MADAME FUJIMA KANSUMA, a legendary performer of Japanese classical dance, brings her troupe Fujima Kansuma Kai to the Hollywood Bowl stage to perform traditional kabuki-style dance.
Born in San Francisco in 1918, she first began to study kabuki at the age of 9 in Los Angeles and various exchange programs in Hawaii. Upon graduation from high school, Kansuma studied for four years in Japan under Kikugoro Onoe VI, a legendary kabuki performer and teacher. Under his tutelage, Kansuma trained in acting, dancing, kimono dress and etiquette, samisen and tokiwasu music, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and the percussion instruments, tsuzumi and taiko. In 1938, she earned the high honor of “Natori” (a stage name) and returned to the United States and opened a dance studio in Los Angeles.
During World War II, Kansuma and her parents were incarcerated in an internment camp in Arkansas. There, as an attempt to comfort and relax her fellow detainees, Kansuma performed Japanese dance with what little music and costume she had in her possession. Eventually, government authorities allowed her to retrieve more costumes and music recordings from Los Angeles; with an armed guard, she traveled to a number of different camps to perform and teach until the war’s end.
After the war, Kansuma returned to Los Angeles and embarked on a strenuous schedule of teaching, performing and involvement in the production of various Japanese cultural events and programs. She has taught more than 1,000 dancers, 26 of whom have been granted professional standing by kabuki grandmasters. When kabuki began in the early 1600s in Japan it originally featured only female dancers. However, females were soon banned from performing kabuki as was considered too provocative, so it became a male-only art form until much more recently, when it once again began to also feature females. Kansuma celebrates this by working with a mostly female troupe.
In her troupe, Kansuma has performed extensively, including the 1980 Tournament of Roses Parade, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics opening, and at numerous Japanese festivals at Disneyland and around Los Angeles. In 1985, the government of Japan awarded Kansuma the Fifth Class Order of the Precious Crown in recognition of her contributions toward the appreciation of Japanese culture in the United States. In 1987, the National Endowment deemed her a National Heritage Fellow for the Arts and in 2004, she was given the Japanese American National Museum’s Cultural Ambassador Award.