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Music and Dance as Export and Import: A Case Study of Japan in Europe and Hawaiʻi in Japan

Adrienne L. Kaeppler

This essay explores music/dance as a cultural export and import, and how it may be changed and interpreted/reinterpreted by the exporter and importer, using Japan as a case study. Although I am a Pacific anthropologist, I have studied a variety of Asian musics and dances, as well as Pacific ones. I started my studies of Japanese music and dance forms in Hawaiʻi and extended them in Japan, especially my studies of gagaku, bugaku, and kagura. I also studied Hawaiian music and dance with some of the most knowledgeable and venerated Hawaiian teachers.1 But along the way, I stopped my earlier studies of violin, piano, voice, and ballet/modern dance to concentrate on what might be considered "exotic." In this essay, I combine my interest in Japanese and Hawaiian musics/dances with my interest in concepts of "the exotic."

     My participation in Asian/Pacific musics/dances began (and continued) as participant observation. Along the way I learned about exoticism, and it appeared that my anthropological background and music/dance learning seemed to coincide. Attempting to decode and deconstruct exoticism, I started with definitions and how the term was used. According to my Oxford American College Dictionary, "exotic" has the meaning of "originating in, or characteristic of, a distant foreign land; attractive or striking because something is colourful or out of the ordinary, a thing that is imported or unusual, and interesting because of being out of the ordinary" (2002: 473). There are a number of relevant characterizations of "exotic," such as Jonathan Bellman, who notes that "[e]xoticism is not about the earnest study of foreign cultures; it is about drama, effect, and evocation" (1998: xii). Timothy Taylor defined exoticism in music as "manifestations of an awareness of racial, ethnic, and cultural Others captured in sound" (2007: 2). So, essentially, "exotic" refers to something that is not understood, or culturally speaking "the other." Exoticism, like orientalism as presented by Edward Said (1979), takes the perspective of an outsider to a tradition or object, and external to the meanings an object or performance holds or may have held within its culture of origin. This perspective is often inappropriate, such as transforming something religious into something secular or aesthetic. As sound and movement are such integral parts of culture, in my view, "awareness" is not good enough. In the larger sense, exotic is not just something out of place, but leads to illusions about other people's lives. Understanding the cultural contexts of musics and dances should be an extension of participant observation. That is, we should not simply capture musical pieces or dances and then imprison them in a teaching repertoire or assimilate them into our own aesthetic system.

     Learning to perform became my entrance for learning context and culture. To extend and contextualize my knowledge of Japanese and Hawaiian musics/dances, I felt that looking at them as exports and imports would facilitate some understanding as to how they were perceived by both the exporter and the importer. In this essay, I begin by looking at Japanese music and dance as exported and performed in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as an introduction to an "exotic other"; and then, as a sort of delayed exotic reciprocity, I look at Hawaiian music/dance as an imported performing art in Japan during the mid- to late-twentieth century.

     Now, well into the twenty-first century, with the advance of globalization and the internationalization of a variety of music and dance languages, can it be that "the exotic" is on its deathbed? As anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and ethnochoreologists, we know the importance of participating in music/dance on the one hand and listening/viewing/beholding performances in which music/dance occurs on the other. We also focus on context, process, and product, and how performances are decoded (Kaeppler 1994, 1996, 2010).2 Thus, looking at musics/dances as exports and imports can be a window to understanding; I use Japan as a case study to view and open some of these windows.

Japanese Music, Dance, and Theater Exported to Europe during the Late Nineteenth And Early Twentieth Centuries

During the late nineteenth century, the art and style traditions of chinoiserie and japonisme became the rage in England and continental Europe, based on Western ideas of the visual and performing arts from China and Japan. During the mid-1880s, the English craze over Japan resulted in two important events that are relevant here—the 1885–87 Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge, London,3 and the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Mikado. Although the story of The Mikado is a satire about British politics, its locale is Japan, which left Gilbert free to fantasize about the Orient and its customs. Opening on 14 March 1885, The Mikado ran for 672 performances at London's Savoy Theatre. Sullivan noted that the opera "afforded scope for picturesque treatment, scenery, and costume" while "dealing with themes of death and cruelty in a lighthearted way."4

Figure 1
Figure 1. Tongan performers of The Mikado in 1918: Yum Yum, portrayed by Halaevalu Sipu; the Lord High Executioner by Chief ʻUlukālala (photo from Halaevalu Sipu; photographer unknown).

     Gilbert visited the Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge, and an examination of The Mikado indicates that there is influence of Japanese music in it. One Japanese element is the song "Miyasama" in act 2, which is said to be a version of a Japanese marching song from the Meiji Era and was also incorporated later into Puccini's Madama Butterfly (Seeley 1985: 454–56; Wikipedia Contributors 2013b).

