2010 / Nisei Week / Legendary dance master Fujima Kansuma to lead dances for the 2010 Nisei Week Parade

Nisei Week Odori Choreographer Kansuma

Mme. Fujima Kansuma (center) choreographs two dances “Arigato” (Thanks) and “Wa ni natte odoro” (Let’s dance in a circle) for the 2010 Nisei Week Dance Parade. (Cultural News Photo)

Veteran dance master Madame Fujima Kansuma, 92-years-old, of Fujima School has been appointed the official choreographer for the dances of 2010 Nisei Week Parade, and will lead Japanese dance troupes through the streets of Little Tokyo on August 15.

Mme. Fujima Kansuma was born Sumako Hamaguchi in San Francisco. When she was three years old, her family moved to Los Angeles. She began her dance training at the age of nine and was soon actively performing starring roles in a local 15-member girls’ kabuki group.

Upon graduating high school, her passion for this ancient traditional performing art only continued to grow so she traveled to Japan and enrolled in the foremost Kabuki acting school of the legendary Onoe Kikugoro VI.

For four years she studied acting, dancing, shamisen, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and narimono (percussion instruments). Since Kabuki includes dancing as well as acting, the late Onoe Kikugoro VI sent her to the renowned Kabuki dancer and choreographer Fujima Kanjuro VI.

Determined not to fail, she survived the rigors of training, overcoming obstacles including discrimination for being American born. Finally in 1938, the late Fujima Kanjuro VI bestowed upon her the professional name of Fujima Kansuma she was granted permission by the legendary Kikugoro VI to dance his renowned Kagami Jishi (Mirror Lion Dance) an honor and privilege given only to exceptional students.

She then returned home to the States and just as she opened her first dance studio, her life and career were disrupted by WWII.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she and her parents were taken to Arkansas and put in one of the many internment camps for Japanese Americans.  There, with only a kimono and fan and one recording of Japanese music, she attempted to bring light and joy to a dark and dismal situation.  Later, camp authorities allowed Mme. Kansuma to travel to other camps to perform and teach Japanese dance. To this day, many can still recall her performances of “Urashima” and “Tange Sazen.”

After the war, Kansuma returned to Los Angeles and resumed her dancing and teaching career and began doing more and more choreography for a westernized audience.

She has taught countless girls how to dance, 46 of whom became her natori and were granted their professional names.  Her work to educate and build bridges between two cultures and two nations has been recognized by both the Japanese and American government.

In 1985, the Government of Japan awarded Mme. Kansuma “the Order of the Precious Crown, Apricot” in recognition for her work in enhancing the appreciation of Japanese culture in the United States.

The National Endowment for the Arts also deemed her a National Heritage Fellow for the Arts in 1987 honoring her as a master traditional artist and recognizing her lifetime achievements and contributions to the nation’s traditional arts heritage.

In 2004, she was given the Japanese American National Museum’s Cultural Ambassador Award for her devotion and commitment to the art of Japanese classical dance.

At 92, she continues to teach and choreograph, and her legacy lives on through her students who carry on her love for Japanese dance.

Her troupe has performed at high profile events such as the 1984 Olympics, the Rose Parade as well as performances at the Disney Concert Hall and Music Center. They were also involved as choreography consultants and appeared as dance students in the Oscar winning movie “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

Her passion and devotion to her art has no bounds and it is her dream that her legacy be kept alive and continued for generations to come.

Nisei Week Opening Fujima Kansuma

Mme. Fujima Kansuma is introduced the official choreographer of the 2010 Nisei Week Parade at the Nisei Week Opening Ceremony on July 18 at Japanese American National Museum . (Cultural News Photo)