Japan is already here. Steve Jobs’ aesthetic for ubiquitous Apple gadgets was greatly inspired by minimalistic Zen design. The remains of the Japanese economic boom of the ’80s surround us on the road and in our living rooms under the names Toyota and Casio and Hitachi. Indeed, the cultural caché of that small island nation has influenced the entire world. We come into contact with Japan every day in some way. When you speak about Japanese entertainment, people might conjure the notions of animation, The Karate Kid or any number of the ninja movies that came out in the ’80s. For Santa Fe’s Japanese Intercultural Network, they’re happy to share all of the aspects of Japan—and a smattering of other Eastern cultures—at the Japanese Cultural Festival.

Beyond the martial arts, there's a huge range of disciplines that have traveled across the sea to America that have their origin in the Land of the Rising Sun: flower arrangement, bonsai, sumi-e painting, tea, sushi, Kabuki theater, and, for Santa Fe resident and Japanese immigrant Chizuko Matsumoto, dance.

At 82 years of age, Matsumoto contains a quiet agility that you wouldn't discern at first blush. As she shuffles across a room, there's a litheness that's barely perceptible. At any moment, she can break out in dance, and when she does, it is with expert timing and grace. Matsumoto is a master, and she began her journey to mastery at the tender age of 52.

"When I was young, I wanted to learn traditional Japanese dance, I wanted to learn the samisen [a banjo-like stringed instrument]," she says. "But during that time, my father wanted me to learn piano or take ballet. It wasn't considered appropriate for me to learn those things." Indeed, it wasn't a rarity what Chizuko experienced. After the Meiji Restoration period of Japan, when the government began to mandate that culture at large shun traditional arts for new Western arts and technology, it may have been considered better for young people to learn Western ways of doing things. "People who learned traditional dance back then were trying to sell things. … When they played the samisen, it was like they were low-class. They were trying to sell you something," she says.

Matsumoto traveled to the US at age 30 and married an American-born Japanese man, and it wasn't until after her children were out of the house that she began to learn traditional dance in Houston. After a few years, she later pursued her dance instruction under a strict teacher in California. The training was grueling. The day would begin with 100 squats to strengthen the legs, which need to be constantly bent during performance. It takes three years to learn proper head and neck movement alone. "I thought my [instruction] was hard. My teacher showed me her legs and there were scars from being struck with the bachi [a large pick with which the samisen is played]," Matsumoto says. She would later perform regularly for NASA as well as for schools and other organizations wearing one of her 250 handmade kimonos. "It makes me feel like, Okay, this is my business."

Matsumoto has been dancing in Santa Fe for the Japanese festival for the past five years, but she's unable to lend her talents this year's show. "It's too bad, because I'm getting older," she says. "I can't dance for very long, like I used to." Still, she's remaining active with the Japanese Intercultural Network by serving as their creative director for this year's Matsuri (festival).

The festival's come a long way since 12 years ago, when a group of Japanese-Americans pooled together $20 each, bought some T-shirts and threw together a small event with great success. "Around that time, a lot of young moms had children. We wanted our children to remember and experience something Japanese growing up. Because when we think about Japan, that's what we remember: the sounds of drums, flutes, the smell of food," says Satori Murata, president of the festival.

Now, visitors can find 30 vendors from around the local area and stage acts from all around the world, performing kabuki; martial arts demonstrations such as karate, aikido and iaido (the art of sword drawing); kyogen (which is called the root of Japanese theater); taiko drumming; and more.


Japanese Cultural Festival
9:30 am-5 pm Saturday, April 16. $5.
Santa Fe Community Convention Center,
201 W Marcy St.,
955-6206