     Why did English actors want to perform as Japanese? And why did English audiences want to see them perform? Presumably, one reason was because it was possible to assimilate the Japanese craze to themselves as reminiscences of their medieval past and wear beautiful Japanese-inspired clothing. But The Mikado was also performed in other parts of the world, which had little to do with British politics. Shortly after it opened in London, The Mikado opened in New York in August 1885. Playing in Hawaiʻi shortly after, the story seemed to resonate with the local population. And in 1918 The Mikado was performed in the small Pacific nation of Tonga, where two of the principal roles were played by high chiefs—Yum Yum by the high-ranking Halaevalu Sipu and the Lord High Executioner by Chief 'Ulukālala (Fig. 1). The plot, and especially the music, interested the Tongans, who felt that they had a historic relationship with Japan, especially in their marriage and funeral ceremonies.5

     A few years after the opening of The Mikado, the Indonesian performances during the 1889 Exposition Universelle (Universal Exposition) in Paris influenced Debussy and others and stimulated entrepreneurs to bring performers from "the Orient" to Europe and introduce to a wide audience ideas of the "exotic" such as the danse de ventre (belly dance) and other Middle Eastern forms (Décoret-Ahiha 2004: 30–31). This exposition, along with the popular paintings of Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and others, introduced "orientalism" to a wide European audience.

     One of the first Japanese performing groups to travel to Europe was the former geisha Sadayakko (1871–1946), and her husband, Kawakami Otojirō (1864–1911). After touring the United States in 1899, they performed at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris and then travelled and performed in other European cities during the following years. Kawakami Otojirō had been part of the introduction of new forms of political theater in 1890s Japan that had been created in reaction to the older, more traditional forms, such as kabuki. Borrowing from the West, he developed his ideas into theatrical presentations that could be appreciated by outsiders. After the troupe's first presentations in the United States and London, the troupe travelled to France and used pieces that were extracted from kabuki and noh, such as "La geisha et le chevalier" (The geisha and the knight) and "Kesa," which introduced the koto version of "Echigo jishi" (Groos 1999: 50) and included a melodramatic death scene for Sadayakko.6 Although strongly criticized by knowledgeable Japanese who saw these pieces, the performances were appreciated by Europeans for their exotic sounds, movements, and beautiful costumes. In 1901, Sadayakko and Kawakami travelled to Berlin and were recorded by Otto Abraham and Erich von Hornbostel for the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv (Ziegler 2006: 86). The recordings include music that accompanied Sadayakko's dancing—shamisen, percussion, and singing of the kabuki-like potpourri for "La geisha et le chevalier," two koto pieces for Sadayakko's performances for "Kesa," and a koto accompaniment for Sadayakko's "Tsuru-kame."7 It is on these recordings that the classic article by Abraham and Hornbostel on the tonal system of the Japanese is based (1903).

     A beautiful photograph of Sadayakko from "La geisha et le chevalier" was widely circulated. It is found, for example, in the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv (Ziegler 2006: 86) and on the cover of the magazine Le Théatre for 11 October 1900 (Fig. 2), which is based on an exquisite hand-colored version.

     A few years later in 1905, the American entrepreneur Loie Fuller (who had previously organized the last tour of Sadayakko) saw a Japanese troupe in London, and building on her remembrance of the success of Sadayakko, reorganized the troupe into her own invention of a new dancer, whom she called Hanako. Fuller presented the troupe at the 1906 Exposition de Marseille, France—the same year as the first presentation of Madama Butterfly played in Paris. Hanako became famous for her hara-kiri (also known as seppuku) death scenes and Hanako was introduced to the French artist Rodin, who made sculptures of her suicide face. New histories were invented for Hanako and the other actors, and new theater pieces were composed, such as "The Martyr," "The Japanese Marionnette," and "Japanese Ophelia." The performances were accepted by the European beholders as authentic Japanese, and Hanako was heralded for her romantic suicides. Although Sadayakko's hara-kiri scene took some time, Hanako's took even longer.8

Figure 2
Figure 2. Sadayakko on the cover of Le Théatre (11 October 1900).

     The point of all this is that Japanese theater, music, and dance were presented by Japanese performers, with Japanese musical instruments, using Japanese movement motifs, in Japanese costumes, and therefore was accepted as authentic Japanese. More accurately, it was an export of Japanese performances, presented in a way that would be comprehensible to Europeans and could be assimilated into European aesthetics. In short, the export that ordinarily would be "spectacle" to European beholders, who did not have communicative competence in this cultural form, was reconstituted so that it could be decoded as "theater," and meaning could be derived from it (Kaeppler 2010).

