Discover Nikkei

https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/interviews/clips/597/

Dancing in Japan as an American, in the US as Japanese

I had to go to school early in the morning just like to school and I have to learn shamisen, tsuzumi, and dancing and acting and make-up. We have to learn everything there. Then I got the flower arrangement and…I got all the diplomas. I brought back all the diplomas with me. But…well when I was learning, if they don’t like me, they always tell me, “Go back to America.” And then when we were on the stage, and we were in a group, if somebody makes a mistake, they call, “Hey, Amerika-san, Amerika-san!” “You come forward!” “Maeni kinasai, Maeni kinasai.” And that’s not me. It’s somebody else. But every time when something goes wrong, it’s “Amerika-san.” So my name was “Amerika-san.” So when I was in Japan, I was American. Could you imagine that? And so the girl that always make a mistake, she goes like this, “Thank you. Thank you.” They all love me because I take their blame and I don’t say it was her. So I went along fine in Japan.

I*: Even though you say “fine in Japan,” that must be inside very hard.

Yes. It was very hard. But you have to know how to get along. And then when I got the title Fujima Kansuma, I became a oshisho-san. That means oshisho-san. So when I came back to America, I was oshisho-san, so I’m Japanese. So I’m a Japanese here in America, but in Japan, I was “Amerika-san”. So you call me Japanese American.

*"I" indicates an interviewer (Nancy Araki).


arts dance discrimination identity interpersonal relations

Date: November 30, 2004

Location: California, US

Interviewer: Nancy Araki and John Esaki

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

Madame Fujima Kansuma was born Sumako Hamaguchi in San Francisco, California. At the age of nine, she began to study kabuki in Los Angeles and attended exchange programs in Hawai`i. Instead of returning to Los Angeles, she moved to Japan to learn kabuki from the legendary master, Onoe Kikugoro VI. Later master Kikugoro introduced Madame Kansuma to his teacher, Fujima Kanjuro from whom she learned the basic Fujima style. She learned not only Japanese dance but also learned how to play the shamisen, tsuzumi, acting, and make-up. Madame Kansuma earned her natori (master’s licence with stage name), Fujima Kansuma, in 1938. She then returned to the United States and opened a dance studio at the Los Angeles hotel owned by her father.

During World War II, Madame Kansuma and her family were incarcerated at Rohwer, Arkansas. After some time, the government authorities allowed Madame Kansuma to travel to other camps to perform and teach Japanese dance. After the war, she returned to Los Angeles and resumed teaching and performances. Throughout her career, Madame Kansuma has taught more than 2,000 students. Forty-three of her students have achieved natori status.

In 1985, the Government of Japan awarded Madame Kansuma the Order of the Precious Crown, Apricot. The National Endowment also deemed her a National Heritage Fellow for the Arts in 1987. In 2004, she was given the Japanese American National Museum’s Cultural Ambassador Award.

She passed away in February 2023 at age 104. (June 2023)

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