Harumi Shimada leads kids from Grades 2 through 6 in a Soran dance. The famous traditional Japanese dance brings the group of students from the Victoria Japanse Heritage Language School together once a week at Camosun for education, tradition and fun.

Dancing towards heritage

Students of the Victoria Japanese Heritage Language School forge friendships while learning the Nanchu Soran Dance.

A handful of kids race in the brisk evening air. They run full-tilt to the fountain at Camosun College laughing and cheering each other on then halt abruptly to await their pokey parents. They range in age spanning Grades 2 through 6 and the energy belies the past 90 minutes of energetic dancing.

Each child is enrolled in the Victoria Japanese Heritage Language School, and while the kids say the weekly sessions learning and practicing the Nanchu Soran Dance are “fun” the students may not realize each is developing his or her heritage while forging friendships.

Most parents, like Harumi Shimada, volunteer and share the school’s goal to help students develop an understanding and appreciation of their culture within Canada’s mosaic.

Dance instructor Shimada introduced the Nanchu Soran Dance to the VJHLS several years ago and created a volunteer performance group to share this piece of Japanese culture.

“That brings us together. It’s good for the school, to let people know we are here,” said parent and participant Noriko Prezeau.

Soran Dance is performed with the Japanese traditional song Soran Bushi, a sea shanty said to have been first sung by the fishermen of Hokkaido in northern Japan.

Yellow sashes tied in a bow across waists and foreheads augment t-shirts emblazoned with bright yellow characters of the school’s name. They shake rhythm instruments called naruko and enthusiastically shout the words after leader Shimada: “dokkoisyo, dokkoisyo, soran, soran.”

“It’s always … energetic,” said Shimada with wide smile.

Moves depict ocean waves, fishermen dragging nets, pulling ropes and hoisting a catch above their shoulders. There are many dance styles and the kids of VJHLS practice the Nanchu Soran Dance, borne from the Wakkanai South Junior High School (also known as Nanchu) in Wakkanai City, Hokkaido.

Energy was the key objective in creation of the Nanchu version of the dance. Kids were bored and lethargic, Shimada said.

“One teacher comes up and introduced this dance, and music. And the teachers tried to cooperate to make a group of dancers. They started to practice,” she said. “It started to spread out (through) all of Japan.

Elementary schools and junior high schools across the country have since begun forming groups and staging performances, Shimada said.

The students and teachers went on to win the Prime Minister’s grand prize at the 10th Japanese Folk Song dance competition and the story of Nanchu and their Soran dance was aired on Tokyo television. Since the broadcast, many other teachers in elementary, junior and senior high schools have introduced the Soran dance into their classes as part of their physical education programs.

The VJHSL students and parents have performed at a variety of events such as the Nikkei Society and Japanese Friendship Society Mochi-making event and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami charity event.

“Hopefully they feel that’s the Japanese way,” Shimada said. “They are having fun, but after five years, 10 years in the future … when they hear this music (they’ll remember) ‘Oh I did that’.”

For more information on the VJHLS visit en.vicnihongo.com.

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