     At nearly the same time, the composition and production of Madama Butterfly incorporated some of this Japanese export. Composer Giacomo Puccini was inspired by late nineteenth-century japonisme, as well as by David Belasco's short story "Madame Butterfly" and John Luther Long's dramatization of it, especially when Puccini visited London in 1900. Owing to the lack of authentic Japanese music and in spite of help from Oyama Hisako (wife of the Japanese ambassador to Italy at the time), the score did not go well, and the first production in February 1904 at La Scala was considered a failure. A revised version a few months later, however, was the beginning of the opera's successful career. Like Gilbert and Sullivan, Puccini also incorporated Japanese musical sounds unfamiliar to Western audiences, while keeping the structure of Italian opera. He had little to go on except for the performances of Sadayakko, who became his inspiration for Cio-Cio-San.

     Although the difference between the Western and Japanese musics of Lt. Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San is introduced musically with Puccini's version of a Japanese folksong "Echigo jishi" for Butterfly's entrance, it appears that Puccini's listening to the music of Sadayakko was the key to making Madama Butterfly a "Japanese opera" (Groos 1999).9 Thus, a late nineteenth-century Japanese export to Europe became an inspiration for an intercultural opera that still resonates today. Unlike The Mikado, which reinterpreted Japan to criticize Britain and was re-exported to other parts of the world, which added their own interpretations, Madama Butterfly used Sadayakko as a cultural import to Italian opera, where she remained a Japanese cultural "other." Just as Kawakami Otojirō had used Western theatrical ideas in his Japanese productions that he brought to Europe, Japanese music was brought into European productions at about the same time and formed the beginning of an intercultural musical dialogue, which continues and thrives today.10

Hawaiian Music and Dance Imported to Japan

In the meantime,11 beginning in 1868 and especially about 1885 after King Kalākaua of Hawaiʻi travelled to Japan and met with the emperor, many Japanese immigrated to Hawaiʻi, bringing their music and dance with them. Starting in 1893, touring kabuki troupes visited Hawaiʻi regularly to entertain the immigrant Japanese population. And from 1924, the University of Hawaiʻi has regularly produced kabuki plays in English.12 Some second generation (nisei), however, learned the Hawaiian language and Hawaiian music. In the 1920s, bilingual Japanese, such as the Haida brothers—Yukihiko and Katsuhiko (Kanahele 1979: 178)—and others began to travel to Japan and introduced Hawaiian music to a receptive Japanese group of individuals who were interested in jazz and other Western musical forms. The popularity of instrumental Hawaiian music based on steel guitar remained popular in Japan throughout the 1930s. In the 1940s, however, most Western music, especially American music, jazz, and its offshoot, Hawaiian music, was banned in Japan. It went underground during World War II and resurfaced in the 1950s and 1960s.13 The pre-war music and dance were primarily that introduced by the nisei from Hawaiʻi and that Japanese had seen in Hollywood films. Hawaiian hula was not yet popular, presumably because "respectable" women considered movements of the lower body to be vulgar (in Japanese dance, the lower body is not moved separately from the rest of the body).

     According to Yoko Kurokawa (2004), by the 1980s, a fitness craze in Japan brought about classes in aerobics and jazz dancing. Women in their fifties and sixties, who remembered the romantic Hawaiian music of the 1930s, were attracted to learning hula in community centers and began learning hula 'auana (half-foreign hula), with the familiar music of steel guitar and other stringed instruments, and sung in Japanese or English. These women could break out of their dull everyday lives while using sensual movements and wearing colorful mu'umu'u clothing and flower leis. The teachers and dancers quickly lost the vulgar connotation of hula and became elegant—separating themselves from the Hollywood film versions of dancers in grass or leaf skirts or cellophane.

     Starting in the late 1970s, following the renaissance of Hawaiian dance in Hawaiʻi, in which the older forms of hula (hula kahiko) regained popularity, some Japanese music and dance teachers and students began to learn the older hula traditions with texts intoned on only a few pitches, rather than the modern melodic songs more widely known. These Japanese dancers/teachers began to study with the most respected hula teachers in Hawaiʻi, learning to intone Hawaiian texts while playing pahu (sharkskin-covered drums) and ipu heke (double-gourd idiophones).14 By 2004 there was an estimated 300,000 Japanese participants in Hawaiian hula (Hawaii Tribune Herald, 19 April 2004: AI). Japanese hula troops regularly perform at hotels in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, during Merrie Monarch week and during the ho'ike evening of the Merrie Monarch Festival—the Wednesday-night performance of the festival, which is not part of the competition but an exhibition performance (Figs. 3 and 4).

