On February 11, 2017, the William and Mary Japanese Culture Association participated in a trailblazing event when we journeyed to Virginia Tech for the first annual Intercollegiate Japanese Organization meeting. This event required exceptional coordination and planning among the Commonwealth’s educational facilities and Japanese instructors; yet how better to interact with myriad other students and instructors than by celebrating this extraordinary culture, with its rich means of expression and appreciation of nuance and delicacy.
At this premier event, Japanese culture organizations from all around Virginia came together to perform and celebrate our love for Japanese traditions. Each organization selected a ritual of the culture and produced a first-rate experience for the audience; the goal was to entertain an appreciative audience while simultaneously learning more about Japanese traditions.
The Japanese Cultural Association from William and Mary performed two different dances at this intercollegiate meeting, one modern dance and one traditional dance. The traditional dance that JCA performed, sōran bushi, is a staple dance in our repertoire.
Sōran bushi is said to have come from Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. Myriad sea ports dot the perimeter of this 32,000-square-mile island; and its rugged interior includes volcanoes, natural hot springs (onsen), spectacular vistas and challenging ski areas. The dance evokes movements that honor the island’s fishermen and their work at sea. An especially engaging component of the dance includes a call-and-response component that allows the audience to become part of the performance. The song has multiple intervals where the performers call out “dokkoisho!” and “sōran!” Those calls indicate when the audience is supposed to respond. These words originally were used to encourage the fisherman during their work, which is the English equivalent of a “heave ho.” Even though sōran bushi is performed by most of the Japanese clubs in Virginia, each dance is never exactly the same, thus encouraging each school to insert its own unique style.
All who participated and observed came away immensely enriched by this gathering, with all its enthusiasm, variety and commonality of purpose. Now, as we begin to look forward to contributing next year, clearly we must “step up our game” to surprise our audiences and add to the excitement and learning experiences of all who attend.