“Kai Ka: Blossoming Culture”

Ida Yoshinaga

On Thursday, May 6, the United Japanese Society of Hawaii streamed its original video “Kai Ka – Blossoming Culture” on its various social media (for example, youtube.com/watch?v=jWcHgLO8NtM). The relaxing 39-min., 42 sec. “culture and arts presentation” was hosted by Frances Nakachi Kuba, 2020-ʻ21 UJSH president, who explained, “ʻKai Ka’ conveys the message to live strong, never be defeated and inspire hope — like the flower. It also means to never forget our roots, our culture and all who have come before us, because their stories give us strength and courage to overcome life’s challenges.

“With the global pandemic, all of us need to live strong and lift our spirits, like the flower. Culture and art are the universal language that unites people and brings joy to our lives. UJSH perpetuates the ganbare, or never-give-up, spirit and cultivates wa or unity, harmony, togetherness and peace. Please enjoy our Kai Ka presentation from our UJSH ‘ohana to yours. Hope we can lift your spirits!”

The constituent UJSH organizations that perpetuate Japanese culture and the arts are Bando Sobi Kai, Eibu Kai, Hanayagi Dancing Academy Hawaii Foundation, Harada Naoatsusa-Kai, Iwakuni Odori Aiko Kai, Taiko Center of the Pacific, Kikunobu Dance Company, Tamagusuku Ryu Senju Kai, Frances Nakachi Ryubu Dojo, Hanayagi Mitsusumi Dance Studio and Hawaii Naginata Federation.

Bando Sobi Kai and Eibu Kai members opened up the event with a short classical-Japanese stage performance of “The Tale of Shojo,” a tale of Chinese origin adapted into an esoteric Noh play. Performers Yvette Suyama (playing a red-maned Shojo creature and/or Mienae Bando) and Christine Imoto (playing the sake uri or sake seller Miejuro Bando, attired in all-white) acted out the story of a Shojo, a supernatural being said to appear only to the virtuous during prosperous times. Drinking sake sold, Shojo performs an auspicious dance that promises peace and prosperity to the land’s denizens.

This sprawling, ambitious Kai Ka (a term which combines the kanji characters for gate/opening and for flower, suggesting a flower blossoming) video was an idea that Kuba had come up with for UJSH members and others interested in Nipponese culture. A Ryukyuan dance instructor who directs Tamagusuku Ryu Senju Kai Hawai‘i, she encouraged other cultural practitioners to share their mana‘o with the audience for 2021, a year of challenge where people need artistic and cultural nourishment for their resilience.

After that Noh introduction, Kuba spoke about the craft of obi making and classical Japanese attire, as she reappeared onscreen wearing a kimono ensemble put together by Sheree Tamura-Sensei who had laid out the beautiful obi for Kuba. The UJSH president analyzed how its red color symbolizes a bright future while gold or yellow signify hope. “We need this as much as possible,” Kuba reminded us about the coronavirus era.

This explanation set up the following section, “Welcome to the World of the Japanese Obi,” which described obi as “a belt worn with both traditional Japanese clothing and Japanese martial arts uniforms.

“Originating as a simple thin belt during Japan’s Heian period, over time the obi developed into a belt with a variety of different lengths, widths as well as methods of tying,” the video outlined.

This overview was succeeded by a how-to lesson in traditional and non-traditional obi techniques for creating fun, new Japanese belt designs. Tamura, who also served as UJSH president in 2017-‘18, knew of these traditional fashion conventions as the principal of Hanayagi Mitsusumi Dance Studio whose dancers perform in kimono.

To begin the demonstration, the video encouraged viewers to get ahold of traditional Japanese items such as obi, obi-ita (a stiff board which is inserted between layers of obi to give a smooth appearance in the wearer’s front), koshihimo (soft strings used to tie a kimono or yukata — an unlined summer kimono — together, to stop it from opening), obi makura (the pillow-like, looped device that women put on their midbacks, weaving obi into a knot, supporting the core), obiage (a bustle or scarf-like cloth decoratively covering obi makura and tied in the front, often in the upper obi area) and obijime (pretty string or cord that holds the obi in place).

Harada Naoatsusa-kai minyö singers wear refreshing green and mint kimono as they sing jaunty folk songs. (Screenshots from the UJSH YouTube page)

Through a montage of pictures snapped by photographer Carolyn Kimura, and video footage produced and edited by Sheera Tamura (daughter of Sheree Tamura), viewers could watch the two face-masked (and/or face-shielded) women as Sheree Tamura dressed Kuba in the kimono obi and its accoutrements in a series of 12 instructive steps while “Sakura Sakura” (“the Cherry Blossoms”) played over the video’s audio track (on a koto or Japanese-style board zither). As the climax of this montage, Kuba modeled the kimono in the beautiful washitsu (Japanese-style tatami– or straw-mat) room, photographed especially from the back so as to show off her gorgeous obi knot.

Cultural group Harada Naoatsusa-Kai, which specializes in Japanese minyö (folk singing) and in its accompanying musical instruments, next contributed their work. This minyo school of calm elders gifted the audience with the folk song “Omedetou 80 Years Old.” Taiko or Japanese drums were played by Director Naoatsusa Harada, three-stringed shamisen plucked by Atsushi Harada, and vocals performed by Hatsuko Nakazato, Kumiko Sakai and Asayoshi Harada. The elegant ladies were all immaculately attired in refreshing mint-green and emerald kimonos, as they jauntily sung.