     Not only are the music and dance appealing to the Japanese, but as Kurokawa has noted, it satisfies a sense of yearning for the past and a desire for the association with nature, which Japanese feel that Hawaiian music and dance embeds (2004).15 One Japanese dancer noted that when she danced hula, she felt "something from nature . . . the mana [supernatural power] of Hawaii. . . . Japanese women also are attracted to hula because of the lure of island culture and the beautiful dresses they can wear while dancing" (Hawaii Tribune Herald, 19 April 2004: A6).

Figure 3
Figure 3. A Japanese hula studio performs a hula ʻauana during the Wednesday evening hoʻike, Merrie Monarch Festival (photo: Adrienne L. Kaeppler, 2004).

     According to Yoko Matsuda, a Tokyo-based writer,

Hawaiʻi is a heavenly place. Especially if you're living in a big city like Tokyo, where summer is humid, winter is windy and cold, your room is small and dark, the sky is narrow and you always have to be concerned with people around you, Hawaiʻi represents everything you don't have. . . . Hawaiian music makes you feel as if you're still in Hawaiʻi, enjoying the fragrant air and beautiful landscapes. . . . To me the music seems to be saying "Take it easy," "Hang loose" and "You can do it your own way." Simply put, Hawaiian music is a connection to all the things we love about Hawaiʻi. (as quoted in Boehm 2011: 73)

Matsuda further notes that Japanese people learn to play 'ukulele "because they want to be healed" (as quoted in Boehm 2011: 77), and Hawaiian musician Keola Beamer notes that "Japanese appreciate the way the music brings peace and aloha into their lives" (quoted in Boehm 2011: 73). Kazuyuki Sekiguchi, a Japanese rock star, founded the Japanese Ukulele Picnic, which draws 30,000 participants every year, noting "It's all about feeing free and easy" (quoted in Boehm 2011: 78).16

     In my own interviews with Japanese hula dancers, they emphasize "Japanese just love Hawaiʻi!"

     One of my interviewees, who now resides in California, said that on her first trip to Hawaiʻi she did not know anything about hula. Then she saw a Hawaiian woman performing in the lobby of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and was immediately drawn to it. When she returned to Japan, she looked for a studio in which she could take lessons. Later, she married and moved to California, where she again takes hula lessons. She also noted that some of the lyrics have been translated into Japanese on the internet so that a better understanding of the text and dance movements is now possible.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Japanese Hula Hālau Mehanaokala performs a hula kahiko during the Wednesday evening hoʻike, Merrie Monarch Festival (photo courtesy: Kuʻuleinani Hashimoto, 2002).

     By the latter half of the 1990s, a transformation had taken place in the Japanese woman's concept of the body. Hula was no longer considered vulgar in its use of the lower body or a as a display of sexuality. Instead, Japanese hula dancers had accepted the Hawaiian use of the body as a vehicle for communication (Kurokawa 2004: 107) and realized that movements of the lower body are primarily used to keep the time.

Some Japanese Interpretations/Reinterpretations of Imported Hawaiian Hula

Although many well-known Hawaiian songs/dances have been imported into Japan, important differences are in how hula is taught and how hula has become part of a system similar to the Japanese headmaster, iemoto, system.17 One learns a Japanese dance, such as a Nihon buyo piece (a dance form derived from kabuki theater), by memorizing a sequence of movements using the tablature of the teacher's body, that is, by copying in detail the movements of each part of the body and the processes by which each body part is moved. Starting at the beginning of a song, the student learns the movements little by little, until the entire dance is committed to memory, often without understanding the lyrics. Seldom are movement motifs separated out; how the movement system is structured is not discussed; and what the movements are supposed to convey is not detailed. The student is taught the process of performing a specific dance, and it is of primary importance that the process of performing be exact. Changes and improvisation are not allowed. One purpose of using the iemoto (headmaster) system is to make sure that the tablature is strictly followed, and the process of performing is not changed.18 In Japan, Hawaiian hula is taught in the same way. The movements are taught line by line, verse by verse, and memorized as the teacher learned them from her kumu (teacher) in Hawaiʻi or from an assistant teacher in Japan.19 The structure of the dance system is not taught and the body memorizes the process of moving for a specific dance, again often without understanding the lyrics.

