The power of culture in a global society – discover your cultural heritage | Nahomi Aso | TEDxTohoku


(Music) (Music and singing) (Music ends) Hello, everyone. My name is Nahomi Aso. I perform and teach
traditional Japanese dance, under the stage name Wakayagi Baikyo. I live in Shiroishi,
to the south of Sendai. The children you saw earlier
are my students from Shiroishi. They come to my Japanese dance class
offered for free twice a month. The piece is an excerpt from Fujimusume, a very famous Nagauta song composed
about 200 years ago. It is also a popular dance piece. A lot of people think
Japanese dance is very hard. Yes, it is actually very difficult. Even if you start at 5 or 6 years old, there is still so much to learn
when you are 50 or even 60. I am 55 years old. To tell the truth, I was not always
involved in dance. I resumed dancing seriously
about 10 years ago. Before that, I danced only
for 5 or 6 years in elementary school, and stopped completely. My family had a Zen temple
with 400 years of history, and my grandfather was a politician. I always felt under pressure
to behave properly. I wanted to run away
from anything old and boring. So I quit dance and started
playing in a band in middle school. I was interested in everything new
and unknown to me. So I decided to go
study abroad in the U.S. The school I went to 40 years ago
was a very fashionable place. Everyone was stylish. That’s me, wearing a yukata,
a casual summer kimono, in winter. I was just a little Asian girl. I wasn’t cool, I didn’t speak any English. Nobody talked to me. But one day, everything changed. There was a festival at my school. I put on a kimono
I had brought from Japan. I gathered all my courage to perform
a dance piece I learned as a child. Just one piece. The next day, all my classmates
wanted to talk to me. “So, you’re from Japan.
What’s your country like?” “Don’t all Japanese wear
kimonos and carry swords?” “Why are you wearing jeans?” “How high is Mt. Fuji?”
“Tell me about the Emperor.” “Can you do karate?” They were very curious. There was no cell phone
or Internet at that time. I tried to answer their questions using the few dictionaries
and books I had with me. And I made many friends. At first, I didn’t understand
why I suddenly became so popular. Then I figured it out. My classmates realized that my country
was important to me, and that I valued my country’s traditions. That’s why they respected me. “Respect” may be too strong. Perhaps they were just surprised
or impressed by my dance. But still, when you respect someone,
you don’t want to fight with that person. You want to be friends with that person. That’s what I realized. After graduating from university
and working for international firms, eventually, in 1997, I started working at the headquarters
of the International Olympic Committee as a liaison between IOC and Japan, for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. That’s Mr. Samaranch,
the IOC president at the time. At the IOC headquarters
in Lausanne, Switzerland, I had the chance to meet
and talk with many people, including the the IOC committee members. There are only about 100
of them in the world. Many of them are from aristocratic
or royal families. They would casually ask me: “Nahomi, could you show us
a tea ceremony sometime?” “Could you buy a book on bonsai for me
the next time you go to Japan?” Imagine. Bonsai! You spend 100 years
growing a miniature pine tree. It’s such a niche hobby
today, even in Japan. I was surprised again. Until then, I had been
focusing on my work, and was too busy to practice
traditional activities at the time. Once again, I became aware
of my Japanese identity. After that, I found time to cook
Japanese food for my colleagues, and teach them origami. They appreciated my lessons very much. I made many friends
through such activities. In 2002, I went back
to my hometown after an illness. It was very natural for me to re-enter
the world of Japanese culture. Currently, I teach children
Japanese culture through dance, and promote international understanding
through Japanese culture. The city of Shiroishi has a Noh theater. This is a theater with a stage
specifically designed for Noh, the oldest performing art of Japan. In my city, all fourth graders,
both boys and girls, come to the theater to take my class. First, I share my experience
in the U.S. with them, and explain why they came to the theater. Then, the kids put on
white tabi socks and go on stage. They learn how to bow properly
and the basics of Japanese dance. By the end of the lesson,
they learn an entire piece. They whine about how
difficult the lesson is. But it is a relief to hear them say
“That was fun!” at the end. Japanese kids today live their lives
just like Western kids. Japanese culture is foreign to them. They have never tried or seen
Japanese dance or a tea ceremony. I tell my students,
“You might go abroad one day. Even if you stay in Japan, many foreigners may come
and live in Japan. You might work with foreign colleagues. You might marry a foreigner, and they will ask you these questions. ‘Can you teach me something about Japan?’ ‘Have you done anything traditional?
Can you show me?'” I ask the kids what they would do. They are at a loss. I tell them to try something Japanese. It could be Japanese drums,
calligraphy or anything. Some kids are only interested
in soccer or swimming. This is what I say to them: “You will learn something
very special today. You will go on this Noh stage
and learn traditional Japanese dance. So when you meet someone
from abroad one day, you can proudly tell them, ‘I learned a traditional Japanese dance
in a Noh theater in the 4th grade.’ It’s good enough
that you’ve tried it once. They will be impressed and respect you. Nobody wants to fight
with someone they respect. This way, you can be
friends with everyone.” I continue: “Today, we will learn
how to stand up, sit down, turn and raise your hands,
just like gymnastics. But there is a big difference between
Japanese dance and gymnastics. Do you know what it is? It is the heart.” Japan has four beautiful seasons. Spring, summer, fall and winter,
three months each. Nowadays, summers may be getting longer,
due to global warming. Anyway, Japanese people have always loved
the four beautiful seasons. Japanese culture is built on appreciation
for nature and compassion.>From Noh to kabuki, poetry
and haiku to Japanese cuisine, this appreciation and compassion
is true of all Japanese cultures. Let me give you a specific example. Since it’s fall, I’m wearing a kimono
with a maple leaf pattern. I hope it’s not too showy. Anyway, kimonos embody
the Japanese seasons. In winter, we wear a kimono
with a snowscape design. In spring, we often wear a kimono
with a cherry blossom pattern, or a kimono the color of fresh grass. In summer, we wear a white or light blue
kimono with a river pattern, or other summery design so the people
around us can forget the heat. I ask my students: “Do you ever ask your mother, ‘Mom, could you buy me a t-shirt
with a cherry blossom pattern for spring?’ ‘Mom, I feel like wearing a sweater
with red leaves now.’ No, right?” Boys wear brand names
like Nike, Puma and Adidas, all year round. So, is it enough to wear a kimono
and learn only Japanese culture? Of course not. I teach my students
basic English during break. They need to develop communication skills
on top of understanding their own culture. I hope that they become
true global citizens, who understand and respect
their own cultures and those of others. After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, our actions based on solidarity
and empathy toward each other were admired by people around the world. While maintaining such spirit,
we could further understand and be proud of our culture
and respect diversity. This way, we can earn more respect
from the global community. So why don’t you try
an activity of Japanese culture? I believe this will help you
in this global society. I will continue teaching children
and people around the world the beauty of Japanese culture, built on our appreciation
for the seasons, and empathy, through traditional dance. I hope the power of culture will help us
build a peaceful world. Thank you. (Applause)

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