The Japan tsunami in March 11, 2011 destroyed many, many, many things and much, much though and spirits. In the field of dance for example, many dance communities lost their facilities: masks, dance costumes, musical instruments, and some dancer were died. However, they keep the spirit of the dances.
This disaster reminds me Yogyakarta 5,9 SR earthquake in 2006 which many Javanese traditional performing art groups: dances, music, drama, and shadow puppet lost their art facilities. For example, a group of shadow puppet found their Big Gong totally broken by Yogyakarta 5,9 SR earthquake in 2006. This disaster caused more than 7000 people died in my town. Involving in this situation, I established a volunteers group called Forum Seniman Gumregah “Revival Artist Forum”. We paid attention to traditional artists who lost their house, families, or art facilities. We helped them to replace the traditional music instruments, dance costumes, masks that broken. We also give them opportunity to create a traditional drama production performed in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Through donation from many friends including Japan, USA, England, Holland, Taiwan, and Indonesia, we could run this emergency-social activities for four months.
Last November-December 2014, I joined a dance research in Japan with Japan Contemporary Dance Network. We focus on the impact of the Japan tsunami toward the traditional dances: Kagura dance, Kembai dance, Deer dance, and Tiger dance. My impression and experience during the research is described below.


Kagura dance is performed for the God. The Guru (Mr,Chikara Hurumizu) told me that they lost their dance studio, masks, and dance costumes. They also lost their friend, a dancer, who passed away caused by the tsunami. After the tsunami , they build a new dance studio, new music instruments and masks. They keep spirit to keep dancing for the God. They keep teaching dance for children and adult.
Dancing for the God is a powerful motivation to keep dancing. It is similar with Balinese dance which also keep dancing for the God. Dancing, in this context in Bali, is not an entertainment, but it is a spiritual activities. Balinese call this activity “Ngayah” means “working for the God”. This vertical relationship between human being and God in Bali and in Ogatsu is expressed through the dance. I am very happy to learn Kagura spirit dance in the Ogatsu community. This experience has recalled my memory when I learn ritual Balinese dances.
In Java, court dance use to be performed for the Sultan (King) as a representation of the God, but now, this function has lost. Now, court dance becomes entertainment. This makes the vertical spiritual awareness of the dance shift into horizontal entertainment value.
I hope Japan government pay attention on this dance as it is a symbol of the connection between man and spirit of God. This dance is also a picture of Asian cultural value.


Kembai dance is performed for the death, the ancestor. I am very impressed with this dance, not only its movement, choreography, music, chanting, or costume, but its spiritual value that is still fresh real live in the community in NEMBUTSU. They have performance yearly for the death every August. They perform the dance from one house to other houses according to how many people death during a year. This is a unique staging. This dance is symbolizing the relationship between human being with ancestor.
We life in this world because of the ancestor. So it is very important to remember and always keep in “communication” to respect them through dance. This dance has spiritual and social values at the same time. They passed away after finishing their journey in this world, then we continue living in this life. So philosophically, it is true that we have relationship with the ancestor. This awareness of the relationship between us and the ancestor (including our parent who have passed away) is an important education value for young and children who sometime don’t aware in this matter.
Through imagination and recalling memory to the death, we can still feel that we have connection. We can recall the love memory like in Naikan practice. I learned Naikan, a self-reflection for happiness and success by Norimasa Nishida. Basically, this book is a direction on how to reconnecting our self to our parents (ancestor) who love us through recalling love memory. So it is important to keep feeling of love from the ancestor to us. They have proved how they love us, so it is important to keep the relationship spiritually. Dance can take this function, like in Kembai dance, physically dancers and musicians perform the dance, spiritually they respect the ancestor.
This Kembai dance, for me, is not only has artistic value, but it has great deep philosophy that could build people character. A character of people who respect the parents and the ancestor who have proved their love to us through the fact that they have took care of us, especially when we were baby and child, so we can stay alive. Kembai dance for me is an education of how we need to respect parents and ancestor as our life comes from their love and the love still alive. Kembai dance for me, is a symbol of love between us and our parent and the ancestor line. It is an expression and celebration of love through dance.
I hope Japan government give attention to this dance as this vertical relationship between man and the ancestor is very much a representative of Asian dance.