     Furthermore, head teachers of hula schools in Japan have instituted a hierarchical system similar to the iemoto system of learning Nihon buyo and other Japanese traditional arts in which they become assistant teachers and, after several years of instruction, are given professional names, becoming teachers in their own right, but remaining part of the iemoto system in which they were trained. Similarly, for hula, the ultimate iemoto is the Hawaiian teacher in Hawaiʻi,20 who often goes to teach in Japan and perform with the students in concert. For example, in 2012 a Hawaiian (iemoto) teacher in Hawaiʻi known to me travelled to Japan to teach for a week and then perform with the 700 Japanese students of her Japanese student.21 Here all students remain faithful to the exact replication of the movements as taught by the iemoto in Hawaiʻi. In contrast, in Hawaiʻi after graduation ('uniki), teachers feel free to re-choreograph old or new songs with movements of their own making and do not consider their studios as a lower-level part of their teacher's domain.

     But why do Japanese want to learn hula and Hawaiian music? In addition to "the Japanese just love Hawaiʻi" mentioned above, Kurokawa notes "a sense of lost identity among the Japanese who grew up with rapid modernization and yearned for the spiritual connectedness they discovered in contemporary Hawaiian performing arts" (2004: 124). In my discussions, however, it also appears that many Japanese are no longer interested in, or knowledgeable about, the great theatrical/literary works of Japanese history. They cannot or do not want to take the time and money necessary to learn difficult musical instruments (such as the nagauta shamisen with its re-tuning of the strings in the middle of a song), vocal traditions, and tight kimonos that one must change into for each lesson. Many prefer the modern world and its associations with the West and Western music, such as playing the much easier 'ukulele and wearing jeans and T-shirts for their lessons or, for some participants, bright-colored mu'umu'u. However, as Hawaiian music and dance are exotic forms, most feel that a thorough knowledge of Hawaiian culture or its history is not necessary. In dancing hula, they need only know about the short poetic piece to which they have memorized a series of movements. However, the poetry of a Hawaiian hula kahiko piece is a series of metaphors about Hawaiian chiefs of the past, whereas present-day Hawaiian life is as complex as the lives of the Japanese, or even more so. Although they may feel that, by dancing hula, they are somehow brought closer to nature and to a simpler life than the one they lead every day, this is only an illusion about the lives of other people about whom they have little knowledge—not unusual for an association with the "exotic." Through dancing hula and playing Hawaiian music, Japanese dancers and musicians feel they can somehow transport themselves to a dreamworld of their own making, based on their own ideas about Hawaiʻi. A German song from 1938 declared that Hawaiʻi was "Eine Insel aus Träumen geboren" (an island born of dreams),22 and this stereotype lives on for many Japanese who travel to Hawaiʻi for instruction, attending events, or simply vacation.

     For many Hawaiian music and dance teachers and performers, the importation of their knowledge into Japan is commercial and offers opportunities not available in Hawaiʻi. Many Hawaiian hula teachers travel to Japan, some as often as every two weeks, and hold workshops in Hawaiʻi, which are attended by hula teachers from Japan and elsewhere. As expensive as this all is for Japanese participants, it is still less expensive than learning and performing Japanese counterpart traditions, such as Nihon buyo. For many Japanese students, learning hula is a leisure activity—comparable to other active leisure activities such as learning ballroom dancing23 or other exotic forms such as Indian dance.

     Of course, Hawaiian dance was not just imported to Japan, but was also one of the exotic dance forms studied by pioneers of the American modern-dance world. Ted Shawn attended a performance by 'Iolani Luahine in Hawaiʻi in 1947,24 and hula was introduced as an exotic dance form into the repertoire of modern dance. La Meri studied Hawaiian dance in Hawaiʻi, capturing and performing Hawaiian hula, along with other exotic dances, in a number of places, including Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the United States, Indonesia, Australia, and Europe, especially in the 1920s and 1930s (Nancy Ruyter, pers. comm., 2003). Ruth St. Denis performed her versions of exotic Japanese dance in Europe and elsewhere. That is, dance movements (such as those used by La Meri and St. Denis) or musical sound patterns (such as those used by Debussy) were appropriated into one's own music/dance tradition and were not understood in terms of the Indigenous music, dance, or aesthetic traditions from which they derived. Indeed, according to Rachel Thompson, the influence of gamelan on Debussy was his "indulgence in his own aesthetic fantasies which involve a filtering and creative assemblage of various memories and dreams" (Thompson 1999, as quoted in Sumarsan 2013: 101).

