We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku! Report Session and Public Meeting

November 15th (Friday) 6- 9:30pm at Sendai Mediatheque

Speakers (In order of Appearance)

Cecilia Macfarlane (Performer, Director, Choreographer, Art Therapist, Dance Educator)
Chikara Furumizu (Urahama Nenbutsu Sword Dance/Kanazu Style Urahama Shishimai Preservation Society Chairman, Ofunato City Local Folk Performing Arts Association Vice-Chairman)
Michiari Saito (Artist, Representative of Marutosankakunamishikaku, Kesennuma’s Community-building Organization “Kirakukai”)
Jujiro Maegawa (Representative Member of “Minna-no-Shirushi” LLC, Researcher at Tokyo University CSIS, Director of the Performance Group “Mi-kuni”)

Participants (In alphabetical order)

Rika Chiba (Representative of the Research Laboratory for Body and Media)
Miya Itoh (Tohoku Coordinator of the Center for Recovery through the Power of Music, Inc.)
Ayako Iwazeki (The Culture Foundation of Miyagi)
Shutaro Koiwa (Japan Folk Performing Arts Association)
Nina Maeda (Dancer, Choreographer)
Shoko Senda (Tohoku Coordinator of the Center for Recovery through the Power of Music, Inc.)
Yuta Senda (Physical Expressionist, Representative of the Dance in Nursery Schools Executive Committee, Secretary- General of ARCT/Miyagi)
Masaya Yamada (Film Director)
Toshifumi Yamaki (Sendai Theatre Studio 10-BOX Second-Generation Studio Director)
Kyoko Yokoyama (Freelance/ Production Coordinator (Fukuoka))
Tamami Yono (Editing Division of Kahoku Media Guide, Producer of “Let’s Dance Bon Odori”)


Norikazu Sato (NPO Japan Contemporary Dance Network)

Recording of the Minutes

Mari Kitamoto (NPO Japan Contemporary Dance Network)

On Participating in the Second Round of “We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!”

[Cecilia Macfarlane]

[Chikara Furumizu] (Q= JCDN’S Sato, A= Furumizu)

(Sato) What did you think about this project? With people coming from JCDN, some unfamiliar organization.

(Furumizu) My honest feeling was that I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. It’s that I think it is important to associate with people in many different ways. It’s a fact that I feel the most danger in the reduction of children to take on the next generation of performers, which is the environment surrounding folk performing arts today. In the midst of this, our biggest task is how to protect and pass on folk performing arts. There was also the problem of the tsunami, but even from before the tsunami, we kept on with the intention of not going after those who left and not turning away anyone who came to us. Even when the telephone call came from Mr. Koiwa, I felt that it might be interesting if we could actually do it.

I completely was not expecting to teach a person from a foreign country. It is important to have the person feel it with their skin, body, rather than remembering it with their limbs. You gave it your best, with a smile on your faces. I think that matters more than anything. Meeting Mr. Sato raised our spirits. With this project, I especially felt the connections with other people, and that we were not somehow shut off. We could have plenty of international exchange while being in our homes. In that sense, there was a lot going on in these few days. It was a good experience. Thank you very much.

(Sato) Same here, Thank you very much.

(Sato) I’d like to ask Mr. Koiwa what the reason was for introducing only Mr. Furumizu and Toriko Mai out of the many folk performing arts?

(Koiwa) Mr. Furumizu was the person who brought back the idea that Shishi Odori was originally in Ofunato. He was the person who built up what was previously not here. To reconsider folk performing arts. Folk performing arts are something that are brought up in the region. It is linked to belief. I worried at first about what people or folk performing arts to introduce to “We’re Gonna Go and Learn!!” because since beliefs are involved, of course you can’t just go there and quickly learn them- sure, since they have dancers’ bodies they can follow along with the movement, but the problem is how can they learn it up to the spiritual level. That is a difficult thing, so I stumbled a little and couldn’t easily introduce things.

