Hotel Okura is located in Akasaka, Tokyo. It is touted as a large hotel in Japan, and is a representative of Japanese hotels that "hospitate the world" by welcoming state guests and VIPs. Shoko Okudaira was born as the daughter of Seiho Okudaira, the current headmaster of the Sekiso school. This school has been involved in all the flowers in Hotel Okura since it first opened, and is now taking care of flowers in Aman Tokyo hotels as well as demonstrating and performing flower arrangements at domestic and international events.
There are two parts in this interview, we asked her about her values in the first part, and her visions in the second part.
Heir to Sekiso school (Ikebana flower arrangement) / Add-on value design consultant / part-time lecturer at Japan Agricultural Management University.
Graduated from Keio University, Faculty of Policy Management and majored in social marketing. Upon graduation, she was in charge of basic design for the total digital system of newspaper companies at NEC Corporation. Received the NEC President's Award for activities to propose the world standard format. While working as a free planner at Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, she started to be engaged in interior flowers at Hotel Okura Tokyo. After experiencing high-end marketing in the LVMH group, she joined Japan Agricultural Management University as a part-time lecturer in 2013.
What is Sekiso school?
Sekiso school is a flower arrangement school that takes care of all Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) at Hotel Okura, as known as "60,000㎡ of art", was built as the entrance of Japan to welcome international customers.
The founder and first Iemoto is Seido Iwata. She was one of the design committees who worked on the interior, furniture, amenities, and other details of the opening of Hotel Okura in 1962.
The characteristic of this school is that they do not apply flowers to the rules and patterns, but it presents the beauty of flowers and branches and copy just like they are seen in the nature based on ancient Japanese customs. Yasunari Kawabata, the Nobel prize novelist, also praised "I wonder if there is a flower that exudes the heart of nature in Japan as much as Iwata's flower."
Music and flowers do not result as they were planned in the first place. There is no correct answer.
- What does your typical day look like?
The main activity is to arrange flowers in the entire Hotel Okura building. There is no concrete schedule for the day, but we change the flowers seasonally and monthly, and care for the flowers that change over time. Also, I am involved in the planning stage of other hotels such as Aman Tokyo as a member of the design committee and think about what kind of flowers and vessels would look best in the space. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to go beyond the field of flower arrangement and step into the area of architecture and hospitality, and search for the best solutions together.
In addition, I support the current headmaster's lessons. Sekiso style does not have a pyramid structure that goes up in the order disciple-master-headmaster(家元). Therefore, even the youngest 10-year-old girl is learning in the same way as an adult. You can get injured if you do not know how to use proper tools, so we let her use scissors made by a swordsmith and Bizen or White porcelain pots just like other students.
I also make use of my experience in business careers that I had gained before entering the world of Ikebana. I get opportunities to talk about innovation at some companies.
- How do you work in relation with Hotel Okura?
Hotel Okura Tokyo is described as a gateway to Japan to welcome clients from over the world. Seido Iwata, the first headmaster of Sekiso school, was one of the design committee when it was built. Since then, Sekiso school takes care of the decoration of the hotel with flowers.
Seido Iwata founded Sekiso school when she was 60 over and continued to be active until the age of 98 in order to express the combination of static and dynamic, the contrast of yin and yang, and the harmony of nature. It is inspired by her experience of being healed by the lush grass in the blue stone valley when she evacuated to Nagatoro of Chichibu when she was little.
We have been given the opportunity to arrange flowers for Okura that match each season. Our client is Okura, but the end user is the customer who stays in Okura. There are people of all ages, nationalities, and lengths of stay in Okura, so we try to anticipate the growth of flowers and trees and plant them to enjoy the changes.
When the performers from Blue Note, a historic jazz club affiliated with Okura, stay here, they often watch me arrange flowers and said, "It's the same as our music." In jazz, I think there are rhythms and melodies that come out only on the spot at that time, but so is Ikebana. If the type and condition of the flowers differ depending on the season and climate, I arrange them in anticipation of growth and changes.
Both music and Ikebana continue to change with time and environment, and are the art of process creating with others.
- When was your first encounter with Ikebana?
My mother and grandmother both learned flower arrangement, tea ceremony, and chanting of poems as woman's education, so those culture were always part of my daily life. So not because I was told to do it, but because I wanted to do the same thing that my mother was crazy about.
