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Ryukyuan Buyoka Dance Master, Chie Fukushima (Naha City), Shares the Beauty and Allure of Okinawan Culture Across Japan and the World
post : 2021.02.08 23:00
“My childhood was a dark time. I was emotionally shut down and couldn’t let anyone in. I didn’t trust adults at all, and the only thing that soothed me was music. It was during that period that I wanted to become a musician.”
Chie Fukushima spent her tender years as a fragile and sensitive girl, and from the beginning of her teenage years, she was listening to rock, alternative, and punk music from England, the US, and Japan. Seeing her today as a Ryukyu Buyo dancer, it’s pretty tough to imagine. Even when she fell in love with Ryukyu Buyo and decided to move to Okinawa, and even when well-known Ryukyuan arts professionals tried to talk to her, she distrusted people so much that she couldn’t even respond.
(Fukushima-san’s favorite CD by Okinawan artist Cocco. The CD was produced after Cocco made a comeback from a hiatus.)
“When I was 14 years old, I had a dream. I was walking in a forest and found a beautiful lake. Right at the center of the lake was a Jizo (a statue of a Buddhist guardian deity of children). Beyond the lake was a spectacular mountain, and the greenery was sparkling, every single tree was glistening in the light. It was such a beautiful sight that I wrote about it to a dream interpreter to tell me what it all meant. The dream interpreter wrote back and said, ‘The Jizo standing at the center of the lake says that you’re looking to be saved. The mountains signify the people and environment that surrounds you. But it seems that you haven’t let yourself set foot into the mountains. In whatever way, music, poetry, anything, think about letting yourself climb that mountain.’ That was the interpretation. At that time, I was still in the darkness where I simply couldn’t trust anyone, so I thought, ‘What is he/she talking about? How could such a beautiful mountain represent people? Dream interpretation can’t be trusted either.’ So that’s how it ended, but because the dream was so powerful, I never forgot about it.”
That dream came true in two years. She came to Okinawa looking to buy a limited-edition CD set by her favorite artist, Cocco, which was only available in Okinawa. On that trip, she stayed at a lodge in Bise where she had a fateful experience that triggered changes.
(Ryukyu Kasuri, one of Fukushima-san’s favorite kimono textile with Kasuri splash patterns. The fabric is dyed repeatedly with indigo until the color is a deep navy, almost black.)
“The owner of the lodge tried to strike up a friendly conversation with me, but I was just a kid, just 16 years old, and wasn’t interested in talking with an older man. So, I said something stupid and tried to brush him off. I thought that he would just think that I was just a dumb kid and leave me alone. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the owner gave me a good talking to. He faced me straight up and scolded me. Being scolded by him made me really think about how I had become so twisted and perverse. I was truly ashamed and tears began to flow…”
Later, by chance meetings and events, Fukushima-san relocated to Okinawa to study Ryukyu Buyo at the Prefectural University of Arts.
(Silver Ryukyuan Jifa hairpin with its timeless design and beauty. Another one of Fukushima-san’s favorite items. By Kugani Zeiku Matayoshi.)
“Up until then, I hated being a woman and I was cursing myself. But once I began my journey in Ryukyu Buyo dance after relocating to Okinawa, I was able to accept the femininity within myself. I was able to understand and accept myself. Meeting different people in Okinawa made me think that it might be okay to trust people. People who knew me before tell me how I’ve changed a lot. I was able to change because of the people that I met here in Okinawa. Before that, I was disappointed with adults and thought that they can’t be trusted, and I just couldn't forgive them. I was sensitive to everything that anyone said.”
Like a fragile piece of glasswork, Fukushima-san lived her youth and young adult life on edge, full of distrust, and tried to protect herself as she lacked a sense of belonging.
(Kariyushi Performing Arts Production Tour of the Okinawa Prefectural Traditional Performance Arts JFY 2020. Photo courtesy of Okinawa Actors’ Association Inc.)
“Starting with the owner of the lodge, I met other adults that I could trust and built relationships with. Moving to Okinawa and feeling the nature and encountering various people, I soon began to cherish Okinawa, it was like falling in love. And that’s how I came to be the person that I am today.”
When she began her studies at the Prefectural University of Arts, Fukushima-san reflects how she was confronted with the hard truth of how unpolished her skills were in Buyo dance. She was desperate and tried her best to catch up with the others, working harder than anyone else.
“My peers in university had been dancing since they were kids, so their skills far exceeded my own. That’s expected, though. Still, I was always really disappointed in myself.”
Today, Fukushima-san is active in various fields as a professional Ryukyu Buyo dancer. For example, she took part in the Kariyushi Performing Arts Production Tour of the Okinawa Prefectural Traditional Performance Arts for the Japanese fiscal year 2020, a project to offer more opportunities for people living on the outer islands to see such performances. From time to time, Fukushima-san also participates in events in various parts of Japan to introduce the culture of Okinawa.
*The Kariyushi Performing Arts Production Tour of the Okinawa Prefectural Traditional Performance Arts JFY2020 has been changed from its initial stage production to a recorded showing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Watch the performance on YouTube: https://youtu.be/5ZuBiUh0PMo.
(Ryukyu Buyo dance, Nuchibana, performed in front of a banyan tree at Daisekirinzan, Yambaru National Park. The Nuchibana flowers held by the dancer for this piece are usually artificial, but in this performance, real flowers were used. Photo courtesy of Kohei Kawabata.)
In 2020, as part of the support project for the continuation of cultural performance arts supported by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Fukushima-san took part in the production of Ryukyu Buyo dance recording. In the filming, she performed the Nuchibana, a Zo-Odori or popular dance inspired by the lifestyles of the common people. The dance is performed with a brilliant chain of red and white flowers called Nuchibana, and also with a hand instrument commonly used in Ryukyu Buyo called the Yotsudake, where four pieces of bamboo are clapped together to the rhythm. Fukushima-san’s performance of this popular dance is exceptional and with the mystical location of the Dairinzan in the northern region of Okinawa Island, this footage shows the beauty of Ryukyu Buyo dance in a way that was never seen before.
(Okinawan pottery with a presence so calming that you can almost hear the heartbeat of nature itself. Collecting pottery is one of Fukushima-san’s hobbies.)
Fukushima-san’s activities go beyond the islands of Okinawa. She has collaborated with [bless4], a bilingual chorus group hailing from the US who are well-known in the world of anime songs. At a performance at CLUB CITTA’ in Tokyo, Fukushima-san choreographed and performed to their music and singing. Also in 2020, she was involved in a production by Garaman Hall in Ginoza Village, where people are active in bridging Okinawa and the world through culture and arts. This footage was shown at Aki Matsuri, a virtual event held in Las Vegas.
“From a global perspective, Ryukyu Buyo is still not recognized and many people don’t know about it. I thought about what I could do and realized that it’s important to me for Ryukyu Buyo to become more known across the world, So, I decided to go to places where people don’t know anything about Okinawa to tell and show them, and to continue to provide information through posting photos of Ryukyu Buyo on Instagram.”
(Fukushima-san dancing the Shudun at an Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts performance held in her fourth year.)
Fukushima-san talked about how she found herself conflicted in her activities in “promoting” Okinawa culture, despite the dancing skills that she claims are still not superb, and it made her feel a little embarrassed at times. And so, she felt sincerely relieved when a friend said to her, “You’re not doing this to promote yourself, but you’re showing people how wonderful Ryukyu Buyo is.” For Fukushima-san, who was enchanted by Okinawa and smitten with Ryukyu Buyo, her journey in the world of traditional performance arts was likely not an easy path. I asked her again what attracted her so much to choose this path.
(Okinawan and Japanese pottery pieces happily arranged together. All of the pieces were purchased by Fukushima-san at pottery shops in Okinawa.)
“During an intensive university course, a Japanese Buyo teacher said something that made me happy… she said, ‘Ryukyu Buyo isn’t rigid like Noh, and isn’t as fluid as Nichibu (Japanese Buyo), but is balanced well.’ Japanese Buyo has distinctive flexibility in the movements, which appeal to the audience when performed in Ozashiki tatami rooms. And Noh is the epitome of ‘classic’ performance art. Ryukyu Buyo on the other hand, the eyes of the dancers gaze out in space, so to speak… as the artist Taro Okamoto once pointed out, you can’t tell where the dancers of Ryukyu Buyo are looking at. This is one of the things that makes Ryukyu Buyo unique; the dancers appear to be gazing out at something, but they’re not looking at anything in particular. Another thing is the movement of the hands. Koneri is a movement of the wrists as the fingers move, and Nayori is the flowing, graceful movements of the body. These techniques are said to be part of Ryukyu Buyo because its origin was a ritual dance dedicated to the gods.”
(Bingata textile recommended to Fukushima-san at a local kimono shop. Bingata dye by Satoko Miyagi.)
Many feel that the rays of the sun in Okinawa enhances the brilliance of colors, and that is another factor that attracts Fukushima-san to Okinawa.
“Okinawan kimono are the same, with colors that seem to increase their brightness under the Okinawan sun. When I brought my Bingata kimono back home to the mainland, my mother said, ‘The colors are almost too brilliant and strong.’ But the colors match the brightness of Okinawa’s sunshine, so their beauty is enhanced in Okinawa where they were created.”
(Traditional craft, Fusa Yubiwa tassel ring that Fukushima-san cherishes and often wears when performing. The ring symbolizes a parents’ wish for their daughters to find happiness. By Kugani Zeiku Matayoshi.)
Fukushima-san continued to share her feelings on various other things that she finds attractive, like the beautiful patterns of the Kasuri, the silhouette of traditional hairstyles, the Fusa Yubiwa rings made by Kugani Zeiku Matayoshi, a jewelry maker dating back to the time of the royal government in Shuri, and the graceful curves of the stonewalls surrounding the Gusuku castles. All of these things, she says, express the sense of beauty that the Ryukyuan people nurtured. There were simply too many to mention here, but I thoroughly understood how much beauty she found in Okinawa.
(A pair of Ryukyu Hariko or papier-mache pieces by Road Works that Fukushima-san loves and decorates throughout the year.)
Okinawa welcomes over 3 million visitors from overseas every year. Many believe that even more people will arrive here from abroad and from within Japan in the future, and it will be increasingly important to continue conveying the great allure of Okinawan culture. It will be exciting and inspiring to see what kind of roles that people like Fukushima-san, who have relocated to Okinawa from elsewhere, will play in the world of Okinawan traditions.
Ryukyu Performance Arts Production [Ryukyu Otome wa Koi wo Suru ~Koi Fest ~] (Ryukyuan maidens in love ~ love fest ~)
A production of Ryukyuan Buyo dance and Kumi Odori play based on the theme of love. Chie Fukushima will also be performing.
Date: Sunday, February 21, 2021. Gates open at 17:00, Performance from 18:00
Place: Cave Café at Valley of Gangala
Tickets: Advance ¥2,500 (¥2,000 for high school students and younger)
On the Day ¥3,000 (¥2,500 for high school students and younger)
Inquiries: 098-988-8580 (at Arnest) Production Executive Committee
Address: Naha City, Okinawa
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda