Amor flamenco, amor de Tokyo

By on June 1, 2008

I first saw flamenco in Barcelona, where its intensity seemed appropriate to the Spanish city. Tokyo, on the other hand, is a city of practical dark suits and office workers. With its steel girders, glass accoutrements and concession to all things modern and convenient, it’s both unromantic and difficult to romanticize. But it seems that deep within the heart of many housewives, grandmothers and hundreds of female office workers, there’s a yearning for the enflamed passion that flamenco’s unique meter inspires. 


Flamenco is all about the expression of passion, something which isn’t limited by age or social restrictions. The egalitarian appeal of flamenco attracts thousands of students in Japan who attend six hundred academies throughout the country. Though they come from varied backgrounds and age groups, Japan’s flamenco audience is united in their dedication and zeal for the art form.


Mihoko Kudo, a corporate executive and beginner student, agrees, saying that she was first drawn to the art form after seeing a performance in a Shinjuku restaurant: “In the class, you meet people from so many different backgrounds.” The intensity of the dance also allows her to express herself in a way outside of social norms. “During lessons, I only focus on the dance and nothing else. I don’t think about work.”   


While the zapateados (rhythmic stomping) makes a great workout for the calves, the dance is also attractive for its discipline, intricacy and self-drama. In a country where public displays of emotion are frowned upon, flamenco students have license to grimace, squint, and wheeze with sheer delight in performing.


Japan’s infatuation with the musical genre probably began in the late ‘20s with promotional tours by Spain’s Antonia Mercé y Luque or La Argentinata. Tours continued throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, but it was the 1986 tour of Carmen that revived a general passion for flamenco. Tokyo and Osaka are now regular stops for international workshops, the Spanish National Ballet, and elite performers such as the bailaora Eva La Yerbabuena. Classes populate venues in Ebisu and Shinjuku, some offering accommodating babysitting 



With its long history in Japan, the country has produced bailoras of international caliber, including Yoko Komatsubara and Keiko Suzuki, the male bailaor Shoji Kojima, the guitarist Pepe Shimada, and the cantor Enrique Sakai. Typically, Japanese students eventually study in Madrid or Seville, strengthening the ties between the two flamenco cultures and justifying the claim that Japan has the second-highest number of flamenco schools and teachers after Spain. The fan base is large enough to support 10 years, worth of festivals in Tateyama, Chiba, recurring visits from Spain’s best performers. While flamenco in Japan is being gently nudged by its culture school rival, Hawaiian dance, the art form continues to thrive. Viva Flamenco!


If you’re interested in attending a lesson, attend a dinner theater performance and then speak to the dancers afterwards. Try El Flamenco, Shinjuku: 03-3356-3816 or Amapola, Ebisu: (03) 3793-7721. Alternatively, go to for an extensive list of schools in Japan.

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