Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Smile and be Genki! (Sasha)

For the welcome party at AIU, I was delighted to see a performance of the Soran Bushi, a Japanese folk dance that originated in Hokkaido. I had learned the dance before at the Center for Language Studies program, but that performance made me realize it was possible to learn more dances like the Soran Bushi while in Japan. When I asked about clubs that did folk dance, I was directed to Yatose, a club that has an interesting blend of Western and Eastern culture.
The first yatose group photo.
The Urajya Ondo is a fun dance/song that ends with a photo opportunity.”
Yatose is the Akita version of the Yosakoi, another type of Japanese folk dance. The songs used are different arrangements of traditional Japanese music that incorporate a mixture of traditional Japanese instruments like shamisen, flute, and drums and more modern instruments like electric guitars and synthesizer. People dance with wooden clappers called naruko and yell along with certain parts of the song. Two of the most reoccurring calls are “soran” and “dokkoisho,” which probably sounds familiar to people who know the Soran Bushi. Usually members wear a red jacket called a happi, but this year one of the international members designed a new uniform for us. We just got our new uniforms a couple of days ago, and they look amazing, although the sleeves can make dancing a bit tricky at times.
Design for the new yatose uniforms. Yes, we look like water benders!
At AIU, the members are a mix of Japanese and international students, but the practices are primarily conducted in English. Each practice starts off with a one-minute squat. The punishment for being late though is the dreaded two-minute squat, where everyone else just stands around and watches your additional minute of discomfort. All the members are serious about implementing it too. On Friday, when I have tennis club and yatose scheduled back-to-back, I make a point to leave tennis with plenty of time to spare so that I don’t have to do a two minute squat. Oh, I say two-minute squat, but it seems like the punishment time is longer for others. There is one member who is consistently late and has to do a four minute squat while another member videotapes him (ouch…). Even the captain of yatose has been threatened with a three-minute squat. Call it a playful way to tease other members.

I am happy to say that my interactions with members have extended beyond our practices. There are about thirteen members in total, so I have been able to get to know them all fairly well. At the beginning of the semester, knowing the Soran Bushi let me connect with the captain. When the song comes up on her Yatose playlist, we sometimes dance it together. Unfortunately, Yatose does not do Soran Bushi. There is another folk dance group that performs it instead (it’s a boys-only group though). Connecting with the Japanese members has let me learn more about Akita, like that special shuttle that I mentioned in my last post. During Silver Week we got a group of Yatose members together to go to Akita City, and I got to try out karaoke for the first time. The club also has a tradition of having an okonomiyaki party after performance.

At this point, we have already had our first performance, and as I am writing this blog post, we are getting ready our next one which will be for the AIU festival on October 11th and 12th. We will be performing the two dances we have learned so far, Yocchire and Iyasaka Akita. We also know a couple of fun dances/songs too, but we won’t perform them for AIU fest. The past week we have had practice almost every day. Before we start dancing, our captain always tells us to smile and be genki even if we mess up or forget the moves. Yatose is a very genki dance (energetic in a peppy sort of way), and people both inside and outside of the club have told me that my dancing is good and that I look like I am having fun while I dance, which I think are two of the best compliments I could receive. I really enjoy interacting with other people through dance, and am looking forward to our future performances.


Sarah said...

That's probably the coolest looking uniform ever :)

Jeremy Sullivan said...

I'm glad that you've found a club that you enjoy and has helped you become a more energetic person. Do you think that you would've explored the various parts of the city that you've gone to if you hadn't joined Yatose?

Sasha said...

Yeah, I like our costumes too, but ours are tame compared to the ones I saw at the Akita University festival. Other Yosakoi teams were changing costumes during the performance, and they had other people waving around flags. It was really cool! I feel like I've learned so much more besides dancing in Yatose, and I am extremely grateful.

Eliza Alvarez said...

This club sounds like it is a lot of fun. I'm starting to wish I had decided to participate in a club or circle while in Japan.