My earliest memory is the day I helped water flowers in Okura when I was four years old. I walked with a watering can, and I remember being told to put a towel on the pouring mouth to prevent from spilling on the floor. I also remember that I was happy many guests talked to me and nervous entering into the usual world kids do not encounter on a daily basis.
- Did you know you would be working in the Ikebana world since you were little?
Actually, I did not decide to join the Ikebana world until I finished high school. I thought that flower arrangement was something that my mother and other “wives” would do.
However, looking at my mother who continues to work hard at Okura, I wanted to know if I could preserve Ikebana from a business perspective and think about how to combine supply and demand well. What is necessary for Ikebana is to be a part of "function" of the society as it used be. In university, I studied social marketing and relationship marketing in order to understand those perspectives. It was after I graduated from university that I joined Sekiso school, and it was much later than that I started to make a living on Ikebana.
Making invisible visible.
- Could you tell us about your career?
I joined a major manufacturer as an SIer (system integrator) in 2001 and worked for about 5 years. Partly due to the year 2000 problem at that time, the requirements for digital systemization were high in every company, and I was mainly in charge of newspaper companies. It was my job to create the requirements for a series of article-handling systems. I created a format for the TV section when exchanging articles within the company and between companies, and at the industry's global standard council held in Paris. After the presentation, the format was blessed with the opportunity to be adopted as a global standard format. I received the President's Award and a letter of appreciation from the Newspaper Association. It was a very challenging and interesting job.
After that, I worked for a think tank of a major advertising agency for three years. I was involved in considering how to share the analysis results of the ideas of creators and copywriters who are constantly making hits internally, and exploring external proposal methods of thinking tools working with consumers from the product development stage, and I made predictions about economic fluctuations and consumer behavior in the 10-year cycle. I learned a lot from various projects.
After three years in a think tank, I decided to fully enter the world of Ikebana.
- What are your various do you have in common in your career?
I think I was trying to make the personal black box of work and skill visible, easy to use, patterned, and shared as open source for everyone.
The trajectory of improvement is not linear, and there should be a timing when you can overcome the wall by continuing desperately, but it is very important to recognize again what is actually happening at that time. I think that there is often no reproducibility because I have not been able to accumulate my own experience and knowledge up to that point because of the joy of overcoming the wall.
I think it's similar to sports, but by visualizing and patterning the process of success and failure, you can do your job well, you can proceed with the project smoothly as a team, and the quality of what you make itself improves.
All the experience I gained through my career is connected to the present. It is often said that Ikebana has a lot to do with your natural taste, and it is often thought that it cannot be easily imitated, but I do not think so. Even in Ikebana, I made a lot of mistakes and regrets, and while hitting a wall where I couldn't get out of my hands or legs, I made many patterns such as "I think I should do this in this case" and "This is the one to match this kind". We will create and build our own know-how while learning from past cases. In fact, it is inevitable from the way flower arrangement is formed that there is a commonality between the pattern formation in the creation of Ikebana and the way of doing and winning in business.
- Why did you decide to enter into the world of Ikebana?
When I was hospitalized for acute gastroenteritis, the only cure was fasting, I had nothing to do. I used to put the flowers I picked outside in a plastic bottle and displayed them. It triggered conversation with other patients and when I gave it as a gift, it made my lonely hospitalized life so much happier. I realized that "flowers are a great medium!" I knew the possibility of the mediation of flowers, which can transform people's feelings more than words.
As it is now, overwork is a problem in the world at that time, I was always thinking about whare are the ways to make me feel at ease and make time to regain myself. However, from my own experience at the hospital, I thought that this might be the entrance to the world that can be created in flower arrangement.
"Way (Dou)" such as Ikebana are one of the interfaces you can choose to live happily, understand the wisdom and experience of our predecessors, and reach them.
I decided to take this path myself and work to share with many people how to live happily.
Interviewers: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru
A quiet place where you can forget about the hustle and bustle of the city, along a deep alley about 5 minutes on foot from the intersection of Omotesando. The building where the candy entangles in the milky white wall that appears in such a place is "MY SENCHA SALON" where a lesson of sencha (tea ceremony using leaf Sencha tea rather than powdered Matcha tea) is performed on the table. We interviewed Michiho IGA san, who is the organizer of the “MY SENCHA SALON”. Her father is the master (Iemoto) of Sencha. In our interview, we reveal what is the secret of Iga san who attracts women in their 20s to 40s in the world of Sencha, which young people tend to feel difficult to approach.
Michiho IGA / MY SENCHA SALON
As a daughter of Senyu SHIMAMURA, the third generation of Sankitei Baisa School of Sencha Tea Ceremony Foundation, she has been familiar with Sencha-do (The art of Sencha ceremony) from an early age. She graduated from The Women's Christian University in 2007.
Currently, she is active mainly in Tokyo and Hiroshima as a PR of Sankitei Baisa School. In the spring of 2016, she opened “MY SENCHA SALON OMOTESANDO” to introduce Sencha ceremony in more casual way. She collaborates with Japanese sweets and kimono salons to introduce lessons, produces original tea-wares “MY CHAKI”, and provides Japanese sweets and Sencha catering service “Catering Sencha by Sanki”.
She promotes the "culture of hospitality" with the Sankitei Baisa school's motto “Sencha ceremony that anyone can do anytime, anywhere".
What is Sencha-do Sanki-tei Baisa School?
Around 1890 a young man started on a trip throughout the country to become the man of letters. At the end of is long journey finally he found the words of Baisa-O by chance, and sympathized with "The words of Baisa-O". I wonder he knew or not that Baisa-O also had hard-traveled in his young days. It is said a man might understand the world through his own experience. Since then he improved the way of Sencha tea ceremony that he had followed the example of his father, and started to spread it as Baisa-Ryu.As the truth that he gained by his efforts－for his first step following his father's and grand father's.
For 100 years, there are so many helps －various tea ceremony parties or enthusiastic flower exhibitions－ of people who sympathized his idea until we were authorized as a foundation. Because of their cooperation we shared joy and pleasure, respected ,and all united. "After completion, Sench tea ceremony would be organizes as a form of arts. But the most important thing is not the system as result but our life－whether we can live our lives truly by making use of Sencha tea ceremony or not. I think the process to try it is important."
This is the speech when I succeeded to the Master and I have advocated since then. For 20 years the head and branch offices have kept studying to reach for the spirit of Sencha tea ceremony by constant and steady practices. There must be some difficulties, but we are contented with joy and believe that dreams come true.
- What do you usually do at MY SENCHA SALON?
I provide private Sencha lessons everyday. The students are mainly women in their 20s and 40s, most of whom got to know my salon through my SNS. Recently, there are increasing numbers of collaboration events such as JICA training programs. Each lesson is mainly about space decoration, such as how to decorate Japanese sweets, bowls and flowers according to the season, students' preferences and the aura of each student. This salon is the main venue but sometimes I visit some other places as well. Our school keeps it in mind that the Sencha practice is incorporated into everyday life, not as a bride training or manner. The most important thing is to enjoy the space itself, so it is essential to work on decorations that vary depending on the person and the situation.
(JICA's training program)
- What are students' takeaways?
I found that most people who want to try Tea ceremony but find it a bit difficult to approach are attracted to the concept of enjoying Sencha on table (Traditionally Sencha ceremony is held on the floor). There seems to be many people who think that the tea ceremony on the tatami mat requires a lot of effort to try out. I opened this salon to let people try Sencha more casually, so I am glad to know that people are feeling comfortable here.
- Being born in the family of Iemoto (master), how did you start Sencha?
I learned Sencha practice from my maternal grandmother, instead of my father. Many of the tools I have now have been inherited from her. I think I was in the elementary school that I helped teachers at the New Year's tea party. I really wish I could have continued, but my grandmother was very strict. So at that time, I couldn't feel much fun in Sencha. I was born in Hiroshima, but I entered a boarding school in Fukuoka, so I stopped taking lessons. My grandmother was not happy that I always used to forget many things every time I returned to my parents' home.
- Did you know you would pursue the career in the field of tea?
In fact, Sencha-do was not an option in the first place. My father is the master of the school, but he did not think that it is me and my brother's obligation to inherit it. My mother is a jewellery designer and my parents are open-minded, so I wanted to find a job at a general company after I graduating from university. I always wanted to go overseas so my parents let me go to study abroad when I was junior high school and high school student, and I majored in Languages and Cultures to learn about the mechanisms of English and Japanese languages and their relationship with society at university. Actually, when I was a student, I was reluctant to tell that the family business was a school of Sencha. Isn't it complicated to explain the concept to friends? I thought it would be difficult for them to understand even if I tell them that my father is the master of the school. At that time, I did not want to be different from everyone, I did not like things that seem unique, or I did not want to get that much attention.
For that reason, when I was in college, I would spend most of my spare time for part-time job. Although I was still a student, I absolutely enjoyed working as a dental assistant, a sales person at a private tutors agent companies, and a back office staff at a telecommunication company.
- How did you return to the Sencha world after graduating from university?
At first, I joined a major cosmetics company and worked as a lecturer for about two and a half years to teach sales staff whenever new products came out. After that, I moved to a government-related company and worked for about four and a half years. My turning point was when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. My parents contacted me to come back to Hiroshima. It was when my father's secretary quit, so he wanted me to support the school's business. It was a right timing for me, so I decided to quit the company and returned to Hiroshima, and went back to the Sencha world. There may be fewer now, but I think there are still many people who have a negative image toward changing jobs. However, because I was able to experience various jobs, I found myself enjoying having an ownership in work.
- Then you started to help your father's work?
That's correct. At first it was clerical work, but my experience in financial work, such as accounting and interaction with external institutions, was helpful. After that, I supported the master and prepared for a tea parties.
- After that, you moved to Tokyo and opened your own salon. How did that happen?
When I was in Hiroshima, I researched a lot about Sencha-do. Then I realised that no matter where I looked, information about Sencha-do was not publicised much. Then I thought, if no one was doing it I should do it. And more and more people appeared to help me out. I also became proactive myself, since then I came to be blessed with good timing and relationships and connections with various people. One time, a friend of mine who worked for a PR company at that time invited me to organise a Sencha lesson at a kids' event. I decided to try it out with my brother and teachers of the Kanto (area around Tokyo) branch. Kids enjoyed the tea ceremony innocently and the parents who watched it were happy too. The event triggered me to get voices from various places. It's a lot of fun to convey the charm of Sencha from various viewpoints in a way that no one has yet done.
- What are your challenges in the future in order to share the charm of Sencha to various people including women in their 20s and 40s who are attending “MY SENCHA SALON”?
I think that hobby will not end with just hobby in the future. Even if it was not someone's job, I will need to open up opportunities where they can be in the centre, such as tea parties or events where students lead. I would like to create more places for such lessons of Sencha.
Interviewer: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru Kuribayashi Stanislaus
Place: MY SENCHA SALON OMOTESANDO
“I'm going to Takachiho in Miyazaki from tomorrow. It's a place that is said to have the origins of Japanese music.” says Ryochu Miyako. He was born as the son of Itchu Miyako, 12th generation of Itchu-bushi (Shamisen: three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument), he is now on various stages both in Japan and abroad as a Joruri-kata (a narrative singer of the traditional Japanese puppet theatre).
In this interview, we asked Ryochu about new challenges that he would like to pursue in the future and what he thinks what the “essence” is.
Ryochu MIYAKO / Itchu-bushi, Joruri
Since the early days of his life, he began to practice Japanese traditional music, Itchu-bushi, from his father, and his predecessor, both Itchu MIYAKO. He regularly organises his own concert “Miyako Ryochu no kai”. He served as a Joruri-kata for concerts and dance performances, and appeared in many performances overseas (Berlin, New York, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, etc.). In addition to performance activities, he is also lecturer, guest at radio station, and Joruri instructor, etc. He also participated as a singer in the image album (CD) of the Studio Ghibli film “Spirited Away”
What is the Itchu bushi?
Itchu bushi is known as particularly elaborate and elegant music among shamisen music, and has been handed down for over 300 years since the Edo period. The number of notes are few, and the tones and knots and shamisen are soft and gentle, so that it may seem plain when you listen to them for the first time. However, each sound has its depth, and the fineness and quietness between each note is its unique attraction. During the Edo period, it was so popular that everyone listened and practiced, and it was loved and enjoyed by the upper class of trademan and craftsman.
It will never be completed. That is why it is always new.
- How do you manage your time?
I'm mainly spending time on three things now - Getting on the stage, Practicing, and Teaching.
Some of schedules such as lessons with students are fixed, but others are quite flexible. It is very difficult to secure time for my own lessons. Sometimes I spend a whole day practicing, and another time I only have 2 to 3 hours.
- Is there anything you have to keep in mind when managing your three tasks?
First of all, I will aim for the closest stage, but to be honest, I always feel like i is always unfinished when I am on the stage. Of course I am doing everything I can, but there is always something that is not still perfect. It may be the case in any field, but I don't think it will ever be completed no matter how much I do.
Therefore, I need to try something new all the time. It is necessary to learn music pieces that I will not be playing at the next stage. The accumulation of new things fills the remaining few percents toward the completion. Although, it is very challenging to keep doing new things that are not directly related to the stage in front of me.
I like singing, just as much as I used to as a child.
- I heard that it has been about 30 years since you started Itchu bushi. but how did you start?
My father has always been the Shamisen player ever since I was born, I had been practicing since the age of three. It had already been the daily routine before I realised.
When I was a kid, I loved singing anime, and I always used to sing on my way home from school or when I am riding a bicycle. I remember singing all the songs that each character sings, such as “Dragon Ball” or “Ranma 1/2”.
When I was a child, Itchu bushi was an extension of my favourite singing activity.
I still remember that it was frustrating that Itchu bushi was so difficult that I could not do it as well as I can do in anime song.
- I don't think there were many people studying Joruri around you, but what did you think of it when you were a student?
My father always used to tell me, “Do as you like.” “If you have a favourite job, you can choose that.” "If you don't like it, it's rather rude to Itchu bushi."
It was when I was a high school student that I actually decided which way to pursue. I started to learn about the contents and details of the song, and I realised it is somethign that I would enjoy the rest of my life.
Although I was still young when I made this decision, I was 17 years old when I was given the name “Ryochu MIYAKO” and began to appear on stage as a professional “Itchu bushi Joruri kata”.
- Making a decision when you were a high school student was a big thing, but what was the reason you were determined that you want to do it for the rest of your life?
Around the same time, I had a chance to travel to the United States with my father. It was my father's vacation trip, but a Japanese friend invited us to their home to organise a small music concert like a salon party. I remember that there were about 30 local Americans and Japanese people. After interpreting the commentary in English, my father played and sang, and I was just listening by his side.
After the performance, all the guests seemed very moved and came up to my father. Some people expressed their excitement and asked for a handshake. I was watching the whole scenes and felt very happy that the music I am practicing every day could make people so happy. During the trip, I went to see musicals and orchestra concerts and I was very moved by those. However at the same time, I felt proud that Itchu bushi is equally amazing. Those experiences gave me a great opportunity to think that I want to do my best.
- My image of your father Itchu is playing the shamisen, but the image of you are narrating.
I could choose to be the Shamisen player, but I chose the Joruri kata pathway. I always enjoyed to use my voice, so it was a natural flow for me. Basically, it will be either full-time narrator or Shamisen player. Although, I also learned the Shamisen in order to narrate Joruri, and I play Shamisen when I teach my students or play at a very small concert, I focus on the narrating when I am on the stage.
Some people do both, but that is quite unusual. First of all, it is hard to keep the balance and keep up the level at the same time.
The amount of "frustration" and "joy" increases over time. This is why I keep going.
- Why do you think you could continue Itchu bushi since your childhood?
There are two reasons that I am continuing - that are “Frustration” and “happiness”. The more I get older, the more I get those feelings.
- When do you feel the frustration?
There are so many things that I cannot do. Even if you can imagine, there are a lot that I cannot reach no matter how I try. But that is why I keep on trying to get closer to the completion.
Although I am able to do something I could not do in the past, my ideal level goes higher. The goals and ideals are always above me. It never gets closer at all. That's why I want to do more. I want to pursue it.
- So when do you feel “joy”?
Thankfully there are people who say "Please perform in my local area" and there are people who say "I listen to the CD every day''. I always feel afraid that they do not have to listen to mine everyday and they should listen to something else too, but I feel so thankful.
Shamisen music form varies, and Itchu bushi is a very quiet and there are a lot of silence between notes. It must be difficult to get the idea that it appreciates the quietness, but people listen to it patiently. I am very happy when people tell me "It was a kind of music that I had never heard before" or "Please tell me when you have a chance to perform again". This is one of the reasons that I continue Itchu bushi.
Telling the essence is what we do
- How is the reaction overseas?
Until now, I have had the opportunity to appear in performances in various places such as New York, Boston, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Cologne, Berlin, etc., most of which is accompanied by my father.
Of course it is not the same reaction everywhere I go, but amongst all what impressed me was in Berlin in 2014.
It was held at the German-Japanese Centre in Berlin so I suppose there were many people who were interested in Japanese culture. But what amazed me that not only standing ovation, comments such as "very comfortable" and "the unique silence was wonderful", but also "the work was beautiful" and "I want to imitate the appearance", which relates to the concept of Japanese culture as a whole.
I often hear people around me perform overseas, and I hope it will increase as 2020 approaches.
- What are the things that you want to tell to people?
I want to deliver the performances that I do every day without faking it.
Recently, I hear a lot of new projects such as collaborating with something outside of Japan, or arranging the original song into another. It is very important to keep trying new things, and there are situations where it's necessary.
However, I would like to show what I am doing on a daily basis to the overseas audience who listen to music for the first time. This is because I want them to feel the original charm and the essence of the pure Itchu bushi. It is a challenge to continue to refine myself so that there are important elements in the connection of our predecessors over a long period of time.
For example, I don't want to change the song itself, even if I make an elaboration in the space, such as the location and lighting. It is fine even if it would be boring to the audience. The kindness for people to be understood is necessary, but there is also a risk that important parts will not be transmitted if you care too much about others.
Still, it will be difficult even for Japanese people today listening to Itchu bushi and understanding it without any prior explanation. Especially there is a language barrier to overseas audiences.
What I learned so far through my experiences is that it is quite useful to show the meaning of the music and what lyrics mean alongside the performance real time. Also audiences could naturally enter into the world of music and were pleased when I told the background story and the history of the content before I started playing.
- What do you think is the “essence” of the Itchu-bushi?
For example, when audiences could feel the spring air through the Joruri clause and the sound of the shamisen when I am narrating about the spring. Or when audiences could feel if the characters in the stories are happy or sad through Joruri and Shamisen. I think it is the essence of Itchu bushi that I can share the scenery and emotions with audiences via Joruri and Shamisen.
I would be happy if people could experience the beauty of Japanese sensibilities.
I am convinced that the essence can be told regardless of country, since I was in high school when I decided that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. It is a theme that we must continue to think about, "How to create better performances and ways to convey while continuing to pursue the value of itself," and "what will change and what will not change."
Itchu-bushi is the origin of Edo Joruri-style shamisen music. The first generation of Tayu Itchu MIYAKO was the second son of the chief priest of Kyoto Meifukuji in 1650. He gradually integrated various forms of shamisen music that were popular in Kyoto at that time, and later expanded into Edo and Established as the Itchu bushi. During the Edo period, Itchu bushi was popular with the upper class of trademan and craftsman in Edo.
Even now, after more than 300 years, the music and spirit of the first generation are faithfully handed down. In addition, the music of the first generation was passed on to the disciples, and later developed into Tokiwazu, Kiyomoto, Shinnai, Tomimoto, etc. and became the source of various schools, greatly affecting the entire shamisen music.
Interviewer: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru Kuribayashi Stanislaus
Photo: Atsushi Sakamoto
Place: National Noh Theater
01 Practicing classical Japanese dance in the 21st century: Balancing the demands of being a career woman and continuing the family legacy | Ume Nakamura (Part2)
Ume-san is the daughter of Nakamura-style Japanese dance that has been around since the 1700s, and the second generation Nakamura Umeya of the 8th generation Iemoto (master of the school). In the first part of this interview, we talked about the origins of a dancer and the reasons for continuing a career as a corporation employee. In the second part, we will go further and ask about the future that she want to create.
What kind of dancer do you want to become?
Most of people in this field are professionals who are engaged in the practice and always working on to improve their performance. Those people must remain in the future. They are so into the world that they perform so well. Traditional arts are passed down. The closest example for me is my mother.
I always think that I will never be better than her. I respect her all the time who is addicted to performing arts, but my father, on the other hand, suggests me to pursue business pathway. Growing up in such environment, I thought that I want to be a dancer who can take various perspectives into dancing. I am certain that such kind of dancer is also necessary.
It may not be the same way as my mother, but the desire to improve the world of dance is the same, and my respect for dance remains the same. At this moment I am still dancing while I'm working, but eventually the dancing is going to be my main business and would like to tell the story to people who were never reached before.
I think it is same with other traditional performing arts, but it's difficult to attract new people so that it is difficult to make money out of stages.
It might sound direct, but money cannot be ignored in order to make better stages and train new talents. To that end, I think it is important to attract new people who have never seen it before. I want more young people both as dancers and audiences, and want them to enjoy the unusual experiences. That is what I want to achieve as a dancer.
