A team of Japanese and international students from Tohoku University will once again take to the streets of Sendai, to perform the suzume odori at this year’s Aoba Matsuri on May 16. The cross-cultural team comprises 60 students from about a dozen countries, many of whom will be performing the traditional dance in public for the first time.
“It’s a unique opportunity for me,” says Austrian student Ozcokmez Sibel Alina. “I can’t experience anything like this in my own country.”
Thomas Rietbrock, from Germany, agrees. “It’s my first time dancing this kind of traditional dance. The dance itself, seeing it and getting energy from the other people when they are doing it, it’s really wonderful!”
The Tohoku University international students suzume odori group has its roots in a workshop run as part of an International Program in Liberal Arts (IPLA) culture class. The group made its debut at last year’s Aoba Matsuri.
“For international students, it’s very difficult to find a network outside the university or in Sendai city,” says Kaori Shimasaki of the university’s Global Learning Center, which runs IPLA. “So I want to give them the opportunity to work not just with other students but also with other Sendai citizens. Then they can learn more about Japanese culture and meet Japanese people through this experience.”
To that end, the students will be collaborating with local community group Hiyokko (雛鼓) this year. Members of the group will play the traditional drums and provide the music while the students dance.
Japanese students who have also joined the dance group say they are proud to share their culture with their foreign friends. “We can show the spirit of Japanese people through this dance,” says Takahiro Osaki, a fourth year Law student. “In the dancing, we say HA! YA! SORE! When we say that kind of thing together, even though we are all from different countries, I feel like we are a unit, a real team.”
The group is led by Environmental Studies student John Jewish Dominguez, a dance enthusiast from the Philippines. Dominguez is also a member of a more traditional suzume odori group in Sendai, and says the cultural mix of the university’s group gives their dance a different flavor. “It’s like we each dance in our own style but at the same time, we combine it with the Japanese steps of this dance. So that’s one of the unique features of our group.”
The suzume odori is also known as the sparrow dance for its fluttering, bird-like movements. It can be traced back to the 17th century, when stonemasons building Sendai Castle reportedly performed this dance for their samurai lord Masamune Date.
Over the years, the dance has become synonymous with the city of Sendai. It is a highlight of the Aoba Matsuri, which is held every May. About a million people from all over Japan attend the 2-day festival each year.
Catch Tohoku University’s suzume odori group on May 16 at the following times:
- 1:30 ~ 1:35pm Kotodai Koen City Square
(contest event - come and show your support!)
- 4:28 ~ 4:32pm Kotodai Koen City Square
- 5:49 ~ 6:19pm Jozenji Street procession
Contact:Tohoku University Global Learning Center