Celebrity Status of Dances in Japan

Japanese people seem to venerate popular or well-known people and even music/dance traditions from elsewhere, and elevate them to a kind of "celebrity status." This changes over time. During the 1970s, hundreds of Japanese women studied imported dance forms, including "Spanish, especially Flamenco; Indian dances, Bharata Natyam, Kathak, and Odissi; Indonesian dances, Javanese and Balinese; and European Renaissance and Baroque dance" (Ohtani 1999: 23).25

     Today, hula as a music/dance genre has reached celebrity status, joining another Japanese music/dance of desire, tango.26 In a 2007 tango competition in Argentina, a couple from Tokyo finished in third place—after two couples from Argentina and Chile. Indeed, three of the final eighteen couples were from Japan. The men with slicked-back hair and double-breasted suits, and women in sequined dresses have followed their music/dance desires. Tango spread abroad during the 1920s, creating music/dance dialogues with numerous performing traditions around the world, and the Japanese have been listening and taking part in tango since that time. According to Japanese dancer Yuriko Tsunehiro, "[T]ango has a depth of emotion and passion that other dances don't allow" (Honolulu Advertiser, 26 August 2007). She noted that "the technique of tango can be learned quickly, but grasping the essence of tango is harder. . . . We Japanese watch the Argentines dance and sometimes copy their style. But copying is not natural and tango has to be natural." Like learning Japanese Nihon buyo and Japanese hula, exact imitation is taught. Only a few go beyond to cultivate their own style or create their own choreography. It may be that the celebrity status of tango in Japan today was influenced by the 1996 Japanese film Shall We Dance?, later remade in Hollywood with Richard Gere in 2004. With music/dance celebrity status, individuals are drawn to exotic forms—and tango parties (milongas) can be found every night in Tokyo. Tango is more likely to draw single men and women who not only follow their passion and desire, but marry each other. Hawaiian music can also be found every night in Tokyo, but hula seems to attract women of different ages who like to travel, especially to Hawaiʻi. The Japanese film Hula Girls, in which young Japanese women turn to hula to save their floundering mining town, is sure to draw new generations with desire for the exotic. This film was such a hit that it received the "Best of the Year" prize for Japanese movies in 2006 from Kinema Junpou, the oldest Japanese movie magazine.

     Japanese hula dancers have captured the choreographies of a number of Hawaiian dances and incorporated them as exotic pieces in their own performance repertories.27 That is, they are not living traditions, but memorized movement sequences. Indeed, memorized dances are similar to rituals or mantras as explained by Frits Staal in Discovering the Vedas (2009), in which he cites Kautsa's fifth thesis and notes that rituals, like mantras, have no meaning. That is, they are learned by heart by memorizing them, rather than learning them as a language which is understood and not just memorized.

     Exoticism and illusion are two sides of the same coin. Elements of "The Orient" became a stereotype in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe; elements of Hawaiʻi are Japanese stereotypes of today. Hula, by partaking of the iemoto system in Japan, has become an important leisure activity or hobby. Young, or not so young, Japanese women with money to spare have a desire for personal enjoyment. Hula is an enjoyable pastime and shows the affluence of the individual who has been able to travel to Hawaiʻi and afford the many expenses of belonging to a Japanese hula studio and take part in its performances. Japanese musicians/dancers and audiences have transformed Hawaiian music and dance into something they can understand. They feel that they have a spiritual association with nature and the past—an illusion which they themselves create. They have transformed the teaching/learning of Hawaiian hula into a Japanese structure similar to the iemoto system of learning a traditional Japanese performing art. The transformation involves changing a product-oriented art (that is, what is this hula performance communicating) to a more familiar process, which requires perfect memorization by following a teacher's movements, thereby memorizing dances, but not the dance system or culture.

     Many Japanese travel to Hawaiʻi regularly—either as participants or audience members—for such events as the Merrie Monarch Festival and other hula competitions (Fig. 5). They partake in the transformations of traditional hula kahiko into theatrical forms and join in hulas that are part of fusion performances that they can more easily understand. For example, some Hawaiian hula schools convey dramatic stories that are announced beforehand and have become an intercultural dialogue with Asian and Western theater, in which performers become actors rather than storytellers (as traditional Hawaiian hula dancers were and are). Audience members/beholders, who do not have communicative competence in traditional Hawaiian dance, appreciate this dialogue, which enables them to become engaged audience members. Performers now wear costumes and leis that help advance a story and symbolize the supernatural form of the gods and goddesses, but these must be explained verbally. Performances that push the envelope for tradition—for example, at Merrie Monarch competitions—are usually well received and elicit enthusiastic applause and shouting. But here is where the Japanese appreciation of hula can be skewed; they think that, because the audience members/beholders yell and scream, these are the best performances, whereas knowledgeable beholders appreciate the contemporary twist of the performances, but realize that they are not "traditional" in that the performers have become actors, rather than storytellers.28

Figure 5
Figure 5. Hula Hālau Mehanaokala performs a hula ʻauana during the Wednesday evening hoʻike, Merrie Monarch Festival (photo courtesy: Kuʻuleinani Hashimoto, 2002).