But then there were people like Mr. Furumizu who could clearly say (as he was just saying) that it’s fine for people to just make contact with the performing art and bring its spirit home with them. Due to these people’s exchanges with the outside world, the people who can say the same things have really increased. Those kinds of people have increased because of the attention gathered after things like the earthquake.

In the middle of people who say that it is okay for people to come from the outside, I thought that Mr. Furumizu was the best, since he went of his own accord to learn the arts, bring them back to his town and has continued them for 20 years, and has been continuing to raise the next generation of artists.

Mr. Furumizu’s way-of-thinking (about Urahama), watching the children (Mr. Furumizu’s son’s generation) and their dancing was really good. Not just the spirit of it, but the skill as well. Even among the numerous Shishi Odori, Urahama’s is awesome. It’s my assumption, but I saw that and thought that he is a person who deserves to teach.

With Torikomai, there are women and children. Since folk performing arts basically has the aspect that men are involved in it, women doing it means that they are going outside of that stereotype and dancing- and since everyone is becoming able to have this way of thinking, they are making opportunities and places for men, women, children- everyone to be able to dance, and so I thought they could handle people from other places coming as well.


“We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!” is something that anyone could think up, but I think it is an awesome idea. I feel that up until now we have somehow just been learning out of self-satisfaction. This time, I could meet a lot of people.

From there, I think there are many possibilities for being able to do something. I felt that the disaster was negative, the folk performing arts positive. We interacted with each other, focusing on those positive parts. I think it is a project in which having interactions with each other was empowering.

My encounter with Mr. Furumizu. He is a passionate person, and the (Urahama) Shishi Odori and Kenbai (Sword Dance) are passionate dances. I heard that the Kenbai dance is done at the house of someone who has passed away, and my own creative part has been doing spiritual things for a long time, so I could find out that the country in which I was born has been doing this since quite a long time ago. When I learned the hand movement of Toriko Mai, while thinking that it is similar to American modern dance, I was impressed that Japan had this kind of movement before modern dance.

We made an experimental attempt of how to use your own body in areas damaged from the earthquake. What if I tried dancing in an area that I chose myself? Each dancer chose a place where they wanted to dance, and brought into existence what they got in Tohoku, even if there was no one else around- I bet dancers would introduce something to people, thinking what would I do, we could make the seed of possibility while feeling and doing. I want to bring this feeling back to Fukuoka as art. Also, myself, as a therapist, was bringing in the Western person’s body and saying “Okay, let’s do this,” but I could also draw up a vision of the future, in which perhaps I can practice therapy using local folk performing arts, gratitude for Japan through the local folk performing arts, as one tool.

[Michiari Saito]

“Kirakukai,” an association for enjoying Kesennuma, carried out their 15th project, with almost 7 years as an organization. “Kirakukai” is a gathering centered around regional volunteers in their 30’s, with the intention of spontaneously making Kesennuma fun, and actively enjoying the Kesennuma that exists now. Kirakukai was started on October 1, 2006, and is now facing its 6th year. Our thoughts are expressed in the “Kirakukai declaration” from our association’s establishment.

(From the Kirakukai website)
 We will find out the appeal of Kesennuma and dispatch the message of our town’s magnificence within and outside the region.
We will take action with a constant smile, a spirit up for a challenge, and a burning heart.
We will deepen the bonds and fellowship among people of the same generation and enliven Kesennuma with our young spirit.

Other than that, there are no regulations, rules, or even the binding together of membership. What is decided is that we hold a regular meeting every week. We throw out ideas as we think of them or what each of us is normally thinking, centered on small talk with coffee in one hand. As we chat, if the ideas build up somewhat into one direction, we specifically turn this into a plan and gather people, and when the situation demands, bring it into effect. The Kirakukai styke is to do what we can do on the spot by ourselves.

Among our activities until now, we have begun a Kirakukai sightseeing tour since September, 2011, welcomed tourists under the name “Voluntary Tourist Guide” using an open space in JR Minami Kessennuma station, made a “Kessennuma Meat Map” focusing on the hidden local food culture of meat, and the opening of the “Katari Bar,” a place where the young people of Kessennuma can connect frankly and interact. We are carrying out many different plans with free thinking and light-hearted footwork while enjoying it ourselves, which is the most important thing.

