Japanese Photographer Connects Fukushima with Hawai‘i Through Her Love of Bon Dance
Kristen Nemoto Jay
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
From now through Aug. 17, Japanese photographer Ai Iwane’s photo exhibits — “Island in My Mind, Fukushima” and “Fukushima Ondo” — are on display at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Schaefer International Gallery.
The Tökyö-born Iwane is known for her ability to inspire viewers by observing and documenting niche communities from around the world. Her work has been featured in such magazines as GQ Japan, Rolling Stone Japan and Forbes Japan.
Iwane’s inspiration for “Island in My Mind, Fukushima” and “Fukushima Ondo” began with her visits to Maui and Fukushima from 2011 through 2017. It connects the two parts of the world through ancestry, similarities in culture and remembrance. During her visits, Iwane developed a fascination with Hawai‘i’s bon dance festivals, which she attended for the first time in 2006. In the summer of 2011, Iwane attended Lahaina Jodo Mission’s bon dance.
“Hawai‘i bon dances are much larger and more festive than the ones in Japan,” she said. “[They’re] not only summer festivals like it is in Japan nowadays, but also to especially honor the ancestors, who sacrificed a lot through the wartime. [After my 2006 visit] I would come every summer to Hawai‘i for bon dances.”
After attending many bon dances for six years, she found herself especially drawn to Lahaina Jodo Mission’s festival after seeing the temple featured in the film, “Great Grandfather’s Drum,” a documentary on Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i told through the story of Maui Taiko and its founders, Kay Fukumoto’s family.
“[Maui Taiko] was performing to the popular bon dance song, ‘Fukushima Ondo,’ at Lahaina Jodo Mission,” she recalled. “After doing some research, I found out that the song was taught by people (immigrants) from Fukushima who moved to Maui over 100 years ago. They first performed it at Keähua village in Pä‘ia, Maui.”
In the aftermath of the horrific earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that had devastated Fukushima and the neighboring prefectures on March 11, 2011 — just months before her visit to Hawai‘i — Iwane was determined to learn more about the origins of “Fukushima Ondo,” how it became popular and its connection to the Hawai‘i people whose ancestral roots were in Fukushima.
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Kristen Nemoto Jay was born and raised in Waimänalo. She recently left her job as editor for Morris Media Network’s Where Hawaii to pursue a freelance writing career. She also tutors part-time at her alma mater, Kailua High School, and is a yoga instructor at CorePower Yoga. Kristen earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chapman University and her master’s in journalism from DePaul University.