Meet Madame Michiya Hanayagi, 2020 NCCBF Community Marshal

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Photos by Mark Shigenaga

SAN FRANCISCO — As part of its virtual celebration this year, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival named Madame Michiya Hanayagi of the Hanayagi Japanese Classical Dance Group as 2020 community marshal.

Community marshal is a designation bestowed on individuals who have made a significant impact on the festival, the Japanese and/or the Japanese American community. Community marshals have included legacy participants and community leaders.

Madame Hanayagi has been a part of the festival since its inception and has been honored for her contributions to strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Japan through dance. She, her daughter Michisuya Hanayagi, and their dance group can be observed performing at various festivals and events throughout the community.

A native of Nagoya, Michiya Hanayagi studied traditional and classical Japanese dance since early childhood and continued her studies through her high school and college years. The headmaster of the Hanayagi School in Tokyo recognized her as having attained the level of achievement qualifying her for the coveted Hanayagi teacher certification in 1947, and she began her teaching career.

Her desire to continue with her dancing and to share this aspect of Japanese culture upon settling in the U.S. led her to establish the Michiya Hanayagi Dance Studio in 1956. She has been teaching classical Japanese dance to people of Japanese and non-Japanese ancestry, and has presented her students in 53 recitals.

Locally, Michiya Hanayagi has been an advocate of the Japanese American community in the greater Bay Area. She has been instrumental in various San Francisco Japantown events. Throughout her long career, the group supported and participated in local community events. Some of the annual events in Japantown are the Aki Matsuri (18 years), Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California’s Kodomo no Hi (23 years), JCCCNC Oshogatsu Festival (15 years) and the Osaka Matsuri (four years).

Because of her contributions towards promoting Japanese culture, she has been recognized by many organizations. In 1993, JCCCNC honored her with the Cultural Heritage Award. The Northern California Cherry Blossom Committee recognized her with a Cherry Blossom Festival Award for 50 consecutive years of participation in 2017. The Michiya Hanayagi group is one of the few groups to have participated in all 53 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festivals.

Michiya Hanayagi was designated head instructor-choreographer in 1974 for the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of the Buddhist Churches of America, which is based in San Francisco. Over 2,000 dancers came from all over the U.S. and Japan to congregate around the Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco to participate in this Commemorative Ondo Festival.

In 1976, the International Institute of the East Bay recognized Michiya Hanayagi’s efforts to promote goodwill between Japanese and American cultural worlds and she was presented with their Award of Merit, which is for foreign-born persons who are outstanding representatives of their ethnic communities.

As a choreographer and instructor as well as a participant at the various Bay Area Buddhist churches’ Obon festivals, BCA and many of the local Buddhist Churches have honored her with awards for 25, 40, 50, and 60 years of service.

Michiya Hanayagi has shared her knowledge of Japanese classical dance throughout the U.S. In California she has demonstrated her art in such locations as Disneyland’s Festival Japan, Los Angeles’ Nisei Week and various college campuses. Under the auspices of the Japan Consulate and Japan Society, she has given demonstrations and performances in various cities in California, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas, and Hawaii. In 1993 and 1994, her group participated at the annual Matsuri: A Festival of Japan at Heritage Square in Phoenix. They performed in the Dento Geino Festival at MGM Grand Hotel as well as the festival’s parade in Las Vegas in 1996 and 1997.

Her talents as a choreographer have been displayed in “Madame Butterfly,” “Ghost Memories,” and “Pacific Overtures,” for which she was nominated for the S.F. Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for best choreography.

During Michiya Hanayagi’s 64-year career, she has broadened her sights even further by introducing her group internationally. In 1977, she and her two daughters, Michisuya Hanayagi and Michisenya Hanayagi, performed at the prestigious Kabuki Theatre in Tokyo in a recital honoring the late Hiroyuki Hanayagi. She and her group performed for the Japan National Tourist Organization at Expo ’86 in Vancouver, Expo ’88 in Brisbane, Australia, Expo ’90 in Osaka, and Expo’92 in Genoa, Italy.

Through Japan Airlines, Michiya Hanayagi has performed all over California, in South Carolina, Colorado, New York, Washington, and in several cities of Mexico. She also sponsored the Hanayagi Summer Tours to Japan that allowed her to share her love of Japan with American tourists on chartered flights. In 1975, JAL recognized her for 10 years of service.

In 2004, Michiya Hanayagi was honored as one of the recipients of the Foreign Minister’s Commendation in Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the US-Japan Relationship. Because of her contributions towards promoting the Japanese culture through Japanese classical dance, she was presented with this very prestigious award. 2006 was a very special year for Michiya Hanayagi since it marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Michiya Hanayagi Japanese Dance Studio as well as her 50th year of choreographing, teaching, and participating in obon in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2007, for her contribution to the culture of Japan practiced here in America and the relationship in the S. F. Community, the Japanese-American Association of Northern California (JAANC) honored Michiya Hanayagi into the “Bunka Hall of Fame”.

The Hanayagi School honored Michiya Hanayagi with the prestigious “Ryuho Sho” award in January 2008 at the Tokyo Kaikan in Japan. Selected from among 7,000 Hanayagi shisho (teachers) in the world, she was recognized for her meritorious deeds of contributing to the art of classical Japanese.

In 2009 Michiya Hanayagi achieved one of the highest honors in her career, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, from the Japanese government. The consul general of Japan in San Francisco presented her with this prestigious award at a conferment ceremony at his residence. She was recognized for her contributions towards promoting Japanese culture through classical dance and for encouraging goodwill between the U.S. and Japan.

In 2010, the BCA once again honored Michiya Hanayagi with a special achievement award, which symbolized her dedication to the BCA and for her commitment to teaching and sharing her knowledge of Japanese culture through Obon and Japanese classical dance for over 50 years in the U.S.

In 2012, Michiya Hanayagi was recognized by the City and County of San Francisco and was presented with the Certificate of Honor by Mayor Edwin Lee for her service and achievements as a buyo instructor and dance school founder. She was also honored by the San Francisco-based National Japanese American Historical Society and the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women.

Michiya Hanayagi and Michisuya Hanayagi continue to educate future generations in this form of Japanese culture in America.

For more information on this year’s Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, visit https://sfcherryblossom.org/.

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