Mr. Tobai, the leader of the dance community said: “We don’t know about the philosophy of the dance. We continue our tradition. Dancing and singing become very important activities to revive from tsunami trauma. People sad and cry all the day, but when sing and dance, we feel more alive.”
It is important to understand that they keep dancing because they respect the tradition. I observed that the deer masks and costume obviously symbolized the nature. We can see picture of cloud and sun on top of the mask’s head. We also can see picture of sea and trees at the costume. So the deer dance represents the nature: cloud, sun, trees, sea (air, fire, wood, and water). The dance has two characters: deer and people. This symbolizes the harmony relationship between the people (human being) and the nature. In fact, the dance has survival value during the tsunami as Mr. Tobai mentioned. Dance could help people revived from sadness cause by the tsunami. This dance existence is very importance to the communities.
Further more, Mr. Tobai told me that there are 5 communities keeping the deer dance exist in their communities. These all companies has program to performed together every year to celebrate a certain kind of trees that they must keep alive, planting more, and taking care forever as they need the trees for their dance costumes. Philosophically, if they lost their trees, they can’t performed the original dance, or otherwise they create an artificial (not real) costume. I think, it is important that the Japan government help financial need to keep the event happen every year to keep dancing deer dance and planting the tree. I hope in the future, it becomes a festival: “Deer Dance Festival”, which can be an international forum, raising issue about the harmony relationship between human and nature.
I am happy that I have learned this wonderful dance. Its movement (choreography) is simple, but its dance technique is not easy. The movement using legs steps dominantly with travel movement. The choreography uses head movement to make the mask alive. This kind of travel movement is not familiar for my body experience as a Javanese dancer. Javanese dance is more stillness on one place, almost no travel. However, the experience has opened my understanding about Japan traditional dance getting better, especially its philosophy and the content of the dance. I believe that we need to take care of our nature, making good relationship with the nature, living in harmony with the nature. All these issues is in the deer dance Usuzawa. That is why we need to support the deer dance communities for a good education and cultural reason.


Mr. Kikuchi Tadahiko, leader and dance teacher at Siroyama tiger dance group along with his group (10 dancers and musicians) gave us a special workshop at Gymnasium Building in Siroyama. First, they performed the dance to us complete with the music. Second, they taught us the movement, the musical rhythm, and the vocal. There are three kinds of choreographies: the opening, the development, and the structured improvisation. We learned the basic step with 5 counts and the structured improvisation. The basic step is a travel movement with jumping. The structured improvisation starts with walking focus on the bamboo trees. Then sit down and doing teeth brush on bamboos trees. This is ended with playing with other tiger.
The music has a unique vocal (chanting): “Torawa Dokoda” (where is the tiger). This improvisation is playful and entertain audience.
According to Mr. Kikuchi Tadahiko, this group performs the dance in many opportunities including for festivals. Because of the 2011 tsunami, they lost their dance studio including masks, costumes, music instruments, and some members lost their houses and families. They now using the community centre to train and rehearse the dancers. “We keep dancing because tiger is our spirit of live”, he said.


Tsunami destroyed everything in this area. We had chance to observed the impact of the tsunami guided by Mr. Akasaki Igoya, the leader of the Town hall community. He showed us the area hit by tsunami for about 3 hours. We started to observe some places close to the sea, then up to the mountains where the army established temporary camp. He also brought us to observe the damage town office building where 40 worker died and see the way to escaped from tsunami where many people save from the tsunami. At the end, he showed us the community centre. He sai: “This building was used by more than 2000 tsunami refugees. One night, people struggle with cold weather at that time with no blanked. Every body was in suffer, but save here. Some people cut stage curtain and share to cover their body from cold weather”.
It was wonderful to share my dance with the community in temporary community house in this area. I share dance of Java and did collaboration with Mr. Akasaki Igoya. I dance in improvisation with mask, he play flute. I never heart the song before. I did not understand when to end the song. When I commit to start dancing, first, I respect his song. It was very difficult to connect at the beginning, but later I felt that the sounds was like a broken existence. I then imagine how people were sad and suffer when the tsunami hit them. I followed this feeling and start to dance with heart broken feeling. The dance continue and I felt connected to the sound of the song. My dynamic movements harmony with the sound of the flute. Suddenly I felt that I must slow down and bow to the Master and I end the dance, exactly at the same time, he stop the song. I thought, he adjust my timing to end the show, but surprisingly, it was perfectly his song finish. This moment brought his wife asked me: “How did you know that the song finish as you finish your dance together?” I answered with pointing my heart with my right fingers and I said: “from feeling”. This kind of experience unforgettable. It is very personal connection between me and nature and is very special moment.


It was about 12:45 when we arrived at Fire House, Oishi, Toni town. No body was there. We were 4 persons: Mari Kitamoto, Jujiro Maegawa, Miki Isojima (with her 1 year son Kotaro Isojima), Martinus Miroto travel from Otsuchi town with two cars. Mari (driver) travel with Miki and Kotaro. Ju (driver) come with me in his furniture truck. Arriving in the location, Ju got out from the car and I followed him. He opened the house door and entered the house. I followed him. “This is fire house” Ju told me as he pointed the community room with small kitchen. He then opened another room and said: “Look. This is fire car given by Japan government for the community here. Every man and young boy learns how to use the fire car, just in case of fire in the forest as it is far from cities.”
Mari and Miki entered the house, they brought lunch boxes and we started to enjoy the lunch; rice, fried fish, and many kinds Japanese style food in the box. Not too long, a man entered the house and turned on a heater under the kitchen table. It was very cold, 2 degree Celsius. Mari introduced me to him and she also introduced him to me. He is Hatakeyama, community leader, Oishi Tiger Dance group leader, fisherman, and sea weed farmer. After that, three more persons, the member of the dance group enter the room: Nishino, a dance teacher, and two male dancers. Their ages are about 60 years old.
They showed us a video of the Tiger Dance performances in a Shrine and also on street. While we observed the dance in video, Mr. Hatakeyama explain about Sakura Matsuri (Sakura Festival) in every three year when the Tiger Dance always perform. This festival held on a certain street where many Sakura are cherry blossom. Later he and the company showed the dance with real mask.
“Our tiger mask disappeared caused by the 2011 tsunami. This is a new tiger mask donated by our city government. It is better quality and expensive, cost 400.000 Yen”, Mr. Hatakeyama said.
Tiger dance, in complete performance, performed by 24 performers with 5 characters and musicians:

