Miyako was born in 1942 in Osaka, Japan during the war years. Since Japanese cities were bombing targets, Miyako and her mother moved outside of Osaka to her mother’s native country. Her father went off to fight in the Philippines while her grandparents and great grandparents stayed in Osaka. American B-29s bombed the house she was born in but fortunately no one was hurt.
Japanese culture was a strong current in the Tanaka household. As a child Miyako helped her father in his sushi restaurant. Her father taught tea ceremony and flower arranging in a teahouse in the family garden. Miyako held a teaching certificate in, and was a lifelong member, of Urasenke, a tea ceremony school centered in Kyoto.
Miyako’s love of Japanese culture included naginata, a martial art practiced primarily by women. Although all Japanese martial arts were banned during the Allied Occupation, naginata was allowed again in the 1950s and became a required physical education class for all women students at the university Miyako entered in 1961. In fact naginata was the only physical education instruction offered to women enrolled at Kansai University.
Miyako’s family was very liberal and encouraged her to study for professions few women considered at the time. Her grandfather wanted Miyako to be a medical doctor. Miyako’s father instead wanted a lawyer in the family so encouraged Miyako to study for a Master’s degree in law, which she eventually attained. Miyako was one of the few women students at the University. At Kansai University there were only about 100 female students in her freshman class of 3000 or 4000. In the law department, out of about 800 students, only 6 or 7 were women.
But Miyako’s heart was in naginata not law. Although all women students had to study naginata, up until then Kansai University was not producing many serious competitors at national competitions. In fact no one participated in the All Japan Naginata Federation national tournaments. Chiyoko Tokunaga was teaching naginata at the University and was instrumental in encouraging her students to compete. (Tokunaga Sensei later would receive national and imperial awards for her work promoting this unique cultural art form and is recognized as one of the founders of modern naginata.) Tokunaga Sensei and Miyako developed a close relationship over the years. In her biography Tokunaga Sensei, of the countless students she taught, singles out Miyako’s naginata skill and understanding as “marvelous.” It is accurate to say that Miyako’s knowledge of naginata was unsurpassed by anyone in her generation or since.
Miyako started the Kansai University Naginata Club in 1963. (She gave the introductory remarks at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Club in Osaka in September 2013.) In 1979 the Japanese Ministry of Education sent Miyako to Southern California to teach naginata for a year. There Miyako met Steve Price through his friends Malyne and Alyne Hazard both accomplished martial artists in California.
Miyako and Steve married in the backyard of his parents in Whittier, California in 1984. Steve was living at the time in Oakland. Together they moved to El Cerrito, California. Miyako has taught both the modern and ancient forms of naginata, atarashi naginata and Tendo Ryu Naginatajustu, at the El Cerrito Community Center since 1989. She co-founded the Northern California Naginata Federation in 1990 and has served as President of the United States Naginata Federation.
She occasionally taught in Canada, The Netherlands, Sweden, Brazil, and various dojos across the United States. As a direct result of her dedication and unparalleled skills as an instructor, Miyako’s students have gone on to be national and international champions, teachers, and leaders in the naginata world.
In 2012 Miyako was awarded the highest ranking in naginata—hanshi—making her the highest ranked outside of Japan and one of less than 200 people to achieve this rank. She is survived by her husband, and her mother and two brothers in Osaka and a host of loving students, friends and extended family.
Condolence messages from around the world:
Thomas Rogers' slide show and interview with Miyako:
Martin Nobida's photos from the March 2014 tendoryu seminar:
United States Naginata Federation: