Her father needed sons to hold on the household identify, however his spouse gave beginning to daughters. And so the famed Fujima Kansuma, grasp kabuki dancer who entertained generations of Japanese Individuals, embraced the artwork as a result of it allowed her to tackle male roles as a manner of fulfilling her dad’s want.
Members of the family say she didn’t have any hobbies besides dance — and she or he stayed true to her lifelong ardour, performing and educating proper up till her loss of life from congestive coronary heart failure on Feb. 22. She was 104.
Born in San Francisco on Might 9, 1918, Kansuma was the oldest of two sisters orginally named Sumako Hamaguchi earlier than she assumed her stage identify. As a toddler, she was typically sick and bedridden, prompting a physician to advise her mother and father to search out an exercise to construct up her immunity and power. Her mom selected kabuki, and when the household moved to Los Angeles, their daughter started classes at 9, immersing herself within the classical type of Japanese theater, mixing drama with conventional dance.
Kansuma joined an all-girls troupe, touring Hawaii, then deciding she needed to be taught from the very best. But the very best was within the ancestral homeland.
“That was vital that they let her go,” stated her daughter, Miyako Tachibana, 72. “All her life, my mother had great help in her mother and father and so they rose to the event when she advised them what she actually desired.”
After graduating from highschool, Kansuma headed to Japan the place she studied underneath the “God of Theatre,” Onoe Kikugoro VI, a kabuki star who ran his personal faculty. Over the course of 4 years she absorbed the trials of performing, dancing, studying conduct a tea ceremony and prepare flowers, gown in kimonos and practising etiquette. Her friends mocked her as “the lady from America,” however her household stated she was decided to hold on, selecting up new expertise similar to taking part in the taiko and tsuzumi, each percussion devices.
Her trainer gave her the identify Kansuma, and following competitions towards a few of Japan’s prime college students, he granted her the glory of performing one in all his greatest identified dances for her skilled debut.
At 21, Kansuma got here dwelling with trunks filled with costumes and wigs and shortly opened her first studio in a downtown Los Angeles lodge.
“She was a trainer who took into consideration all of the personalities of these round her,” stated Annie Yoshihara, one in all her lifelong college students. “She made dancing comfy for all of us, figuring out our shortcomings. She made positive she catered to each individual in a particular manner.”
“If you end up within the room along with her, the dance and the dancer are what you concentrate on,” stated Tachibana. “My mom was only a doll. She even seemed like a doll. At 4 ft 11 and a half, she would all the time attempt to get taller by her coiffure, or by her heels. On the stage, she was gargantuan. And she or he was charming. The inside presence that she had underneath the highlight, it was unimaginable.”
“Osho-san,” as her longtime college students respectfully referred to as her, launched her profession earlier than World Warfare II. Within the earliest types of kabuki, feminine performers portrayed each women and men in comedian scenes about strange life. But not lengthy after she started educating, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, pulling the U.S. into the warfare and main the federal government to forcibly relocate and imprison greater than 120,000 folks of Japanese descent.
Kansuma and her household had been moved round to completely different jail camps, ending up in Rohwer, Ark. The camp administrator sought out Kasuma after being inundated with letters from fellow detainees asking to proceed their dance classes.
“So he discovered my mom, realized what she was about and allowed her to show at a few of the locations the place she was requested,” Tachibana stated.
He additionally started to take her on tour, together with to non-public schools, in an effort “to present the white folks of America an thought of the true nature of the Japanese — to indicate them that this isn’t the enemy. She was like a goodwill ambassador,” Tachibana stated. “She supplied a way of consolation by means of her dance.”
Later, accompanied by an armed guard, Kasuma acquired permission to journey to Los Angeles to retrieve extra costumes and music. In late 1945, when the warfare ended, she and her household returned to L.A. the place she threw herself right into a strict regime of educating and performing, taking part in dozens of Japanese American cultural occasions yearly throughout Southern California.
As her popularity unfold, an increasing number of college students flocked to her courses in Little Tokyo.
Yoshihara, 77, was solely 4 when she first met Kansuma.
“She stated to me, ‘take off your footwear’ and I wouldn’t do this. So she created a routine with a doll within the studio to get my consideration,” Yoshihara stated. “The subsequent week after I got here again, I introduced my very own doll and that form of jazzed me and I began cooperating. I’ve been taking classes ever since.”
Kansuma labored with Walt Disney, who appreciated to infuse an “worldwide taste” in his exhibits. When he introduced a “Household Night time” on the Hollywood Bowl, her kabuki college students would carry out after the Mouseketeers and different acts. And when Disney organized a “Christmas in Many Lands” parade at Disneyland, Yoshihara and her troupe had been invited to march and dance.
Even at a dance lesson days earlier than her loss of life, Kansuma “was, as standard, full-speed,” Yoshihara stated. In her fourth-floor studio at L.A.’s Japanese American Cultural and Neighborhood Middle, “her voice rang clear. She was yelling at us. She stated ‘flip round, go backwards, come ahead.’ She was an incredible choreographer. She by no means missed any steps.”
Via greater than 70 years of dancing, Kansuma taught practically 2,000 college students, amongst them her daughter, who achieved kabuki grasp standing.
Toyo Wedel, 80, was 6 when Kansuma stopped by her dance class in Chicago throughout one in all Kansuma’s excursions. On the time, her busy household life left Wedel no time to pursue her curiosity in dance.
Her Japanese academics had simply returned from Los Angeles, the place Osho-san gave them non-public instruction.
“I all the time beloved dance, however I needed to elevate my youngsters,” stated Wedel, who finally moved to Thousand Oaks. However when her youngest son went off to varsity in 1998, she referred to as up Kansuma.
“She stated to me: ‘I’m 80. You come again.’ So I went again — that was 24 years in the past,” Wedel stated. “She’s simply the kindest trainer you would have. She would inform us the story behind the dance, the story behind the character. I’ve all the time beloved how she by no means stops selling her artwork and our traditions.”
Kansuma’s dedication to sharing the great thing about kabuki and her Japanese heritage gained her awards, together with the Order of the Treasured Crown, Apricot, from the Japanese authorities in 1985 and the Nationwide Heritage Fellowship from the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts in 1987.
In 2018, at 100, she served as choreographer for the Los Angeles Nisei Week Parade, persevering with a convention of Nisei Week involvement that showcased her college students’ performances for many years.
A celebration of her life has been scheduled for April 16 on the JACCC’s Aratani Theater. Kansuma is survived by her daughter, son-in-law Noriyoshi Tachibana; and three grandchildren, Jonathan, Taizo and Miwa Tachibana.
Wedel stated she’s going to always remember her closing second with Kansuma. “Her final phrases to me had been — as I stated goodbye to her after observe — ‘watch out going dwelling due to the solar.’ At 104, she nonetheless nervous about me driving into the glare of the solar. I couldn’t imagine it.”