Is there anything you want to do or you are doing to improve the world of dancing?
Recently, I try to connect with various people. I want to know more about the outside world. When I meet and talk, they tell me that they want to know more about it as I do not know anything about it although they have a wonderful image about it.
Those opinions are so fresh for us being inside of the certain world and appeal to me that the way of receiving the dancing is so different.
Every time I talk to people, I always think that there is no single answer that it has to be told in certain way. Even if the way I communicate is different, the way people feel is different to each other. Otherwise, the world of dance will disappear.
Actually, it is very difficult for us to reach out to people who do not know anything about dancing and attract them to see the show. Then, why not approach to those who are familiar with art and performances. Even if someone likes or is interested in certain field, it requires a bit of effort to know the details. My mission before I become 30 is to communicate more with those who already have a potential to be interested in this world.
In fact, there are many dance and music pieces that I am sure people would love once they know them.
One good example is "Dojoji". As a dancer, everyone wants to perform the piece. The story is based on the what is called the legend of Dojoji. Very simply speaking, there are a monk and a woman. She loves him so much but he does not. He tries to run away from her and escapes into the temple called Dojoji. But she still enters pretending as if she is a dancer. Eventually, the monk escaped into the temple bell, and the woman turned into a snake, wrapped around the bells, burned the bell and killed the monk.
Isn't this content that is quite a movie or drama now? What's more, in this performance, Dojoji is performed in various versions such as Kirishidan Dojoji.
Every dance performance has its own meaning, and it is related to various things. There are many ways to enjoy it, and I want it to be something that you see and do in everyday life, not in a world with a high threshold. Of course it's not just about dancing. I think this is true for the entire Japanese culture.
You can think it's boring, if you think so. Don't try to be too serious. If you find the explanation interesting I would love you to watch the show, but it is ok if you do not find it appealing. I do not think this is something that you have to try hard to be interested in. If you think it's interesting or find it enjoyable, please let me talk to you. I would love to talk to many people from different worlds and create and spread new dances.
[Nakamura-style Japanese dance]
A style originated in the third generation Shikan NAKAMURA, a kabuki actor who was famous during the Bunka and Bunsei periods.
The feature is that the actors of Kabuki's Narikomaya have inherited the original family from generation to generation, and the emphasis is placed on the mainstream of Kabuki performances. Since 2012, the second daughter of the first generation, Umeya NAKAMURA, has succeeded the family. Fukusuke NAKAMURA, the 9th generation, as the head of the school and Hashinosuke NAKAMURA, the 3rd generation (Shikan NAKAMURA, the 8th generation as of October 2016), as an advisor.
“Aiming to create a new dance world on a new path different from that of my mother.” Ume-san's goal was a little surprising.
Although it is still the first time, we will continue to interview various people in their 20s and 30s who will inherit the wave of tradition and lead the next generation of Japan. It was a story I felt strongly that I would like to create a Japanese culture that will continue into the future by working together in the interviews.
Interview: Kuribayashi Stanis Roth, Kitamura Yuki
Photo: Tsuchiya Fumino
Place: Nakamura Ryu
Okoba (Kagurazaka) Sweets: Umekatei (Kagurazaka)
01 Practicing classical Japanese dance in the 21st century: Balancing the demands of being a career woman and continuing the family legacy | Ume Nakamura (Part1)
On the face of it, Ms. Ume Nakamura (24) leads a normal life. After graduating university she entered into a company as a fresher, and from Monday to Friday she is learning her trade as a junior member of staff. But beyond the demands of work, she has a large responsibility to carry on the family business. Ume is the eldest daughter of Umeya Nakamura, the eighth Headmaster of the “Nakamura School” of Nihon Buyo (classical Japanese dance). Nippon Collection visited Ume’s house in the traditional Tokyo neighbourhood of Kagurazaka to discuss what its like to balance these dual identities, and the challenges of preserving this classical form of dance in an age of declining interest among millennials.
How do you balance your time as a career woman and a professional dancer?
Growing up in a family that lives and breathes traditional Japanese arts, working for a company that is in the Kabuki theatre business was pretty much a natural choice for me. My role is in design and product development related to “Kumadori,” a special face paint used by Kabuki actors to show different expressions and more detailed facial features such as blood vessels. Our face paint designs are used in popular products and accessories and so I am constantly thinking about what is most appealing to the general public. Perhaps the most interesting discovery I have made so far is that most people want designs that are less subtle and more obvious in their depiction of “Japaneseness.” Surprisingly this applies more so to regular Kabuki theatre goers.
On weekends I am either practicing my dance routines or performing on stage. But otherwise if I have some free time I do pretty normal things - I like to hit the shops, watch films or eat out in restaurants with friends. I think for me, the most important thing is to try new things.
Have you always had a passion for classical Japanese dance?
I think my first exposure to classical Japanese dance was at 2 years old. I still remember the feeling of nervousness the first time I stepped onto the stage at the Kabuki-za (the largest Kabuki theatre in Japan). Naturally I was scared about standing in front of lots of people. Looking back now at those early years, I think it was the words of encouragement that I received from the audience and fellow dancers that kept me going. For me, dance was simply a routine, and not yet a way of life. Just like how lots of parents take their children to piano lessons, I was made to practice classical dance. The only real difference was that I had spend a long time putting on the white make-up before practicing – fortunately my friends thought it was cool at the time!
My path was distinct from my mother who is now Headmaster of the Nakamura School. From a very early age she had a passion for classical dance and took every opportunity to practice or perform. In the world of classical Japanese dance, this is the norm, and diverging from this path usually is a sign that one’s future lies elsewhere. When I reached high school I was convinced that I hadn’t been given the calling like my mother, and tried to avoid dance as much as possible. Fortunately my family was very understanding, and there was no pressure placed upon me to succeed my mother as the next Headmaster, which is commonly the expectation. In fact, my father pushed me in the opposite direction and suggested that I gain broader experiences and new perspectives outside of the world of classical dance. With no real reason to continue, it seemed that my journey as a professional dancer had ended.
The images are scenes from the performance of “Shunkyo Kagami Jishi,” a famous play in Japanese classical dance and one of the 18 standard pieces in the modern Kabuki repertoire. The play tells the story of a new year’s celebration at the castle in Edo. Maids in the inner court brought a servant-girl named Yayoi into the presence of a Lord. Confused at the circumstances, Yayoi began to dance (left). Shortly after, she put on a mask of a lion’s head, and became possessed by the lion, moving her to dance madly (right).
This particular performance in May 2016 also signaled the grand unveiling of the stage name “Ume Nakamura”.
What was the turning point for you?
To be honest, I think it was a gradual change. During my senior years at university I began to think about what job and career path I would take. The more I started to weigh up the options, the more I realized how important my mother’s influence on me was. I started to consider my mother’s approach to her role as Headmaster and realized that she simply loved what she was doing and took little thought for how to promote her work or how she would earn a living. I started to feel as though it was my calling to support my mother in someway so that she can be an even greater success. And so it wasn’t necessarily me being called to promote classical dance.
So when deciding on what to do after university, I knew that I had to go out into the world of work. Being born into a long line of classical dancers, I could easily spend my life within that bubble without learning about other fields and ways of thinking. I was sure that I could better contribute to my mother’s work if I had broader skills to bring to the table. I stopped taking intensive dance lessons and spent the first year after graduating as a normal Monday-Friday office worker. In order to dedicate myself to my work and maintain my social life, I completely stepped away from dance practice for the whole year. I didn't fully explain to my mother why I had made the choice to take a break from dancing, and no doubt she thought I had quit for good this time.
A year away gave me time to reflect on where I belong. I returned to the world of classical dance with a renewed sense of purpose.
... to be continued
About the Nakamura School of Classical Japanese Dance:
The first Headmaster of the Nakamura School was the Utaemon Nakamura III, a successful Kabuki actor in the Bunka/Bunsei period (1804 - 1830). The school is well known for its careful attention to the Kabuki dance and postures. In 2012, Umeya Nakamura II, the eldest daughter of Shikan Nakamura VII, succeeded as the eighth Headmaster. Ume Nakamura belongs to this long line of Kabuki actors. Ume appeared on NHK broadcasting’s E-tele channel, in a show that introduced Japan’s traditional arts, "Nippon no Geino", performing "Take kurabe" on the 16th September 2016.
Interview by: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru Kuribayashi Stanislaus
Translated by: Warren Stanislaus
Photos by: Ayano Tsuchiya
Interview series for young practitioners of Japanese cultural traditions.