Of course it is good to go after something fun and participate in someplace’s interesting-looking event or plan, but the most fun thing should be to think of something ourselves, come up with an idea, and plan/execute it with our group of friends. Also, I think that increasing by just one person the number of people who can come up with something fun with their own hands is the best short cut to making Kessennuma even more of a fun town than it is now.

These projects by Kirakukai are posted on the Kirakukai blog, which is updated everyday since the group’s establishment, so if you are interested, I would be happy if you look at the blog.

< About Joint Sponsorship with “We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!”>
Based on our future projects, it is essential for people to keep moving, and we will connect relationships, established by making a place together where people can interact, and the stimulus, for moving people, to the next identity, in order to keep holding on to a regional identity when this region is know longer known as an earthquake-damaged area. I think we can know many different things by working with local folk performing arts.

Shichifukujin (The Seven Gods of Good Fortune)- only women sing, dance, and play the drum. There are increased opportunities for seeing the traditional folk performing arts of regions after the earthquake. It became the clue for how we will go on from this. I listened to the chairman speak, and it was completely different from what I had been imagining until now. When he began he was in his teens, and they did their own costumes and choreography. From there I found out that it has been continued for 66 years since then, and it is awesome that it has been continued for a long time. I had a fresh surprise. In fishermen’s towns women protect the house, do the farming, raise the children, and I thought about what kind of entertainment they have. I thought that maybe there was monotony. Especially since there aren’t a lot of things, they made up something that they could say was the culture of their town, while making it among the relationships of people that they knew face-to-face.

It has a long history. In its 7-7-7-5 verses, all of the prose is connected to the history and the region. I learned about it for the first time. I could rediscover a living region. It is huge that I could notice how it (the region) is packed full.

(“We’re Gonna Go Learn In Tohoku!!) is the plan that has been the key to this project. I want to increase participants in this region and keep on thinking about how we are going to pass the word on.

[Sho Ikushima]

My father is from Kessennuma, and I thought about what I could do in Tohoku. I carried out some workshops on moving the body together with children at schools and temporary housing after the earthquake. However, I was feeling concerned about my position of going to the earthquake-affected areas to teach something. What kind of interaction can I have with Tohoku? Also, I lived abroad for a long time, but I know nothing about Japanese culture. What (dance and folk performing arts or Japanese culture) will connect together?

What was different this time was that it was the people of Tohoku’s turn to teach, and so they really entered into the endeavor. The people teaching worked their hardest and taught Cecilia in an easy-to-understand way. I saw these circumstances and thought that it was a new kind of relationship.

Also, we were being told “thank you” until now, but this time we could become the ones to say “thank you.” I felt that it was a new way to associate with people from earthquake-affected areas.

I encountered young men in their 30s in the town of Karakuwa (Kessennuma) in southern Sanriku. The development of our talks about doing something together was a big result of “We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!” I talked with the people of southern Sanriku, and heard them say that they want to create a festival that will continue for a thousand years and they can enjoy, and when I thought about that, I thought it was an epic plan. But, I suggested that they have to make something that cannot be experienced unless it is Tohoku, the appeal of Tohoku, so that they don’t make something temporary that will be limited to one time.

One member from southern Sanriku let me dance Shichifukujin. I heard that from behind fireworks are set off, and I thought that was really cool. The people of Southern Sanriku were doing what a person in that sort of place thinks is cool when they were children. While talking about that sort of thing, I could have a talk in which I could feel that the people of southern Sanriku were truly interesting.

By speaking from the angle of someone who came from an outside region, from an angle that differs from the experience they have, they said that they could see their own experience and knowledge from a different angle. When we set up opportunities in which we can speak with different kinds of people, and are speaking with them, we can see a different viewpoint, and I think that I would like to be able to go on searching out the cool, appealing parts of Tohoku.

