and with Kadekaru's network to create a life story told from an emic perspective. This involves some experimentation, such as visiting particular locations in Okinawa together with participants as an exercise in memory evocation and recollection. Such an approach to ethnography is in line with Okinawan traditional modes of knowledge transmission that rely on public storytelling. 

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

This research addresses critical political, economic, and cultural issues in Okinawa from the past until the present. It works to fill gaps in information, communication, and understanding that have contributed to the many problems in Okinawa today. Correlating my dissertation (and any future publications) with the Spiritual Nature Island website ensures the vitality and legacy of the research into the future. The website also provides a valuable information resource and a platform for continuing dialogue within the global community connected to this project. I will also deposit my research findings in appropriate municipal and prefectural archives so that the public may access them freely.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I'm passionate about research and teaching, and continuing my work within academia seemed right for me. The university provides opportunities for sharing knowledge not only in the classroom but also across campus and community networks.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

I was curious about the unique fusion of music theory and ethnomusicology at the UBC School of Music, and having spent several years focusing on the more philosophical realm of ethnomusicology (cultural studies, ethnography, and such), I wanted to hone my skills in other areas. The UBC is also renowned for Asian cultural studies, as is its ethnomusicology division, which is also full of some remarkable people, both personally and professionally.


I will work closely with the community in Okinawa and with Kadekaru's network to create a life story told from an emic perspective ... Such an approach to ethnography is in line with Okinawan traditional modes of knowledge transmission that rely on public storytelling.