There were a lot of reasons I needed to take up a formal hobby: Enthusiasm. Challenge. Accomplishment. Boredom, etc. I also wanted to learn more about Japan and my own community. And, because I’m rarely home on the weekends, I wanted something fun to do in my town during the week.
I live in a small town called Matsuida; 17,000 people small. I never see young people around here (unless they’re my students) and there are no places to hang out. We have ONE restaurant. So upon the realization that modern activities of any sort were non-existent here, I decided to look into activities I could learn from my town’s older generation.
I have always been interested in the traditional side of Japan. Someone in my town caught wind that I was interested in traditional Japanese dance, or odori. He told me that there was a small group of women that practiced it once a week at the town’s cultural center. He also offered to take me there. So, I went to check it out.
Odori came from the Edo period and grew out of Japanese theatre (kabuki). The dancers’ expression of movement is very smooth and controlled. Also, women and men have different styles of dancing. Women dance with their feet pointing inward, and men dance with them pointing outward. But, I didn’t know anything about it when I first went. I watched their dances and tried to make conversation, though my Japanese was so poor. I was taken by their strength and control, and the ease in which they performed their movements. They dressed me in kimono and tried to teach me one of the dances. It was really exciting. They also gave me tabi (Japanese socks). I am not at all coordinated and dancing had never been my strength, but I decided to give it a shot.
I have been practicing odori for almost a year now and I really enjoy it. There are about 18 of us and we meet once a week for 2 hours at the cultural center. We’ve also had a few performances for which I was lent a kimono and full traditional wear. Yet, the most interesting part about it for me is getting a chance to see how my community is modernizing while keeping their traditional roots. Although Japan is at the forefront of technological and economic development in the modern age, Japanese people still value the traditions that have made them unique for centuries. Practicing traditional Japanese dance has given me the opportunity to experience of traditional side of Japan in a way that I haven’t been able to experience in my day-to-day life.
Even though I am unlikely to continue practicing odori when I return home, I’m so glad I a got the chance to become more involved in my community while learning about the traditional side of Japan.