     Although Hawaiian hula now enjoys celebrity status in Japan and is becoming an international movement language, few outsiders have pursued hula or their knowledge of Hawaiian culture enough to change their status from a teacher or performer who captures specific pieces and adds them to their own repertoire to a knowledgeable purveyor of Hawaiian movement as culture. Nor have many changed their status from a spectator to a knowledgeable engaged audience member in order to enjoy hula as theater and therefore derive meaning from it. For the most part, hula remains exotic—just as Japanese music/dance did in late nineteenth-century Europe and America, and still does. Both today have an international following, but this has seldom led to cultural understanding. Memorizing a dance or piece of music is not learning the system—at least not in the way that one learns to speak a language—but rather a memorized piece of exoticism incorporated into one's own performance traditions or leisure activities. Some Japanese people have tried to adopt their ideas about a Hawaiian lifestyle to an alternative Japanese lifestyle. They are learning the Hawaiian language, wearing Hawaiian clothing, and enjoying Hawaiian food (loco moco, for example), and setting the pieces they have learned into their own cultural contexts and larger musical traditions.

     To return to music/dance exports and imports using Japan as a case study, it appears that as exports Japanese dancers/musicians carry performances to a foreign country in their own bodies and often stay many years to perform and/or teach them. In contrast, Japanese import knowledge and reinterpret it to satisfy their own psychological needs. In spite of a "longing for otherness" (Kurokawa 2004: 124), they adapt this knowledge to their own structure and hierarchical system even though they may try to break free from it. On a "ritual-theatre-spectacle scale," Hawaiian music/dance in Japan has remained "spectacle" in that, for the most part, neither the performer nor the beholder has communicative competence to be engaged by understanding the poetry or to decode what is being conveyed by the movements, that is, they do not understand performances (Kaeppler 2010:195), but see them as spectacle. While as exports, Japanese music and dance forms have remained a series of Japanese performing arts that have retained their traditional places in their cultural system, imported Hawaiian music/dance seems destined to become a Japanese music/dance genre in its own right.


I wish to acknowledge my many teachers and mentors of Hawaiian and Japanese dance and music—especially Hara Yoshiko (professional name Bando Mikayoshi), my teacher of shamisen and Nihon buyo, who taught me about the intricacies of the iemoto system and took me to meet the iemoto of our school in Tokyo; and Noenoelani Zuttermeister, my teacher of Hawaiian dance, who shared with me her involvement with Hula Hālau Mehanaokala and put me in contact with its director/teacher Ku'uleinani Hashimoto. I also wish to acknowledge my friends and colleagues with whom I had the many opportunities to attend performances and discuss them, especially Patricia Couvillon and Noenoelani Zuttermeister, with whom I attended the Merrie Monarch Festival each year for some thirty years. Earlier versions of this paper were presented as the keynote of the first conference of the ICTM Study Group for Musics of East Asia in Shanghai (where it was called "Music of Desire and the Death of the Exotic") in 2007, and as the keynote for the retirement symposium for Ricardo Trimillos, "Music, Tradition, and Global Connections," at the East-West Center, University of Hawaiʻi, in 2011 (where it was called "Musical Dialogues: Japan, Hawaiʻi, and the West"). I also wish to thank Waseda Minako, Japanese dancers who wished to remain anonymous, and the anonymous reviewers who furnished important insights.



Originally published in Yearbook for Traditional Music 45 (2013): 214–230, by the International Council for Traditional Music. Reprinted with permission. The essay has been lightly edited to reflect the style of the current journal.

1 As an anthropology student, my studies of Japanese and Hawaiian music and dance were not originally done for the purpose of analyzing or writing about them. Having studied various forms of dance since age five and violin since third grade, learning additional forms of music/dance was always of interest. It was my good luck to find friends who became teachers and teachers who became friends.

2 The time-honored method of anthropological research is participant observation; that is, one not only observes what people do, but participates with them. This has served me well in my study of Japanese music, as becoming a good audience member is assisted by learning and performing as well as by reflexive discussion.

3 The Japanese Village in Knightsbridge was an exhibition about Japanese culture in Humphreys Hall. The exhibition developed from the British craze for all things Japanese based on their perception of Japan as a medieval culture and included musicians/dancers, a tea house, and a Buddhist temple. An earlier visual Asian influence can be found in James McNeill Whistler's 1876–77 decoration of a London dining room, which is now the Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

4 See Wikipedia Contributors (2013b) for further information.

5 Halaevalu Sipu (pers. comm., 1976); she was one of my Tonga mentors, with whom I lived while doing research in Tonga.

6 For more details, see Downer (2003), Miller (2002), and Salz (1993).

7 Note that "Tsuru-kame" is usually a nagauta piece, and therefore would be accompanied by a shamisen (which is how I learned it), rather than a koto.