It is not the case that there were a lot of participants in “We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!” and it is also difficult for lots of people to gather at a local festival, but it is also not the case that we just want to have a lively festival; but in order to search in that middle ground for the Tohoku that we find cool, we were able to meet young people in this project and to learn folk performing arts. With this as a beginning, it became the cornerstone to be able to continue searching for a new way to interact with Tohoku.

[Jujiro Maegawa]

The earthquake happened when I was in Berlin. They were showing a film which theme was based on the atomic bomb. I found out that they were recruiting data collectors for Tokyo University’s disaster prevention research center. I went to Ofunato all of a sudden, and ventured to collect data for oral history. I visited housing units in a land that was unknown to me, and that data is in the Diet’s library. I began a company with the ambition to be able to use what I got from that.

Last year I learned the “Tora Mai” (Tiger Dance) from the region of Goishi. Marginal towns have their good and bad. This was a region where it was said that they wouldn’t talk to you anymore if you go to learn something in a different town.

Mr. Furumizu is thinking not only about his own region, but also about the town of Karakuwa or the city of Rikuzentakata. We have to do that from now on. How will everyone join hands and go on?

[Mari Kitamoto]

Rather than telling you about local performing art itself, I would like to speak to you about what kind of existence folk performing arts has, from what I experienced with residing in the regions where I actually went to learn them. When I was staying in lodging in Massaki, I went for a walk in the neighborhood. The place, where the lodging was, also suffered damage from the tsunami, and it was like it had (what I assumed to be) stores in random spots. When I visited one of those stores, at first we talked about the products they sold and whatnot, but when I talked about how I actually came to learn “Shichifukujin,”they poured me a cup of coffee, and I was told that they wanted to let them hear more about it, because they found it really interesting.

From then on, I passed the time talking about the folk performing arts in Massaki, or talking about the regions where I have been to learn folk performing arts, and at the end the person at the store showed me pictures taken before and directly after the tsunami, and told me about what kind of lifestyle they had been leading. It was an experience in which I felt that I had become closer to a person from that region by having folk performing arts as the conversation piece, and it was an experience in which I could think that the next time I visit this place, myself, I would like to go there again to talk.

[Yuta Chida]

When I participated, it was the period when we were thinking “what can a dancer come here to do?” I didn’t know much about the town yet, and it really became a stimulus for thinking about what can be done. A new viewpoint of the town arose within myself. Through dance. It was an incredibly good experience.

It was interesting listening to the report session. I thought it was interesting that Shichifukujin started as a performance event and became a traditional folk performing art through its continuance.

(Michiari Saito) I think that something like a sense of professionalism came about by it becoming an intangible cultural property. It became a chance to think about what tradition is.

Today is the anniversary of the death of a university upperclassman I have never met, and they have continued to offer flowers on that anniversary at the school club that I belonged to. I found out that it has been continued even until now after graduating from university, and I thought maybe it would lead to tradition. I felt that there was something that ran through the two when I heard about that flower offering and about Shichifukujin, and I feel that continuing something from now and us keeping up with that is perhaps important for leaving local folk performing arts for future generations from now on.

On Participating in the First Round of “We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!”

[Shoko Senda]

It was fun to dance with everyone. Learning the dance by imitating others, it was fun that we could dance while all the different generations were mixed together.

Since it was the Obon holiday, we could enjoyably welcome people from “the other world” (world of the dead). Maybe people from the other world were mixed in the middle of the dance circle. But, you don’t have to know that. I have also heard that a long time ago people would cover their faces and dance.

I thought, especially in Watari, that it was a scene where it wouldn’t be strange if someone told me that people from this world and people who had come back from the other world were dancing together.

[Rika Chiba]

I could only participate in southern Sanriku. (However, since it was something that used young people planning and leading the group in popular music) it was different than the (old-timey) Bon Odori that I had been imagining. I figured out that the feeling of it was different. Rather than it being an atmosphere that was particular to Bon Odori, it became an atmosphere of regimented young people and I felt like “something is different here, maybe?”

