On May 18, the Tohoku University Sparrow Dance Team, comprising mostly international students, will once again take to the streets of Sendai as part of the annual Aoba Matsuri.
The Aoba street festival, which attracts about a million people from around the region every year, is a celebration of Sendai's rich history and culture. The main highlight is the traditional suzume odori - or sparrow dance - performed by dozens of community groups in a large, colourful street parade.
This year's team from Tohoku University features some 30 students, most of whom learnt the dance as part of a class on Japanese culture and will be performing it publically for the first time.
The Tohoku University Sparrow Dance Team will perform on May 18 at the following times:
2:13 ~ 2:43pm Jozenji Street procession
4:56 ~ 5:00pm Kotodai Koen City Square
7:05 ~ 7:40pm Jozenji Street procession
"This dance has been a big part of Sendai for hundreds of years so I'm really excited to be doing this," said Alena Kuznetsova, a student from Russia doing the International Program in Liberal Arts (IPLA). "I like dancing but I'm usually too shy, so this is a chance to perform in a festival with my friends and classmates."
Members of the local drum unit Hiyokko (雛鼓), will support the students with their traditional instruments.
Clio Marotta, who belongs to a Japanese wadaiko (big drum) group in her native France, is among several students who will be drumming with Hiyokko. "I really love the sound of Japanese drums, and this feels like the right place, the perfect place, to do it."
The Tohoku University Sparrow Dance Team has received a lot of praise for their performances over the years. It also won third prize in the contest category of the festival in 2015 for their international interpretation of the traditional dance.
Although students from the IPLA class make up the bulk of the group, many local Japanese and degree-seeking international students also sign up every year.
"I'd never done any kind of dance before in Japan, and as a foreigner I thought it would be a great cultural experience," said Nadia Kartikasari, a doctoral student in dentistry. "I tried it last year and it was really fun so I'm doing it again this year. It's also a chance to get away from the lab for a while!"
For Piangrawee Santivongskul, a chemistry student from Thailand, this is her third year with the group. "I first saw suzume odori at the Aoba Festival and it looked so fun," she said. "I love dancing, I've done Thai traditional dance, and I wanted to try a new genre."
The dance is called susume 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.
Suzume Odori and the Aoba Matsuri are now synonymous with spring in Sendai. This will be the sixth year that the Tohoku University Sparrow Dance Team will be bringing its international flavour to the festival.
Contact:Tohoku University Global Learning Center
Senior Assistant Professor Yukiko Shimmi