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Miyoko WATANABE

WATANABE, Miyoko September 23, 1920 - August 12, 2012 Kabuki dancer, actor, teacher, translator and author Miyoko Watanabe (Fujima Nishiki) passed away peacefully on August 12th at her Los Angeles home. Starring in "Shojo Kabuki," an all-girl troupe, she performed along the West Coast and Hawaii. After graduating from UCLA in German language, she served as a translator during WWII. Later studying in Japan for 10 years, Watanabe received the names Ichikawa Bisho in acting and Kineya Einishiki for shamisen. She loved dance the most, studying with Fujima Kanjuro VI, later a National Living Treasure, who gave her the name Fujima Nishiki, meaning "return home with honor." In 1960, Watanabe returned with The Grand Kabuki, sharing earphone guide duties with renowned author, Donald Richie. In the English guides they co-wrote, her bio states, "It was she who was official broadcast-translator at the Kabuki-za, and who first employed transistor radios for this purpose." Shochiku's chairman reportedly said of her, "The first U.S. tour was really tough for us. We had to use trains for transportation. I assure you our performances would not have happened without Ms. Nishiki." In NY, with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Theatre Arts (IASTA), Watanabe assisted Onoe Baiko VII in teaching American actors the Kabuki play, "Narukami." In 1968, she helped Matsumoto Koshiro VIII and Nakamura Matagoro II teach "Kanjincho," performed at the Library of Congress. Living in New York for almost 50 years, Watanabe taught Japanese dance at the Nippon Club, giving demonstrations, and coaching Japanese style and movement. She helped the Village Light Opera create a Kabuki-style Gilbert & Sullivan "Mikado," directed by the Frymires, and also performed by New York City Opera?s light opera wing. Jack Frymire wrote, "[it] was one of the great artistic thrills of our lives, and our only direct encounter with a true genius." Founding the Miyoko Watanabe Dance Company, she presented concerts on the East Coast and beyond. The company survives today as IchiFuji-kai Dance Association, celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2011. Watanabe trained several teachers ("Shihan") in the Soke Fujima style, including the first two non-Japanese. In 1986, the Soke Fujima-ryu honored Watanabe as a "Tokubetsu Shihan" (Teacher Extraordinaire), and in 2001 the Japanese government gave her the Foreign Minister's Award ("Gaimudaijin-sho") for great contributions to cross-cultural understanding. Her publications include, with Donald Richie, two English libretti for The Grand Kabuki, Program Publishing Co., NY 1960; and "Six Kabuki Plays," Hokuseido, Tokyo, 1963. She also wrote the Kabuki section of "Staging Japanese Theatre: Noh and Kabuki," IASTA, Key West, 1994, distributed by Fordham University Press. Remaining modest, kind and gentle, while inspiring and encouraging so many, Miyoko Watanabe is survived by three nieces and a nephew.

Published in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 26, 2012
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