At the closing ceremony for Nisei Week on Aug. 27, one special announcement was made for next year’s festival: Madame Fujima Kansuma will be the 2018 Nisei Week choreographer.
Madame Kansuma, who is 99, has been involved with Nisei Week for more than 80 years. The legendary Japanese classical dance instructor joined in the closing ceremony festivities, accompanied by her daughter Miyako Tachibana, who was Nisei Week choreographer in 2014.
Tachibana said that serving as choreographer for next year’s parade is the best way for her mother to celebrate her 100th year.
“She sees this community as HOME and she has taught here for decades. It will give us all an opportunity to celebrate and thank her for her many years of teaching and presenting us in a fashion that represents our Soke Fujima School and our culture in the best light possible,” Tachibana said. “Throughout her 80-plus years of being part of Nisei Week, she has always kept the bar high and we do our best to keep up with her.”
Born Sumako Hamaguchi in San Francisco in 1918, she began training in Japanese dance at the age of nine. Traditionally, a Japanese child begins training in dance on the sixth day of the sixth month of her sixth year, but Sumako persisted through many challenging years while training in Japan. A student of Kikugoro Onoe IV, Kansuma studied acting, dancing, kimono dress and etiquette, shamisen and tokiwasu music.
Granted the professional name of Kansuma in 1938, she returned to America and opened her dance studio in the Los Angeles hotel owned by her father.
During World War II, Kansuma performed and taught classical dance to lift the spirits of fellow incarcerees at the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas and other camps.
In her long and distinguished career, Madame Kansuma has taught more than 2,000 dancers, 48 of whom have been granted professional standing by kabuki grandmasters. Her troupe, Fujima Kansuma Kai, has performed extensively, including in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics opening, the 1980 Tournament of Roses Parade, at numerous Japanese Festivals at Disneyland, and at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Madam Kansuma was awarded in 1985 the Fifth Class Order of the Precious Crown from the government of Japan in recognition of her contributions toward encouraging the appreciation of Japanese culture in the U.S.
In 1987, she received the National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The award was presented in recognition of her lifetime achievements, artistic excellence and contributions “to our nation’s traditional arts heritage.”
She was the recipient of the Japanese American National Museum’s Cultural Ambassador Award in 2005.