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.

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future

Royal BC Museum dives into the world of orcas with upcoming feature exhibition

Joan Miller with the Vancouver Island North Regional Film Commission says there’s much room for optimism in the region rebounding from COVID-19 and is excited about what the future holds for the region. Black Press File Photo
North Island film industry optimistic about post-COVID rebound

Interest in filming here is still high, according to film commission, once things open back up

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, has been filming in Langford and Colwood over the past two weeks. On April 7, filming will take place on the east side of the Esquimalt Lagoon. (Black Press Media file)
Netflix series ‘Maid’ filming in Colwood

10-episode Warner Bros. production filmed exclusively in Greater Victoria

Victoria mural artists Joshua Lundrigan (from left) and Paul Archer join Rob Chyzowski, co-owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner in front of an Archer-designed mural that went up on Thursday at the Inner Harbour restaurant. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Positivity rules with new outdoor mural from Victoria artist

Paul Archer teams with Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner for patio project

Donna Jones, who was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley, is the executive director of the documentary ‘Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence’. (Submitted)
Islander produces documentary offering hope to those with addictions

Donna Jones and husband Brent just released Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence

‘Frank Ney’ by Patrick Flavin, ‘Millstone River Upper Falls’ by John Collison Baker, ‘Labyrinth of Dreams’ by MA Molcan, ‘On the Other Side’ by Liana Ravensbergen, ‘December Snow’ by Laurel Karjala and ‘Jacks Point’ by Dana Smiley (cropped, clockwise from top-left) are among the works in the Nanaimo Arts Council’s latest exhibition. (Photos courtesy Nanaimo Arts Council)
Nanaimo Arts Council presents its first online gallery show

Submissions now open for upcoming ‘Ekphrastic Celebration’ show

Dorothy Sevcov’s exhibition ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ is on display at Art 10 Gallery until the end of the month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Experimental paintings now on exhibit at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Dorothy Sevcov’s ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ on display through April

Courtenay artist Christine Boyer presents Alongside My Path: Native Wildflowers of Canada at Gallery Merrick from April 9 to 23. (Photo courtesy Christine Boyer)
Island painter shows off the wildflowers of Western Canada in first solo show

Courtenay’s Christine Boyer presents floral exhibit at Nanaimo’s Gallery Merrick

Nanaimo Harbourfront Library librarian April Ripley led the effort to create a Vancouver Island poetry booklet in recognition of National Poetry Month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Harbourfront Library publishes booklet for National Poetry Month

Collection features winners of ‘Poem in your Pocket’ contest

SENCOTEN language revitalizationist and filmmaker Renee Sampson’s short film, Bringing Our Language Back to LIfe, shows online during the Reel 2 Real International Youth Film Festival, April 14-23. (Photo courtesy Wapikoni)
SENCOTEN language featured in short film created on Saanich Peninsula

Renee Sampson film highlights importance of passing on traditional languages to youth

The area surrounding the Chemainus Rotary Club’s bunker door is one of the new surfaces that will feature a mural. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Up to three new murals coming to Chemainus

Project will be coordinated between the Rotary Club and Festival of Murals Society

Jules Sherred, photographer and owner of Polaris Creative, is putting together an exhibit that combines two of his greatest passions: food and advocacy for those with disabilities. (Polaris Creative photo)
Kickstarter launches for fully accessible exhibit focused on food

Raising awareness has been Sherred’s life’s work.

Sooke artist Jessica Ruth Freedman is one of nine virtual in-residence artists who share the creative process, conduct webinars, write and offer sage advice with artsUNITE, a free online wayfinding platform for artists. (Contributed - Jessica Ruth Freedman)
Sooke artist joins artsUNITE, getting creative through pandemic

National program brings much-needed support to arts community

Most Read