Word of the Month: August

August: だんまり (danmari)

Danmari means to be silent or a person who rarely talks. In Kabuki, danmari is a type of wordless pantomime where a group of characters perform a battle. The word literally means, “fight in the dark,” and the battle involves characters fighting with only their hands on a darkened stage. The danmari is used to introduce the actors of a troupe to the audience. It does not usually have significant plot development and often contains no plot at all. There are two main types of danmari – historical and domestic. Danmari can be choreographed in two ways. The first, sewa danmari, is highly choreographed. An important object is passed between characters until the final pose. In the second type, jidai danmari, actors remain silent although there is musical accompaniment.

JASWDC is Planting Roots

Like many others, my little DC-resident heart can’t get enough of the cherry blossom trees in this city. Not just the ones that sit along the Tidal Basin, either – the single trees growing in backyards and the ones dotting parks and avenues get me, too.  I know we have other things – Smithsonians (for free!), a myriad of museums and gardens and old houses, the waterfront, tons of good restaurants, and so much more. But those trees, and the way they blossom every year, just makes me love the place I live in even more.
The Society feels the same way too, which is why we go out and plant cherry blossom trees at public places in DC and the surrounding area to spread U.S.-Japan friendship, nature, and the color pink. (All good things, in that order.) We’ve partnered with the National Cherry Blossom Festival for a few years now to plant cherry blossom trees in the following places: Capitol Heights Elementary School (Capitol Heights, MD) in November 2015Mt. Pleasant Library (Washington, D.C…

The Society in Your Community

Each year, the Japan-America Society of Washington DC takes part in hundreds of programs. While many of those are created and hosted by us, we also take part in and contribute to several programs led by other organizations in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. Some of these organizations are of a national scope – like the National Park Service – and others are very local – such as the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Fairfax Station, Virginia, which holds an annual Obon Festival that we’ve been attending for several years.
Here’s just a few examples of where we’ve been lately. We typically go to these events every year, so if you didn’t catch us this time, there’s always the next!
Tidal Basin Cleanup with the National Park Service (March) ­– Every March, the Society gathers its staff and volunteers to help the National Park Service rangers tidy and prepare the area where the cherry blossom trees sit and grow on the Tidal Basin. Whether that means raking leaves, picking up trash, spreading…

Word of the Month: July

July: 囃子 (hayashi)

Hayashi. “Orchestra.” Kabuki uses musicians who play percussion and wind instruments. The four basic instruments adopted from the Noh are the flute (fue), small drum (kotsudumi), large drum (otsuzumi), and stick drum (taiko), though a number of other instruments are used as well. A broader usage of the term hayashi includes the shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese guitar, and vocal accompaniment.
There are 3 meanings for the verb for hayasu which, although related, are different from the word hayashi. The first definition is to accompany music with clapping or singing.  The second definition is to play hayashi, and the third is to mock or jeer.

Word of the Month: June

June: 揚げ幕 (agemaku)

Maku are a vital part of Kabuki production. A number of different kinds of curtains, or maku, are used, including the traveler show curtain (joshikimaku or hikimaku), the drop curtain (doncho), the kuromaku (black curtain), and the antenmaku (blackout curtain).
The Agemaku is a curtain hung at the rear end of the hanamichi and occasionally at the entrance on stage left. It is a dark blue cloth on which the theater’s crest is painted in white. The curtain hangs from metal rings and, as it is swished open to the left or right, makes a distinctive sound signaling to the audience that someone is about to enter. The room at the end of the hanamichi is called the koya, the agemaku, or the toya, and it provides access to and from the backstage area via a passageway (naraku) under the theater. Actors wait in this room to make their entrance on the hanamichi. The toyaban (also agemakuban and kirimaku) opens and closes the curtain for the entering and exiting actors. The hanam…

Word of the Month: May

May: 奈落 (naraku)

Naraku is the Japanese word for “Hell.” It refers to the area beneath the stage and hanamichi. The revolving stage (called Mawari Butai) and elevator traps (called Seri) made it necessary for the theater to have a cellar area, so the naraku was born. It was quite dark below the stage in the early days, so the term naraku was coined to describe the area. Today, the area under the stage houses the electric mechanism that move the traps and make the stage revolve, the heating and air conditioning systems, and some dressing rooms. The term naraku is now applied to the underground passageway running beneath the hanamichi from the stage to the agemaku room.

Word of the Month: April

April: すっぽん (suppon)

Suppon, meaning “snapping-turtle,” is a word used to describe a stage trap located at the place on the hanamichi called shichisan. It is used for the entrances and exits of ghosts, sorcerers, and other unusual characters. It is about two feet and eight inches in width and four to five feet feet in length and is mechanized so the floor can go up and down.
Three theories attempt to explain the derivation of the term. One claims it comes from the resemblance of the actor’s head – when it is seen rising from below – to that of a turtle in its shell. Another holds that since the corners of the trap are slightly rounded, it resembles a tortoise shell. The third theory states that the name comes from the sound made when the trap rises to the level of the hanamichi floor, which resembles that of a snapping turtle.