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Kansuma Fujima

May 9, 1918

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Kabuki dancer Kansuma Fujima, born in the United States, studied in Japan as a girl. In addition to performing, she taught more than 1,000 students, many of whom earned professional standing. 1987 National Heritage Fellowship Ceremonies, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Madam Fujima began studying Japanese classical dance at 9 years of age. In a few years, she became proficient enough to take leading roles in the Young Girls' Kabuki Troupe. She is shown here in 'Kamakura Sandaiki.' She is on the extreme left. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
 Madam Fujima spent the World War II years in a 'relocation camp' for Japanese at Rohwer, Arkansas. The Army allowed her to bring her music records and costumes (such as the one shown here), but she recalls that the hair decorations were carved by hand in camp from pieces of wood. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Kansuma plays the role of Tange Sazen, a handicapped samurai who nevertheless became an outstanding swordsman. Without his right arm and left eye, he never lost hope. She says she wanted to encourage fellow internees at the 'relocation camp' in Rohwer, Arkansas during World War II not to lose hope. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
After the war, Madam Fujima resumed teaching classical dance in Los Angeles. She not only taught the to dance but also put on their stage makeup and dressed them in their costumes. She later trained their parents to help the girls. The devoted parents learned to make many of the props required for Kabuki dance. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
The Fujima Kansuma Kai, her troupe, was invited to appear in many events. Here, they perform at Ontario Speedway. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
The Fujima Kansuma Kai troupe performing at the international dance show that heralded the opening of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
In 1980, a Japanese American, Leslie Kawai, was chosen Queen of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.  Sunkist sponsored a float in the famous New Year's parade, with the Kansuma Kai dancers providing colorful escort to the float. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
The late Walt Disney was a great fan of Madam Fujima. In 1963, he presented a trophy to her. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Kansuma Kai participated in many of the Japanese Festivals at Disneyland, winning Sweepstake Prizes for three years in succession from 1959 on. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Kansuma Kai at Disneyland in California, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Since first opening her studio in Little Tokyo (in Los Angeles) in 1939, Madam Fujima taught more than 1,000 students, of whom a number have attained 'natori' status. 'Natori' students are those who have a attained a certain proficiency in the dance and are granted a professional name from the grandmaster in Japan. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima's students in performance, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima's students in performance, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima's students in performance, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
On December 22, 1970, Madam Kansuma produced and directed an evening of Kabuki dance at the Dorothy  Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center to a packed house. Her daughter made her 'natori' debut, dancing 'Kagamai-jishi' as had her mother at her own debut thirty years earlier in Japan. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam  Fujima has remained active in the annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival in the Los Angeles community, where she served in 1986 as the official choreographer. Here, she teaches the public her dance movements in preparation for the parade. She reprised that role in 2010, at age 92. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima's students dance in the annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival, Los Angeles, 1986, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
In 1985, Madam Fujima was awarded the Fifth Class Order of the Precious Crown from the Government of Japan in recognition of her contributions toward encouraging the appreciation of Japanese culture in the United States. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima, who trained with famed Onoe Kikugoro VI, probably the most accomplished Kabuki dancer of the early 20th century, keeps up her friendship with other students of Kikugoro.  Here, Kikugoro's son, Onoe Baiko, enjoys himself on a visit to Los Angeles. Courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima performing in Tokyo, Japan, 1938, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima performing in Los Angeles, California, 1938, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima performing in Los Angeles, California, 1939, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Promotional material for a performance by Madam Fujima in Los Angeles, California, 1954, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima with opera singer Dorothy Kirsten, Los Angeles, California, 1968, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima (right) performing in Los Angeles, California, 1983, courtesy Fujima Kansuma Kai of Los Angeles
Madam Fujima (center), 1987 National Heritage Fellowship Ceremonies, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Madam Fujima, 1987 National Heritage Fellowship Ceremonies, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Kansuma Fujima was born Sumako Hamaguchi in San Francisco, California. When she was 3 years old, her family moved to Los Angeles. She began training in dance at age 9. This is rather late; a Japanese child's training traditionally begins on the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year. Soon she was taking starring roles in a 15-member girls' kabuki group. When she was 14, she performed as a stand-in for Sylvia Sydney in the film Dream Girl.

Upon graduation from high school, Fujima studied her art in Japan, where she became a student of Kikugoro Onoe VI, an outstanding kabuki star who ran an acting school. For four years she studied acting, dancing, kimono dress and etiquette, samisen and tokiwasu music, tea ceremony, flower arrangement and the percussion instruments tsuzumi and taiko. In the world of kabuki during that period, women were not allowed to perform; the young girl was ridiculed as "the girl from America" and put into competition against the best of Japan's young students. Her willpower and determination carried her through the rigors of the training, and in 1938 she was granted the professional name of Kansuma. For her professional debut, she was given permission by Kikugoro to perform one of his most famous dances, a privilege granted rarely, and then only to exceptional students.

During her stay in Japan, Fujima saved the money her parents sent, earning her way by giving piano and English lessons. When she was ready to return home, she used her savings to purchase costumes and wigs. Within a month after returning to the United States, Fujima opened her first dance studio in the Los Angeles hotel her father owned. She later added classes in Norwalk, Gardenia and West Los Angeles.

World War II disrupted her life and career. She and her parents were arrested and held at various "relocation centers" for three years. They ended up in an internment camp in Arkansas. There, she attempted to give her fellow detainees some comfort and relaxation through her art, though she had only a kimono, a fan and one recording of Japanese music. Later, camp authorities gave her special permission to return to Los Angeles under armed guard to pick up her costumes and records. Until the war's end, she taught and entertained in various internment camps.

After the war, Kansuma returned to Los Angeles and embarked on a strenuous schedule of performances. She toured, taught and was involved in the production of various Japanese cultural events and programs. She taught more than 1,000 dancers, a number of whom, including her daughter, Miyako Lana, have been granted professional standing by kabuki grandmasters. She continued teaching in the 1980s against the counsel of physicians, in order to continue preserving and promoting her cultural heritage for younger Japanese Americans. At 92, she was appointed official choreographer of Los Angeles' 2010 Nisei Week Parade, which involved leading dance troupes through the streets of Little Tokyo.

Bibliography
"Fujima Kansuma in Urashima." Program notes. Los Angeles City College, July 21-22, 1955.
Gibson, Gwen. "Folk Artists Are Honored with Fellowships." Tampa Tribune (October 13, 1987).
"Japanese Troupe Will Bring Imperial Court and Folk Traditions to Torrance." Los Angeles Times (January 10, 1992).
"Legendary dance master Fujima Kansuma to lead dances for the 2010 Nisei Week Parade." Cultural News:
Your guide for Japanese art and culture
. http://www.culturalnews.com/?p=1708

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