8 For more detail, see Downer (2003), the Symposium on Hanako in the Asian Theatre Journal (Savarese et al. 1988), Rodin-Web (2013), and Savarese (1992).

9 Osamu Yamaguti noted in a 2012 lecture at the University of Hawaiʻi that Puccini quoted several passages from "Echigo jishi" of Edo nagauta and suggests that he may have seen a kabuki performance that also influenced him (pers. comm.).

10 It should also be noted, in anticipation of the next section, that Hawaiian hula was also presented in Europe at about the same time. Hawaiian performers under the direction of Aunt Jenny Wilson travelled to Europe after their appearance at the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago. They included two musicians and three dancers, and performed in Munich, Berlin, and Cologne. They also went to England and Paris, where they performed at the Folies Bergère (Kanahele 1979: 172).

11 This section is based on research for my 1968 exhibition at the Bishop Museum, "Children of Gannenmono"; various trips to Japan, including 1968, 1972 (when I studied and performed gagaku and kagura), 1999, and 2004; interviews with the owner/director of one of the largest Hawaiian dance schools in Japan and its Hawaiian iemoto; dancers who are (or were) part of Japanese hula studios; and Hosokawa (1994), Kakihara (1997), and Kurokawa (2004).

12 See 101 Years of Kabuki in Hawaiʻi, edited by Blumner et al. (1995). I took part as a musician in the 1970s, including the production of Sukeroku: Flower of Edo in 1970. The last one that I attended was Ise ondo koi no netaba (The vengeful sword) in April 2011.

13 For more detail see Hosokawa (1994) and Kanahele (1979).

14 One of the earliest and most popular was George Na'ope (1928–2009), the co-founder of the Merrie Monarch Festival, the premier hula competition that takes place each year the week after Easter. Na'ope began to teach in Japan in the early 1960s, and one of the studios he worked with in Japan had 5,000 students (Wikipedia Contributors 2013a).

15 Kurokawa defines yearning as "a state of wanting and an unfulfilled approach to something unattainable" (2004: 4).

16 There is also a Hula Picnic in Osaka each year. These "picnics" do not occur outside as their names would imply, but inside a sports arena.

17 For more details, see Kakihara (1997), Kurokawa (2004), and Stillman (1999: 60–61). See also Waseda (2008) for more on the iemoto system in Japan and California.

18 This I learned from several years of shamisen and Nihon buyo dance lessons and performances with the Honolulu Japanese music/dance studio Bando Kikyo Kai of Hara Yoshiko (professional name Bando Mikayoshi) and her sister Bando Haruyuki. Here I was part of an iemoto system in which the head, Bando Mitsujiro, resided in Japan, and our studio in Honolulu was a satellite studio with a professionally named student as its head.

19 According to one of the peer reviewers of this article, some Hawaiian dance teachers teach this way as well. However, the teachers from whom I learned did not.

20 Such as Noenoelani Zuttermeister of Kaneohe, O'ahu, for the Hula Hālau Mehanaokala of Tokyo.

21 Although an alaka'i or principal dancer of a Hawaiian hula school might be compared to a natori of the Japanese system, when a Hawaiian alaka'i graduates ('uniki) in the Hawaiian system and goes on to start a studio, he or she, does not become the leader of a satellite studio of the teacher.

22 Music composed by Peter Kreuder and Friedrich Schröder; text by Hans Fritz Beckmann.

23 In contrast to how ballroom dancing is usually learned in the United States by couples, in Japan, ballroom dance is usually learned separately by a husband and/or a wife (Christine Loken-Kim, pers. comm.).

24 Monica Moseley, pers. comm., 2003, from an unpublished paper by Christina M. Cook.

25 It is significant, that in her article "Japanese Approaches to the Study of Dance," Kimiko Ohtani (1999) does not even mention Hawaiian dance, though her MA is from the University of Hawaiʻi. It seems unlikely that this is simply an oversight for a dance form that by 2004 had an estimated 300,000 Japanese participants.

26 Another celebrity music in Japan is the music played on the Australian wind-instrument, the didjeridu. According to Yoshitaka Terada, there are numerous didjeridu clubs and hundreds of players in Japan.

27 Many of the same students have also captured choreographies of Tahitian and New Zealand Maori dances and incorporated those as well.

28During the hula competition associated with the Merrie Monarch Festival, the Friday-night competition of kahiko is supposed to be "traditional," whereas the Saturday-night competition is more open to innovation.

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