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50+ Years in the Dance Circle: Adrienne Reiko Iwanaga of San Jose

Adrienne Reiko Iwanaga studied with teachers from the Bando and Hanayagi Schools of Dance, choreographed numerous dances, and fostered artistic collaborations and a spirit of cooperation at the largest Obon festival in North America.

Joe Yoshiharu Akahoshi and Grace Fumi Noyoshi-Tatsuda were married in 1937 and their first child, Adrienne Reiko Akahoshi, was born in 1938 in San Jose, California. In 1942, the Akahoshi family was incarcerated at the Amache (Granada) concentration camp in Colorado. While there, the young Reiko studied Japanese classical dance with Miharu Bando (Kanya Sanjo V).

After the war, the family moved to Denver and Reiko continued her dance studies with Yukino Okubo Harada. Two years later, they returned to San Jose where Reiko attended school, took piano lessons, and studied dance with Jutei Hanayagi in the 1950s and Michiya Hanayagi in the 1960s.

In 1954, Reiko attended a YBA dance and met Gordon Mutsumi “Muts” Iwanaga, son of Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga, the pioneering minister who introduced Bon Odori to countless Japanese American communities on the West Coast.


Reiko and Muts were married in 1963 and moved to the Japanese city of Misawa in Aomori Prefecture for three years. Reiko studied with Hanayagi teachers in Misawa and Tokyo, and received her professional dance name, Reimichi Hanayagi, in 1965. After returning from Japan, the couple attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York City and moved back to San Jose in 1971. Through these busy years, Reiko and Muts had four children — Maya, Ryan, Courtney, and Ashley.

Reiko was an assistant teacher on the yagura at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin between 1953 and 1997 with some breaks, and was mentored in the late 1980s by Dansen Hanayagi from Okayama, Japan. She became the lead Bon Odori instructor in 1998 and worked frequently with the San Jose Chidori Band, choreographing “Chidori Band Ondo,” “Hyakunen Ondo,” “Matsuri,” and “San Jose Ondo.”

With the approval of the Chidori Band, Reiko invited San Jose Taiko to perform PJ Hirabayashi’s “Ei Ja Nai Ka?” as a Bon Odori at the Obon Festival in 2004. She and San Jose Taiko collaborated on Matt Ogawa’s “San Jose Bayashi” in 2002, and a new arrangement of Yumi Hojo’s gatha, “Obon, Obon, It’s Festival Day,” in 2009.

Reiko wanted everyone to feel comfortable dancing, so she choreographed using a limited number of intuitive movements and steps. The San Jose dance circle steadily grew, and by the early 2010s, the temple regularly counted over 2,000 dancers throughout the weekend, making it the largest Obon festival, in terms of number of dancers, in North America.

In addition to teaching, Reiko sat on the Board of Directors of various artistic and community organizations, served as the Executive Director of CATS (Contemporary Asian Theater Scene), founded a successful event planning company, and received numerous awards and commendations.

While Reiko will retire as lead Bon Odori instructor after this year’s Obon festival, you’ll still find her in the dance circle!

The “50+ Years” series will resume next spring. To view a full list of 50+ teachers, follow the link: www.bit.ly/fiftyplusyears. If you have an additional dance instructor for the BCA Music Committee to consider, please email Wynn at wynnkiyama@gmail.com.

Wynn Kiyama teaches at Portland State University and is a member of the Oregon Buddhist Temple and the BCA Music Committee. He is currently working on a history of Bon Odori in the continental United States


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