Bon dance club Iwakuni Odori Aiko Kai, directed by Marion Kanemori, then performed “Kaze Makase, Yume Makase (“Leave It to the Wind, Leave it To Your Dreams”), a cheery dance accompanied by messages such as, “Let the wind and your dreams be your guide…tomorrow is a new day!” The bon-odori group explained poetically prior to the video performance that “The dance begins/with a playful crane and turtle./The flower petals/fall in the gentle breeze/as you wake up from your dream./The dance ends/with strong north wind gusts/to forget your worries/and give new strength/to energize for tomorrow.” Imagistic and cheerful ideas for these times!

Five adult women and one young female child (Marion Kanemori, Linda Martell, Wilma Muneoka, Carrolyn Emoto, Lily Higa, Dani Muneoka-Higa) appeared as the bon dancers, wielding summer fans which they waved with their gesturing hands in the air, while wearing periwinkle-blue yukata accented with white obon towels hung from their belts. Instead of the breadth of temple grounds, in a small room, this modest group circled around a foot-and-a-half-tall, red-and-white-striped, yagura-style box with pink flowers standing on its top. A man (Clinton Leong) pounded the bon drum in the background.

Kikunobu Dance Company, Inc., which instructs in traditional Nihon Buyo (classical Japanese dance) is directed by Kikunobu Onoe, who next brought to the online video “Matsuri Ka-Matsurika,” a choreographed number depicting “young maidens” enjoying a spring outing among plum blossoms; it starts with one maiden following the melodic sound of a nightingale (uguisu) until she beckons her friends to view it perching upon a plum branch. Two of the maidens go off on their own, while two others remain behind, playing with butterflies among the plum blossoms. In time, the maidens who stayed back search for the two who had gone off; however, all come together in the end, gathering and holding peony-decorated hand fans (ogi jishi).

Dancers playing these maidens, choreographed by Kikunobu Onoe and Kikunobukazu Onoe, included Kikunobuyuki Onoe, Kikunobuemi Onoe, Kikunobunori Onoe and Linda Leiko Tatsuno, with Darin Miyashiro, Mika Miyashiro and James Finamore on the koto and Neal Shiosaki and William Watson playing the Japanese flute or shakuhachi.

“The color red represents youth, the peony (botan) the King of Flowers and the decorative fans represent the lion (shishi) – the King of the Animal Kingdom,” explains the group’s written introduction.

A couture-themed presentation showed on the screen next, but it was a more modern version than the traditional kimono obi one held earlier. According to UJSH, a “butterfly obi” demonstration of special kimono belts has “traveled great distances to share our beautiful tradition to all of you here in Hawai‘i and abroad.” The instructive slideshow of contemporary obi design, “How to Tie ‘Butterfly’ Kai Ka Obi,” featured Ashley Asami Agena (a student at the Hanayagi Mitsusumi Dance Studio) and, again, Sheree Tamura.

“Welcome to Japanese Obi Design” declares a section of the video titled “How to Tie ‘Butterfly’ Kai Ka Obi.”

Darin Miyashiro-Sensei and his Hawai‘i Koto Academy composed background music to this demonstration appropriately entitled, “Butterflying.” “The beautiful monarch butterflies are also known to the messengers of the spiritual and celestial world. They radiate inspiration, beauty and tenderness. Come fly with us gracefully and silently through the obi demonstration,” introduced the video narration. “Let the steps entertain your senses and desire to create your own obi designs.”

Tamura bound Agena’s vibrant orange-red kimono with an adorable grass-green obi folded into a butterfly shape in the back. Though this looks to be another hot summer, the resulting, fully kimono’d figures of Agena and another young dance-studio member seemed somehow cool and light.

Butterfly obi completed!
Butterfly obi completed!

Two final dance performances entertained the video’s viewers. First, Kuba’s own Tamagusuku Ryu Senju Kai Franches Nakachi Ryubu Dojo, an Okinawan dance academy that aims to preserve and perpetuate over 500 years of Ryukyuan culture, brought an exciting udui (Okinawan dance-performance). Kuba (Frances Nakachi Kuba-Sensei), Megan Higa and Megan Martin chose “Kajyadefu,” an auspicious dance customarily performed as the first item on festive occasions. It celebrates longevity and happiness, frequently performed before the king in the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Lyrics to the music truly fit the theme of Kai Ka, “To what may the happiness on this day be compared?/To a budding flower on which dew has come to rest.”

The second dance performance, by Hanayagi Mitsusumi Dance Studio which specializes in classical Nihon buyo and nagauta shamisen, was “Momiji No Hashi (Maple Bridge)”, an autumn hauta (ballad accompanied by the shamisen) that can be traced back to 1879. Performer Lauren Kim Kami dances to show how she experiences autumn with her companions, who together stare off at the momiji (colorful fall leaves) which sway in the light breeze. She and her friends know that winter is coming (to steal a phrase from “Game of Thrones”), imbuing this performance with the classical Japanese trope of evanescence, of temporary beauty. Producer/director Taesun Kim is to be credited for this marvelous clip.

The Hawaii Naginata Federation, led by Sensei Hanae Miura who teaches Jikishinkageryuu Naginata (a martial art using a blade on a stick), featured a photo montage of key members including Kent Sato (who is Toranomaki level), Hanae Miura-Sensei and Glen Shiraki (also Toranomaki), as well as various demonstrations in Hawai’i and in Japan.

Finally, to close out the short set of montages, demos and performances, singer Aolani Yukie Silva’s vocals of “Hana (Blossoms),” a doyo or children’s song composed by Rentarō Taki with lyrics by Hagoromo Takeshima, was played over various images of cherry blossoms. The video explained, “Hana…is a song that expresses the beauty of the Sumida River in spring” as it is about cherry blossoms blooming in Japan, a common Japanese literary motif.

As the organization’s YouTube site summed up, the event fulfilled the purpose of “Perpetuating the spirit of hope and rich cultural heritage through Japanese and Okinawan arts, language, customs and values.”


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