Sahomi Tachibana’s dance career spanned decades and a variety of venues.

“Sahomi Tachibana: American Legacy of a Japanese Dancer,” a virtual event, will be held on Thursday, March 3, from 5 to 6 p.m. PST.       

Produced by Bay Area koto teacher/performer and filmmaker Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, the event coincides with Hina Matsuri or Girls’ Day in Japan and features “one of the brilliant artists of the American concentration camps, Sahomi Tachibana, who went from teaching young girls at Tule Lake and Topaz camps the fine art of Japanese dance during World War II, to Broadway, to teaching and performing throughout most of the United States,” Muramoto said. “Her career lasted close to 90 years!”

Muramoto interviewed Tachibana in the documentary “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps” (2014) and found her story and journey to be fascinating and inspirational. Tachibana practiced Nihon buyo (Japanese classical dance), and this talent led to her becoming involved in many diverse projects in the U.S. Influenced by modern dance and ballet, her interest in many forms of dance shaped and enriched her Japanese dancing as well as the American cultural dance landscape.

“I look to her as a mentor, as one who continued Japanese traditional arts in America, and how that art evolved as she taught and performed through the years,” Muramoto said. 

Born in Mountain View in 1924, Doris Haruno Abey began studying traditional Japanese dance at age seven. Between raspberry seasons, her farming family was active in the local kabuki theater, pointing the young girl to her life’s passion. For several years, Doris studied dance in Japan, earning her professional name “Sahomi” from the Tachibana School of Dance in 1941.

Sahomi Tachibana got her professional name when she studied dance in Japan.

Doris returned to the U.S. as the dancer Sahomi Tachibana, aboard the very last ship to leave port before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Incarcerated with her family at Tule Lake and Topaz camps, this Japanese American teen began performing and teaching young children.

“We had to provide our own entertainment in camp,” she told interviewers at Oregon Public Broadcasting. “There was nothing else.”

After the war, Tachibana moved to New York City to study modern dance and ballet, but found Japanese dance to be her true calling. Over a career that spanned nine decades, this master dancer performed on Broadway and in 45 states; she started her own dance company, teaching countless students on both coasts.

After moving to Oregon, Tachibana continued to perform and teach until the age of 95, retiring just two years ago. In 2021, she received the Emperor’s Order of the Rising Sun, Silver Rays — Japan’s highest civilian honor.

Tachibana, now 97, will be donating some of the props and artifacts that were made in the camps to the Topaz Museum, some of which will be shown and discussed during the program. 

Hosted by documentary filmmaker Lauren Kawana, the program will feature archival footage of Tachibana dancing at Jacob’s Pillow, and talks by her daughter Elaine Werner, students Wynn Kiyama, Tomie Hahn and Theodora Yoshikami, and Japanese American kabuki performer Bando Hiroshichiro on the legacy of this living treasure of Japanese dance.

Sponsored by Friends of Topaz and NextGen: Geijutsuka Japanese Cultural Arts (www.NextGenJCA.com).

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sahomi-tachibana-american-legacy-of-a-japanese-dancer-tickets-265675902777

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