Japan's Spanish Affair

The European  London, 1995, 1,500 words; adapted extracts  

Around 100,000 Japanese are studying flamenco song, dance or guitar on home ground at any given moment - and that's apart from the real enthusiasts, who come to Spain. Japanese flamenco is a phenomenon unrelated to Spanish culture, but with considerable influence in business terms.

.... Record sales in Japan for pure flamenco often outstrip Spanish ones, and the demand there for top-quality guitars is the highest in the world. In Tokyo around fifty dance academies give classes, and a monthly magazine publishes interviews, reviews and concert dates. In Spain, in Seville alone, over fifty Japanese, mainly girls, are studying flamenco at any one time.

Perhaps for outsiders what is most surprising is that the Andalusians take their Japanese counterparts very seriously. In the late 1980s the Seville Bienale even hosted a three-day festival of their flamenco.

Flamenco shares the Japanese ideas of freeing ki, or energy, and of kata, the shapes or fixed positions struck in kabuki and noh theatre.

"Something in it makes my heart shake," says Atsuko Fukuda, aged 22, from Tokyo, trying to explain the pull of flamenco. "It's almost as if I'd lived in Spain in another life. In Japan, people with an original personality can be seen as strange. But in flamenco the technique is nothing without the feeling. You have to be yourself. That's what I like. When I'm angry, I dance best. It's the exact opposite of what we're used to."

Atsuko struggles financially. Her classes are private and cost anything from €20 to €75 an hour. But she hopes to start making a living in Spain or back in Tokyo within two years. Indeed, for a good Japanese student, flamenco studies can be regarded as a sound investment for a life-long career back home.

THEATRICAL AFFINITIES

"I think there are good cultural reasons for the fascination," says María Dolores Rodriguez, a Japanese teacher at Madrid's official language school. She lived in Japan for ten years.

"Flamenco expresses intense emotions in a highly disciplined form. It shares the Japanese ideas of freeing ki, or energy, and of kata, the shapes or fixed positions struck in kabuki and noh theatre, mijomboyu dancing and martial arts. At the same time, flamenco is more dynamic, less internalised, with a lot of room for spontaneity, so it's very satisfyingly expressive for the Japanese."

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