Azuma Kikusue-Sensei corrects the arm positions of 12-year-old Madison Doo and 8-year-old Skye Schumacher. (Photos courtesy Azuma Kikusue-Sensei)
Azuma Kikusue-Sensei corrects the arm positions of 12-year-old Madison Doo and 8-year-old Skye Schumacher. (Photos courtesy Azuma Kikusue-Sensei)

A Rewarding Experience for Both Students and Teacher

Carolyn Morinishi
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Wayne Doliente is proud to be 100 percent Filipino, but when he dons a sandogasa (yakuza hat) and döchü kappa (traveling cape), he dances with heart of a pure Japanese. Wayne has been studying Nihon buyö — classical Japanese dance — for almost two years now and enjoys portraying a yakuza (nomadic warrior) in the dance, “Akai Yuhi no Sandogasa.”

Wayne is one of 15 students who have been taking Nihon buyö classes since January 2016. That’s when a few of my friends encouraged me to start teaching the Azuma Ryü style of Japanese dance on Kaua‘i. Fortunately for us, All Saints Episcopal Church in Kapa‘a allows us to use its classrooms. The students come from Kapa‘a, Wailua, Kïlauea and Lïhu‘e; are of various ethnic backgrounds and range in age from 8 to 84. As their sensei (teacher), I love the enthusiasm of all my students and their commitment to learning this art.

Japanese culture and history are two of my passions and they are often an integral part of the dance lessons. I’ve learned that if the students learn the background and historical setting of the dances, they do better in learning the steps and getting a feel for the dance. I also require that the students perform in full, authentic Japanese costume, which I believe to be an important part of the experience.

“I love wearing the costume and the feeling of being Japanese,” said student Mabel Akutagawa Antonio.

Since starting classes, the dancers have performed at many events and venues, including the Children’s Day Festival at Kukui Grove Shopping Center, a Christmas performance at All Saints Church and the Matsuri Kaua‘i Festival at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall.

We have also performed at a few senior care homes, which brought smiles to the faces of the elders. We performed at Mahelona Hospital in Kapa‘a and at the Regency at Puakea in Lïhu‘e. They were wonderful opportunities for us to give back to the community, especially to our elders, who have given so much to us.

The care home residents seemed to appreciate seeing the dancers dressed in full kimono. Many of them were familiar with Japanese music, so they enjoyed hearing the music. Several residents commented that our dance performance brought back memories of their younger days.

We have been ending our care home performances with a few easy to do bon dances. Some of the residents and staff members have been joining in on the fun! Those residents unable to stand “danced” in their wheelchairs, mimicking the bon dance hand movements. These performances have been so enjoyable for everyone involved that we are planning more performances in the future.

When I ask the students why they decided to take my Japanese dance classes, their responses are as varied as the dancers themselves, ranging from curiosity to cultural enrichment, from returning to an old hobby to trying something brand new.

Diane Ono Higa of Kapa‘a joined the class in February of this year after seeing us perform at the Kukui Grove Shopping Center in Lïhu‘e. “My sisters and I took Japanese dance starting when we were 4 years old [on O‘ahu]. After high school, I took a nearly 40-year hiatus, but when I saw the performance at Kukui Grove, I knew it was time for me to return to what I love to do and have been longing for,” Diane said.

Her sister, Char Ono, added, “I also started learning when I was 4. We didn’t like to practice, but loved to perform. Now, as adults, we are more serious about practicing. Because we are older, we don’t remember as much, but we are more appreciative of the art.”

There are currently two young children in our group, ages 8 and 12. Their Japanese American mothers enjoy Japanese cultural events, such as bon dances, but said they want more for their children and for future generations, so they started taking the Japanese dance classes with their daughters to learn even more about Japanese culture.

Erin Takekuma believes that it’s important for local children to learn about their culture, especially those of multiethnic backgrounds, like her 12-year-old daughter, Madison Doo. “It is important for my children to understand all aspects of their heritage,” said Erin. “Madison is not only Japanese, but she’s part Chinese, Hawaiian and Irish, too.

“I think learning about where one comes from helps them be more aware. . . . They have a better understanding of why we do and believe in certain things, because it all goes back to our heritage. That’s how these things will stay alive and will not be forgotten.”

Joining the dance class helped Cecilia Caldwell broaden her horizons. “I think it’s important to learn about cultures different from my own,” said Cecilia, who moved to Kapa‘a nearly five years ago from North Carolina. “Learning about Japanese culture in the context of Japanese dance has made it a much richer and more meaningful experience. I appreciate learning the strength, grace and attention to detail in Japanese dance.”

My goal as a Japanese dance teacher has always been to encourage good will among people by sharing Japanese culture with the community through our art. Wayne Doliente, who dances the yakuza character, reflected on this goal.

“Learning Japanese dance has brought a different look at the culture of Japan that not everyone sees, the finer things relating to traditions,” said Wayne. “Learning about cultural arts helps you understand all people.”

Azuma Kikusue-Sensei (Carolyn Kubota Morini-shi) holds natori (master) and shihan (instructor) certificates from the Azuma Ryü headquarters in Tökyö. She currently teaches over 75 students in two states — Hawai‘i and California. Those interested in learning more about the class can contact Azuma Kikusue-Sensei by emailing her at


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