The Bon Odori that took place at southern Sanriku in 2013 was not the “Let’s dance the Bon Odori” project by Kahoku Publishing Company, it was something that we had planned ourselves. The dance was also something that was created with choreography we commissioned an acquaintance to make.

[Miya Itoh]

I was raised in Yuriage. Since it was a half-baked country town, it was not the kind of place that would pass down local folk performing arts. I was thought of as a strange person if I even went to see Kagura. I led the kind of life that, if they let me dance the “Yuriage Great Fishing Song” at a school that didn’t hold the Bon Odori, they thought it was not cool.

In this project I tried dancing it after not having done so in decades, and the northern sea Bon song was danced to at the various places I went, and there were slight variations along the way. Since even the music has not become a part of their identity, I thought that the custom of dancing the Bon Odori was intriguing. So, I feel uncomfortable being there, unlike how I feel with the Shishimai or Shichifukujin.

There are a lot of hand movements in the Bon Odori, and the Shishi Odori has a dynamism in using the lower body. I want to ask an expert about that difference. Dancing was an interesting experience. Since I thought it was a good thing to have dance and folk performing arts in society and the community, when we are building a community from now on, I would like to add dance and folk performing arts at its core.

(Kitamoto) Since there was the same verse in Matsushima’s Bon Odori song (The Great Fishing Song) and the opening verse to the “GoIwai” (Celebration song) that I heard in Massaki, I could really experience the mystery in their connection.
When I visited the place where I went to dance the Bon Odori in Matsushima again, I found out that that place was where many corpses had been laid out after the tsunami. I also found out that there are things that cannot be known by just going there to dance.

[Tamami Yono]

I participated in 2012 and 2013 as a volunteer dancer, and I was supported with a Yukata (light cotton kimono). Maybe “support” is the wrong word, but they let me enjoy it together with them. Thanks to them I could dance at 5 places each, and since I want to dance it for at least 3 years, I also think that I want to dance it in the summer of next year (2014). While thinking about how the scale depends on how much aid we can get from corporations, and how many stages we can build, I would like to aim for holding a Bon Odori in 5 locations.

In my point of view, Bon Odori is a traditional folk performing art, and I have the feeling that it is in between what is continuously practiced and passed on by regional people and preservation societies and what is manifested by the expression of oneself by the performer (dancer).

It adds to the personhood of the dancer, and when I am watching people dance I feel that it also becomes one part in the building of their lives. For example, the Souma Bon song has been passed down in many places in Miyagi, and it has become many different kinds of dancing. Even the people who are participating as volunteer dancers say that “ this dance is different than my own dancing” and dance in a different line. As this kind of back and forth has been repeated, I felt the confidence and happiness in bringing back their (the people who participated in Bon Odori) feeling of “this is what I was dancing.” So, no matter how much something mistaken is passed down, if it is continued to a certain extent then it will totally become tradition. That sort of history will start to be carved. So, I think that I can’t come in from the side and thoughtlessly say “that’s wrong.”

It is one part of tradition, and it is also one part of regional tradition, and as a dancer one becomes a person (of tradition). When I thought that I wanted to support the idea of being able to use Bon Odori, something anyone can do, as a tool to connect new communities in earthquake-affected areas, the people around me said that perhaps Bon Odori is good, instead of Suzume Odori or Yosakoi. With Bon Odori, even without practicing as a team to a certain extent, you can be called out, enter the place, and become one in the same wave. I was given an encouraging push by people who said it is good because it is not hard. I think that I want to even change the scale of this project and continue to help with making an environment in which Bon Odori can be danced again, in an environment where the people had at once lost this environment for Bon Odori.

As a development continuing on from next year, I am thinking that I wish to be able to hold a Bon Odori that is performed in earthquake-affected areas in the middle of town, to have that local dance in the middle of the town of Sendai without going to the local area. I think that perhaps we can become connected, to never forget, make a bit of a link with coastal parts by dancing. I am thinking it would be great if we could have a “Bon Odori Festival,” in which we bring together the different Bon Odori songs from each place. At that time I want to be able to do it while hearing the opinions of various people who are doing dance and/or folk performing arts.

