Interview with Mariko Shimode, a Japanese folk dancer

shimode mariko's photo

Have you ever tried Japanese folk dancing? Today I (Wu)sit with a graceful Kimono dancer, Mariko Shimode, as she shares with us her passion for Japanese folk dance.

Mariko dances professionally, specializing in Japanese folk dance. She holds a workshop called "Anichibu" that practices Japanese folk dance set to anime songs or “anison.” It's a good way to get started if you've never tried folk dancing or haven't done it for a long time. She is also a former theater actress.

Watch the YouTube video below to get a direct image of Anichibu.


Wu: What's the difference between kabuki and Japanese folk dance?

Mariko: Kabuki has a dialogue and a story, basically a theatrical play, whereas Japanese folk dance is just dance and sometimes they perform it in kabuki. There are five styles of Japanese folk dance. One is Fujima Style, which "dances" everyday movements and gestures in tune with music or sounds just like in kabuki. Another one, which is actually what I practice, is Hanayanagi Style. This became popular as the Maiko' dance during tatami dinner parties, but it has a lot of interesting small dance movements.

Wu: How did you get started in Japanese folk dancing?

Mariko: I started about 7 years ago. Back when I was still doing theater, I also learned other things that I thought would be useful on stage. For example, I took lessons in singing, jazz dancing, sword fighting, and many other things... including, of course, folk dancing.

Wu: What do you like about it? And have you noticed any changes in you since you started it?

Mariko: Usually, you have to wear kimono or yukata when you do a folk dance, and the way you carry the garment really gives you an elegant posture. When my dance instructor taught me how to put on kimono myself, I've been wearing casual kimono more often even when I'm just going out. I feel like that has changed how I carried myself. When I acted on stage, especially when we're doing period dramas, you can tell from my movements that I'm also currently doing folk dancing, or not, for that matter.


Wu: What about the challenges, what's difficult about the training?

Mariko: Training is really difficult until your body gets it. The music that you dance to is traditional Japanese music, and unlike modern music that has beats that you can easily count, its rhythm is very unpredictable. So, I have to actually know by heart not only the lyrics but also the sounds of the shamisen. Add to that the fact that it has lots of very unique movements that are hard to remember. Actually, I thought about quitting when I first started. (laughs)

Wu: What made you create your workshop "Anichibu" that practices Japanese folk dance set to anison?

Mariko: Because Japanese folk dancing is such a cultural treasure and yet very few people know it. So, I thought maybe using anison would bring it onto people's radar because people who like anison really like anison and I know they would be pretty receptive to this. The music is familiar and easy to listen to, quite unlike traditional Japanese music. I want to set the bar lower and make it more accessible to everyone.

Wu: You said earlier that memorizing the music is really difficult so I guess using anison would make it easier.

Mariko: Right. And that's also what people like. I personally like anison myself. I even wanted to become a voice actor at one point. (laughs)

Wu: Was there a time that you were pleased with Anichibu?

Mariko: I started Anichibu in January of this year (2018). At that time, I received a lot of inquiries from people I didn't previously know, who then joined my workshop. I was really glad about the turnout. Because of it, I've met a lot of people. I was even invited by someone to perform at JapanExpo next year.

shomode mariko's photo

Wu: Can you tell us your dream?

Mariko: I have two goals. First is I want to produce more collaborative plays that infuse different elements like jazz or sword fights (laughs) with folk dancing, and that also incorporate VR or projection mapping to create a 2.5D effect. And the stories would be ancient Japanese myths. Next is to perform in my hometown in Hida in Gifu Prefecture, which has now become famous because of the movie "Your Name." And of course, it'd be nice to expand this abroad, too.

shomode mariko's photo

Wu: That's amazing! Not only does it preserve traditional Japanese culture, it also creates new ones as you merge it into different contemporary art forms. I'm definitely excited to see how far you can take this abroad!

Wu: Finally, what's your message to the readers?

Mariko: For all you guys living outside Japan, if you get a chance to come and visit, definitely try Japanese folk dancing!

PROFILE: Mariko Shimode

Kimono Dancer

Actress born in Gifu Prefecture's Hida City, the sacred place in the hit movie "Your Name."

Also practices narration, katari, sword fighting, jazz dancing, and many more.

Performed different styles of Japanese folk dance from Gojo Style to Hanayanagi Style. Currently working on original folk dance styles, improvisational dance, and street performance.

Owner of website "office 小手毬 (KODEMARI)" and member of 倭踊三煩 (WaYoSunBorn).

Had various appearances on TV, theater, and movies.

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