It is amazing how few tools are used to build the boats. All of the tools are old. On top of that, none of them are electric.


At the municipal museum, a vessel is suspended valiantly in the air, and a series of wooden boats sit side by side. These boats, the first one being a dugout canoe, tell the story of the history of wooden boats in Amami. The boats were restored by Yutaka Tsuboyama and are as beautiful as works of art. Before restoring the boats, to gather as much information as possible on the boats, Tsuboyama visited some elderly people and tried to get them to remember what the boats looked like. The restoration would not have been possible without Tsuboyama’s skills and experience. The elderly people Tsuboyama talked to were overjoyed when they saw the restored boats, which looked just like the boats they remembered from the old days. Tsuboyama was glad that he went through with the project, even though he lost money.


Aside from wooden boats, there is another Amamian tradition that Tsuboyama is trying to preserve. Tsuboyama’s path to becoming a nationally known utasha (a singer who sings shimauta, the island’s traditional songs) began at the age of 42, when he was strongly inspired by the voice of a master utasha. Feverishly, he taught himself how to sing, and won an award in the Amami Minyo Taisho (Amami Folk Song Awards) four years later. Tsuboyama is happy to look after younger utashas. He is very tough on them for their first recording. “Settling for mediocrity,” he says, “is unacceptable if you want to produce a good recording.” In June, he performed with Chitose Hajime and Kosuke Atari, who are his singing buddies, at a Tokyo downtown public hall. When people listen to his songs, they feel a sense of nostalgia, his distinct characteristic of the shimauta songs. The title of his latest CD is Sutogore Bushi. The word sutogore means “spirit and spine” in Amamian dialect.

Yutaka Tsuboyama

Tsuboyama was born in Uken Village, Amami Oshima in 1930. After working as a fisherman and blacksmith, he became an apprentice to Mankichi Ebihara, a shipwright, at the age of 20. In 1955, he established the Tsuboyama Funadaiku Ten (Tsuboyama Shipwright Shop) in Naze City. When his business was most profitable, he had seven artisans working for him, and his shop had a good reputation among fishermen in the neighboring islands. Today, his eldest son has inherited his father’s skills and utilizes them when he builds sea kayaks. As an utasha, Tsuboyama shares the fascination of shima uta (island songs) with people all over Japan as well as overseas.
Cooperation: Amami City Amami Museum, Central Gakki Co., Ltd., Mrs. Mika Sato, Ms. Arisu Sato, Kokonatsu House, M&I Company, Ltd., Mr. Hidechika Yoshinaga, Mr. Kiyotaka Arikawa, and Ms. Sayuri Katsu

Spirit and Spine

created by

project direction
Gaku Okubo (ISUKE INC.)
Yoshitomo Tanaka (Vivot)
site design
title calligraphy
Kenryo Hara (Kikkokai)