  1. Tora (Tiger): performed by 2 male dancers
  2. Watonai (Hero): Performed by 1 male dancer holding a sword
  3. Yaritsukai (Anemy): performed by 2 male dancers each holding a lance
  4. Mikagura (Small dance group): performed by 8 or more female dance each holding a fan
  5. Sarasa: performed by a dancer, he is the leader of the show holding two sticks on right and left hands

This dance performed with music drum and flutes by group of musicians. Its performance structure is very unique. The show starts and stops by the Sarasa. His role is like a jury in competition. While dancing, he focus on the presentation power of the tiger dancer. When the tiger dancer looks less power caused by tiredness, he would stop the show, the dancers take out the heavy mask and costume on stage. Then, another pair of tiger dancers replaced them, wearing the costume and holding the 10kg mask. Then, leader of the dance, “Sarasa” give a sign to start the dance. He would give sign when to stop. This is repeated over and over again. The dance of tiger has no preparation, but direct to the essence of choreography, the character of the tiger.
Tiger dance performed by two dancers. A dancer in the front holding the tiger mask. While the other dancer in the back, holding 1,50 cm long tiger tile. These two dancers connected by the 2m long costume (cloth) that covered both of them. Its dance technique using grounded heavy dance movement and the hands carry the heavy mask that makes tired easily.
This performance structure is very unique. So far, I never seen this kind of performance structure before. In preparation, they put the tiger mask and costume on the venue (place to perform). When the performers ready on the place (including the tiger dancers wearing the costume and mask), The Sarasa give a sign to start the show. It start with a short dialog between “Anemy” and “Hero”.
Anemy (screaming loudly): “Give me the tiger”
Hero (screaming loudly): “You must follow me”.
Then, the music starts followed by the all dancers.
The Sarasa stops the show when he finds the tiger dancers gets tired. After that, the show start from beginning again.
The performance structure creates the show in between play and performance. Audience can see the process of the tiger dance, starting from preparation, putting the tiger mask and costume, dancing, stop, and take off the mask and costume.
I think, this is an original choreography that becomes the power of this dance.
My curiosity strongly arrive when I was confuse about the relationship between the fisherman and tiger. Why the fishermen love dancing in the tiger dance? Then, I was surprised with Nishino San’s answer. He explained that tiger is the fisherman’s spirit. That is why they like to dance. They believe that tiger character similar to the fisherman’s. Tiger explore in jungle with big risk and they come back to their home. It is similar to fisherman, they explore in sea with big risk (including tsunami), and they come back home. This deep philosophy makes sense to me why they keep dancing. Tiger is a symbol of brave, strong, and beauty. Tiger is also symbol of Asian countries.
It was wonderful to learn the dance. When I hold the heavy tiger mask, I was completely disturbed, but the teacher said to me: “lift up your spirit of the tiger dance, the mask will no longer disturb”. That was true. When I face that problem, I need to lift up my spirit, so it doesn’t disturb me. It is understandable when I felt exhausted after dancing with full energy and spirit for 2 minutes.


I think the four dances : Kagura, Kembai, Deer, and Tiger dances is philosophically in one body awareness. The four dances symbolized the relationship between human being and the God / ancestor, the nature, and self (him/herself). It is very deep philosophy that we learn from the content of the dances. Philosophy is a foundation of art. The philosophy could give direction to the art and community. So, I think, it is good to consider creating a dance that uniting these four dances as a dance piece in contemporary work. Contemporary, like in Indonesia, in term of its choreography can be close to the traditional dance, but it is necessary to put contemporary ideas. These 4 dances can also be a starting point for making a contemporary work perform at a theatre.


I understood that there will be a dance performance for Olympic event in 2020 in Japan. I think, it is good to consider making a dance performance event based on the 4 dance characters: Kagura, Kembai, Deer, and Tiger as a one body. These four elements is the philosophy of relationship between man, God, Ancestor, and Nature. Just like a statemen of oneself: “I am a tiger who life harmony with Got, ancestor, and nature”.
The production can be two kind of performances: colossal dance performed at out door and contemporary dance perform at theatre. Both could bring Asian dancers and artists come together for collaboration.