Yakabi Chôki is one of the most prominent figures in the history of Okinawa's uta-sanshin musical tradition. The kunkunshi system of notation (tablature) is said to have been developed by Chôki, or by his teacher Terukina Mongaku (1682-1753), and the earliest surviving example of such notation, a volume containing lyrics and music for 117 songs, is attributed to Chôki. The two most prominent schools of classical uta-sanshin today, Nomura-ryû and Afuso-ryû, both also trace their origins to Chôki.
He was born in Shuri, the royal capital of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, the fourth son of Tamagawa anji Chôo. His Chinese-style name was Shô Zenmo. When Chôki was young, his talent for the performing arts was already recognized, and he traveled to Satsuma han to study Noh chanting and performance. After returning from Kagoshima, he served briefly as a government official, achieving the rank of peechin, but was soon forced to retire as he began to go blind.
He began studying uta-sanshin under Terukina Mongaku, and developed his own style, which later came to be called the Tô-ryû (当流) school or style. He, or Mongaku, also developed the kunkunshi notation system still used today; judging from surviving kunkunshi texts from Chôki's time, the Tô-ryû style seems to have been an attempt to simplify the style pioneered by Tansui Kenchû (1623-1683), and to codify the repertoire. Chôki is also credited with the composition of a number of pieces in the kuduchi (J: kudoki) form, featuring lyrics in a five- and seven-syllable format reminiscent of Japanese poetry, rather than the six- and eight-syllable forms more typical in Ryukyuan poetry.
Chôki's student Chinen Sekkô (1761-1828) taught, in turn, Nomura Anchô (1805-1871) and Afuso Seigen (1785-1865), the founders of the two most prominent schools of classical Okinawan uta-sanshin today - Nomura-ryû and Afuso-ryû, respectively.
- Thompson, Robin. "The Music of Ryukyu." Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. p313.
- "Yakabi Chôki." Asahi Nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten 朝日日本歴史人物事典. Asahi Shimbun-sha.
- "Yakabi Chôki." Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia 沖縄コンパクト事典. 1 March 2003.
- Dates on the Okinawan lunar calendar. May differ from the Japanese lunar calendar.