While living in Ofunato City, I had the chance to take traditional Japanese dance (Nihon Buyo) lessons from a professional dancer, for about half a year. Personally, performance arts tend to be out of my comfort zone, and I had no experience with dance or performance when I was in my home country, the U.S. However, I decided that living abroad would be a good chance to try something new, and I began taking private Nihon Buyo lessons after moving to Ofunato. Even if you’re not interested trying out dance in particular, Japan is abundant in traditional arts. Many expats pick up traditional arts like calligraphy, flower arrangement, tea ceremony or taiko drums while they live in Japan. In my experience, most locals are more than willing to invite foreigners to try out an array of traditional arts. This is especially true for Iwate Prefecture, which along with being rural, has many close-knit communities full of friendly and welcoming locals. Although I learned standard Nihon Buyo, Iwate is also full of local performance arts, which differ depending on the area of the prefecture. Whether you come to live near the ILC candidate site or to visit any other region of the prefecture, there are endless opportunities for trying out traditional arts.

Although I only took Nihon Buyo lessons for a short amount of time, I had the opportunity to perform a couple times at local events. This included performing at a festival, at a temple, and on stage at a theatre hall. Because I was a complete beginner, I learned a couple dances which are usually taught to small children who are just starting out. While I’m far from experienced enough to teach on Nihon Buyo, there are several intriguing details I noticed about the art through taking lessons and performing. Firstly, attire is important to this dance type. Depending on the season and formality of the performance, yukata or kimono are worn, which are both traditional Japanese garments.

Attire for Nihon Buyo: Yukata or Kimono

A yukata is a traditional Japanese garment, which is usually made out of cotton. It’s more casual and lighter than a kimono, and is often worn at summer festivals or as a bathrobe when people stay at hot spring inns. I had the opportunity to wear a yukata to my lessons every week. Although I had worn a yukata in the past, before taking dance lessons, it took me a while to get used to wearing a yukata by myself. For my first couple months, I had to follow a tutorial video every time I wore the yukata, and had to spend time readjusting the garment, only for the fit to still turn out uneven. Even in Japan, many locals don’t know how to properly wear a yukata on their own, and they need to have it professionally fitted when they go to dance in local festivals. Thankfully, after a few months of trial and error, I eventually got used to wearing a yukata by myself.

This is a photo showing the back of me wearing a yukata, which I would wear to my dance lessons. The obi waist tie shown here is tied in a simple butterfly knot.

This photo shows the front of a yukata. One important aspect in wearing a yukata or kimono is the front collar. For general wear, the right side of the front collar should go under the left side. This applies to when you are wearing the yukata yourself, referring to your side; when putting it on someone else, the right side would go over the left side. If the right side is folded over the left side, it is associated with funeral wear and will be seen as taboo in normal settings like Nihon Buyo. In this photo, I’m wearing traditional Japanese socks, called tabi. These are the socks that performers usually wear while performing Nihon Buyo on stage.

This photo shows a kimono that I borrowed from my dance teacher. Kimono are often made from silk, like the one shown here. A kimono is also worn with more layers (Japanese undergarments called juban) underneath it than a yukata, and it is very difficult to properly wear on your own. During this performance, the other dancers and I had professionals come in to put the kimono on us.

The main prop of Nihon Buyo: the sensu fan

This is the beautiful sensu fan that I used during my lessons. I received it from a local friend, and it used to be used by her elderly mother when she danced in the past. She and her mother graciously told me that they would much rather have it be used by someone, rather than it just sit at home as a memento.

One specific detail I noticed about Nihon Buyo is how precise specific movements need to be. For instance, the fan needs to be opened, held and closed in specific ways.

The below video demonstrates how I was taught to handle the sensu fan.

[Video] https://youtu.be/KHQojovqz6E

During a dance, the sensu can be used to represent many things to help show a story. The first dance I learned in my lessons was to the song, Sakura Sakura, which refers to cherry blossoms in Japanese. During the dance, you wave your arm while lightly shaking the hand that’s holding the fan, which represents the cherry blossom petals fluttering down. One of my main impressions of Nihon Buyo, which is also shown in this example, is that the dancer performs a story, as if to show they are in their own world. A detail showing this, is that the dancer is to keep their gaze centered while dancing on stage. This way, the dancer doesn’t shift their gaze or make eye contact with the audience while they perform, because through their dance, they are acting out a scene. The formality of Nihon Buyo depends on the situation, however. For instance, when it came to doing casual line dances at festivals, my teacher encouraged me to smile and even interact with the audience.

To get a glimpse of what Nihon Buyo looks like, you can see the below video of me performing a simple dance on stage. While the video of me dancing shows a performance by a beginner, you can view more dramatic and intricate performances by professional Nihon Buyo dancers online or at performances held all over Japan.

[Video] https://youtu.be/dKrJWCpKOTs

Through this experience, I gained a new appreciation for traditional Japanese arts, and I was also able to challenge myself to try something new. Whether you visit Iwate as a tourist, or move here one day, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience if you give traditional performing arts a try.









浴衣の手前の写真です。浴衣を着る際、大切なポイントの一つは襟の事です。一般的には、自分から見て右の襟が下、左の襟が上になります。(他の人に着付ける時は、向かって左側が下、右側が上になります。) 右襟が上になると、死者の着方として縁起が悪いため、タブーとされています。