This summer, Nisei Week will honor Madame Kangiku Sanjo, who entertained audiences in Little Tokyo over the years as a Nisei Week choreographer.
Madame Sanjo (June Ito) passed away on April 28. She was 79.
According to a family representative, prior to her passing, Sanjo choreographed the two dances that will be featured in the 79th Nisei Week Parade. The natoris and students of the Sanjo School of Kabuki Dance will be performing in her memory at the parade on Aug. 11.
“The Nisei Week Foundation mourns the loss of 2019 Nisei Week Japanese Festival ondo choreographer, Madame Kangiku Sanjo,” said David Yamahata, Nisei Week Foundation president. “She was a friend and longtime supporter and participant of the Nisei Week Grand Parade and Ondo, and will be remembered for her bright spirit, creative choreography and dedication to share Japanese culture through the art of dance. The Nisei Week Foundation will pay tribute to Kangiku Sanjo during the 2019 festival.”
Born on Feb. 8, 1940, Sanjo began learning Japanese classical dance at the age of four. At the age of nine, she came under the tutelage of Kanya Sanjo V, then known as Miharu Bando, studying nagauta music and Japanese dance. She attained her natori (dance name) at 16, performing “Kyoganoko Musume Dojoji” and “Yasuna.”
Sanjo became an apprentice (uchi deshi) with Kanya Sanjo V and assisted in instructing and producing the “Kabuki Dance” and “Kayo Buyo Series” programs.
After the passing of Kanya Sanjo V in June 1989, she became the artistic director and official representative of the Kanya Sanjo V Kabuki Dance Company, dedicated to preserving the traditional Japanese art form.
During her career, Madame Sanjo appeared in David Bowie’s 1976 film “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and performed with then Senjaku Nakamura as the butterfly in “Kagami Jishi” in 1981.
In 2013, Sanjo choreographed two dances inspired by the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March 2011. During an interview with The Rafu Shimpo, she said she wanted the dances to be fun, but also carry a serious message:
“I’m trying to make the American public aware that there is still a problem. I don’t know what anyone can do — maybe go visit there and help them with their economy … I have friends who have gone up there, stayed at onsen and things like that.”
She incorporated “jan ken po” (rock, paper, scissors) into one of the dances “to kind of perk everyone up.”
“I think that children or young people or anyone will enjoy it,” Madame Sanjo said.
A Celebration of Life will be held in the Skyview Room of the Quiet Cannon, 901 Via San Clemente in Montebello, on Sunday, May 19, at 11 a.m. Madame Sanjo is survived by her sister, Sally Mori (Tom) and their children, Janice Whitfield (Marlon) and Howard Mori; two grandnieces, Ashley Mori and Kaiya Whitfield; grandnephew Maxim Whitfield; and many cousins.