I’m Daniel Rolandi, Director of Ito Yosakoi, which is based in San Francisco Japantown, and I’m happy to write this blog post to share Kazanami’s history with the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and our excitement to participate in the 2021 Festival. Since 2017, Ito Yosakoi (糸よさこい) has performed yosakoi, an energetic dance style from Kochi, Japan, at the Festival. 糸 Ito (thread) emphasizes the relationships woven between members of a community.
In accordance with that theme and with Ito Yosakoi’s goal to promote yosakoi, we started Kazanami to cultivate the community of yosakoi within the United States by connecting with yosakoi teams and to introduce American audiences to this growing art form. Keep reading for the story of how our yosakoi exhibition, Kazanami (華鎖波) Yosakoi Dance Showcase, got started at the Festival.
Kazanami (華鎖波) is a coalition of United States yosakoi teams organized by Ito Yosakoi. Kazanami debuted in 2019 by hosting the Kazanami Yosakoi Dance Showcase at the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival with 50 dancers from five teams: Ito Yosakoi (San Francisco Japantown), Uzumaru (San Jose Japantown), Pikes Peak Yosakoi Ōbirin (Colorado), K-State Tatsumaki Yosakoi (Kansas), and 10tecomai Yosakoi Dance Project (New York).
Our teams performed on stage at the Center/JCCCNC (Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California) and the Japantown Peace Plaza (individually and as a group), and we collectively danced in the Grand Parade. We were thrilled to showcase yosakoi to the packed crowd of over 200,000 attendees who visit the Cherry Blossom Festival every year.
Kazanami was started to establish a formal annual yosakoi exhibition in the United States and promote yosakoi as a growing art form, as well as build a broader community among yosakoi teams in the United States. In the years leading up to Kazanami, Ito Yosakoi began to develop relationships with other yosakoi teams. For example, Ito Yosakoi, Pikes Peak Yosakoi Ōbirin, and K-State Tatsumaki Yosakoi were all certified as Yosakoi ambassadors by the Kochi Prefectural Government in Japan, where yosakoi originated. Richard Hashimoto, festival advisor of NCCBF and president of the Japantown Merchants Association, expressed his dream of a yosakoi festival in San Francisco Japantown and met with Ito Yosakoi to jumpstart a national yosakoi performance at the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Riding on those momentums, Ito Yosakoi started Kazanami (華鎖波) and invited other yosakoi teams to perform at the Festival in 2019. The name “Kazanami” is derived from the characters for flower, chain, and wave. It means a wave of flowers connected by iron chains, symbolizing dancers moving in a parade and the strong connection amongst them.
Due to COVID-19, NCCBF canceled all in-person performances for 2020 and Kazanami, including the newest member, Kawa Tatsu Yosakoi from Minnesota, had to revise our plans for the Cherry Blossom Festival. While not a perfect substitute for an in-person performance, we put together a video collage of “Yocchore” and put it on social media. In addition, we had a social gathering over Zoom we called “CasaNomi” (casa = Spanish for house, nomi = Japanese for drinking; “CasaNomi” is pronounced similarly to “Kazanami”) as a counterpart to our in-person afterparty we had in 2019.
In April that same year, we took part in the first virtual NCCBF’s livestream by airing a pre-recorded performance of “Yocchore.” Due to technical limitations, the initial plan of performing live had to be canceled last minute. We scrambled to gather our members who happened to be available that same morning of the livestream and were lucky to have enough dancers to put together a show, including a live Q&A with the team representatives, that won the hearts of the audience.
Since then, Ito Yosakoi has continued to host online yosakoi classes as part of the Center’s programming via Zoom, as well as collaborate with other Kazanami members for online workshops and performances.
Upon hearing that NCCBF will be virtual again in 2021, we decided to make Kazanami Yosakoi Dance Showcase 2021 special and invited our yosakoi colleagues from around the world to make an even more ambitious video project, which will be put together by Ray Wong from Kollaboration SF. Communicating across time zones and in two languages (English and Japanese) was not trivial and winter is not an easy season for outdoor activities, but we are proud of what our dancers have come up with and we hope you all are looking forward to our video performance!