On Participating in the Report Session

[Kyoko Yokoyama]

I was always hearing about Tohoku and about this project every time I met with Mr. Sato in places like Fukuoka. So, I was thinking that I had to participate sometime, but I was finally able to participate with this report session. I have been listening to everyone speak while thinking that, probably, all of the participants will become a strong media force from now, and go on to get information out to various places.

Also, I thought that there are a lot of things that we can do because we are outsiders. Then, I am thinking what I can do as an outsider. I think that perhaps there is some kind of impact for local people, some kind of breakthrough that can be made, especially by the arrival of people from abroad who cannot speak the language.

[Shutaro Koiwa]

I think it is good that the phrase “local folk performing arts” is being used. “Local folk performing arts” is not used in academia. In academia they use the phrase “ethnic folk performing arts,” a phrase that was only used before world war two and has almost been forgotten in Japan. Academically, people say “ethnic folk performing arts,” and if they say “traditional folk performing arts,” they mean things that are being continued professionally as something that doesn’t change, like Kyogen, Noh, or Kabuki.

I think that local folk performing arts are the people living in that local area, the spirituality in that locality- for example the spirituality of offering a flower for a life in that locality- the translation of these sorts of things into folk performing arts is local folk performing arts.

I want to keep telling others that that sort of thing is also in Japan now. Some things have been hard to get across even if I said “local folk performing arts” generally. Nevertheless, Tohoku is the food and etcetera, a land where the region’s special characteristics can been seen from its various local traits, and I think that if we can keep telling others and getting the message out that there are folk performing arts there, people will be able to think of local folk performing arts as Japanese culture. Because of that sort of thing, I think that it is good to use the word “local folk performing arts.”

[Masaya Yamada]

When I thought about relationships with these regions after finishing my time as a volunteer, when a new person comes they don’t know what they should do at first (towards that region). At that time, “local folk performing arts” is effective as a shared language. It is easier to make communication with people of that region when asking “What kind of local folk performing arts do you have here?” is the conversation-starter. When performing arts is thought of as one tool for making communication, I want to expect much out of what can be done after learning the folk performing art, and with learning it, and how “We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!” will develop.

[Toshifumi Yamaki]

When you are coming into contact with people who are doing the folk performing arts of their regions, many kinds of people will come to lend support to the earthquake-affected areas. I think that it is difficult for people coming to learn in a place where that many people come. Also, since they (local folk performing arts practitioners) are not dancers who belong to some production, they are continuing their folk performing arts activities while doing other jobs in their lifestyles. Also, for as much as it is rooted in the land, the local nature of it is also limited. So, I thought that it would probably be quite hard. However, since there are also organizations that go to teach it to elementary and middle school students in order to pass it onto young people, I was thinking that those sorts of places would be their targets.

But, by participating in today’s report session, I felt that there is also strength in vigorously jumping in, and I think that Mr. Koiwa’s coordination was good, but I have been listening to the conversation at this report session and thinking that it was good that this radiance came from simply doing something.

Editor’s Postscript

After that, we heard reports and reflections from all of the participants.
It was an exchange of opinions and a report on the project’s execution done in a limited time, but I think that it became a good opportunity to search for the possibilities of Japanese folk performing arts culture while turning our eyes to the local folk performing arts of earthquake-affected areas.

Especially, since Cecilia was with us, we could be conscious of the two-way perspectives of the outside point-of-view and the point-of-view facing the outside, in thinking about what is Japan’s local folk performing arts and how is that perceived for someone from abroad. I think that from now on I would like to think of sending the message abroad about Japanese culture with local folk performing arts as one tool.

Also, as one of Mr. Furumizu’s sayings, “Taking the heart and spirit back with you” can be shared not only with Cecilia, who is British, but also with the participating artists from Japan. Coming into contact with the memories of that land while proceeding to Tohoku’s earthquake-affected areas, learning the folk performing arts, and talking with the local people. What sort of activity will each person develop by dancing that heart and spirit? I would like to continue to be involved with Tohoku and get the message out about this work.