Fukushima Dance Club Pays Homage to Japanese Culture

The dance club splits up to attend and perform at about 10 bon dances a season.
Bon Dance
photo: kyle wright


Under glowing lanterns, dancers in royal-blue happi coats dance around a red yagura. As the recorded music comes to a soft end, around 15 people scramble up the rickety ladder, pulling tarps off taiko drums and microphones. The high-pitched whistle of wooden flutes and the clang of chimes blasts as the Fukushima ondo begins. The dancers pick up the pace, drums pound, voices sing in Japanese with lively chants echoing in the background.


SEE ALSO: Hawai‘i Summer 2017 Bon Dance Schedule


The musicians and dancers belong to the Fukushima Dance Club. Most of the members will decide to be either a musician or a dancer, but a few people do both.


The musicians practice once a week beginning in April through the bon dance season, which ends in September. 


Lacey Tsutsuse, 24, and her sister, Cara Tochiki, 26, joined the dance club about 10 years ago. Joining the dance club is easy, both sisters say. Anyone can ask a member about practices and show up. The group has very little online presence—all of its recruitment is by word of mouth. “We don’t publicize, but we’re always accepting new people,” says Tsutsuse.


“It’s one big family. Everyone has such good energy up there.” –Cara Tochiki


New musicians rely on more experienced members to teach them how to play the instruments.


The dance club splits up to attend and perform at about 10 bon dances a season, even if there are several on the same weekend. Beyond weekly practices and performances, the musicians often gather to have picnics and hang out. “It’s one big family,” says Tochiki. “Everyone has such good energy up there.” 


The age demographic varies widely. “Twenty-year-olds to 95-year-olds are in the yagura with us,” says Tsutsuse. However, she notices younger members in the yagura. 


Often, the yagura belongs to the dance club, not the church where the dance is held. At the Shinshu Kyokai Mission bon dance in Pāwa‘a, the dance club transported the yagura to the church and set it up.


Fukushima Dancers lead songs for half of the bon dance, and sister clubs, such as the Iwakuni Dance Club, help lead the dancing during the second half. However, the Fukushima Dance Club is hired by each church to run the bon dance. 


Joyce Gushiken, leader of the dancers, teaches bon dancing year-round. There are 300 different dances, she says. Since she teaches during the week, many of her students are retirees—her weekend classes attract a younger crowd. “It’s almost like they are trying to find their roots,” she says. 


Both musicians and dancers emphasize that being Buddhist has no weight on whether or not you can participate in the dance club. Gushiken says she’s even held bon dancing classes in a Mormon temple. “It’s all in the name of fun and culture,” says Tochiki.


This year, the Fukushima Dance Club is traveling to Japan to perform for the 175th anniversary celebration of Fukushima City. 


Bon Dance Lingo

Ondo: Japanese folk songs

Happi coat: A traditional Japanese coat worn to festivals with a crest on the back

Yagura: the tower the musicians perform on and the dancers dance around