On May 20, the Tohoku University Sparrow Dance Team, comprising mostly international students, will once again participate in Sendai's Aoba Matsuri. It will be the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the students are taking part.
Aoba Matsuri is a summer street festival which attracts about a million people from around the region every year. It is a celebration of Sendai's rich history and culture, and features the suzume odori, or sparrow dance, performed by dozens of community groups.
This year's team from Tohoku University comprises about 50 members, most of whom are exchange students who learnt the dance with help from instructors from local group Datenomai (伊達の舞). The dance sessions are part of a class on Japanese culture.
"This suzume odori class was what motivated me the most to come to Sendai, because I wanted to learn a traditional dance," said Juan Francisco, who is from Spain. "I've been on dance courses before, but it was mostly pop and hiphop and I wanted to try something completely new."
"I think this experience is really unique because you can learn about culture in a practical way. I especially enjoy interacting and dancing together with the Japanese students," said Daniele Micocci from Italy.
"I'd never danced a dance like this before, there are many steps and formations, so it's quite difficult," said Nicole Tamer from Switzerland. "But we are all learning it together, so it's a lot of fun. I am really looking forward to being part of the street festival."
Members of the local drum unit Hiyokko (雛鼓), will also support the students with their traditional instruments.
Date: May 20, 2023
Times: 4:42 - 5:12 p.m. (street parade 1); 6:20 - 6:55 p.m. (street parade 2 with Yoi Yamahoko); 7:36 - 7:40 p.m. (stage performance)
Note that the times are very specific because of the large number of performing groups involved.
Venue: Jozenji Street, please take the subway to Kotodai-koen station
The Tohoku University Sparrow Dance Team has received a lot of praise over the years, especially for bringing a subtle international flavour to their performances.
The dance is called suzume odori, or sparrow dance, because of its fluttering bird-like movements. It dates back to the 17th century when stonemasons building Sendai Castle reportedly performed this dance for Lord Masamune Date.
Aoba Matsuri Website:https://www.aoba-matsuri.com/outline/
Suzume Odori parade routes:https://www.aoba-matsuri.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/2023kawara_ALL-scaled.jpg
Tohoku University Global Learning Center
Senior Assistant Professor Yukiko Shimmi