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50+ Years in the Dance Circle: Chizuko Shiro of SF, Marin

Born into an artistic family, Chizuko Shiro acted and danced in Japanese-language productions and taught Bon Odori in San Francisco and Marin for over six decades.

Hajime Miyazaki from Hiroshima and Chieko Kimura from Sebastopol met in San Francisco, California, married in 1926, and had three daughters — Ayako in 1928, Chizuko in 1935, and Hideko in 1943. Chieko was the primary caregiver to the girls while Hajime worked in the import-export business. For recreation, Hajime ran an amateur Japanese drama group, which performed at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco and Kinmon Gakuen.

The family provided Japanese classical dance lessons for the oldest and youngest daughters, but Chizuko, as a child growing up during World War II, did not have the same opportunity. Despite this, she familiarized herself with classical dance movements and gestures, and developed a deep love of dance that continues to this day.

During World War II, the family was incarcerated at the Topaz and Tule Lake concentration camps. In 1945, they returned to San Francisco and Chizuko continued her education at Pacific Heights Elementary School, Marina Junior High School, and George Washington High School. She performed in her father’s drama group and an amateur kabuki troupe in San Francisco.

At the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, Chizuko attended Japanese language classes, played basketball, and formed the Angels (later known as the Juniorettes and Saranas), a girls’ club that assisted at temple functions and organized benefits and dances. In the late 1940s, Chizuko taught Bon Odori at the San Francisco temple as an assistant to Masako Hanyu Iwase. Chizuko and Masako danced in the Bon Odori program for the BCA’s Golden Jubilee celebration at the San Francisco Civic Center in 1948, and were featured in a photograph of the event in Life magazine.

In the 1950s, Chizuko and George Shiro met at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco and the two were married in 1957. George owned a television sales and repair shop and the couple had two children — Richard in 1960 and Michael in 1962. To alleviate Richard’s asthmatic symptoms, the family moved north to Marin in 1962. Chizuko soon joined the Marin Nakayoshi Club, a Japanese American community group, and helped May Murata teach Bon Odori at the club’s summer festival beginning in the mid-1960s.

The Buddhist Temple of Marin was organized in 1965 and held its first Obon with Bon Odori at the local American Legion Hall in 1966 with Chizuko as its instructor. In the early 1970s, the temple hosted its Obon festival at the Corte Madera Recreation Center and Brown’s Hall, which was purchased and renovated into the temple building in 1972.

For over five decades, Chizuko has led Bon Odori at the Buddhist Temple of Marin with assistance in the early years from Eleanor Aoki and the support of Yoshiko Fujimoto in the 2000s. While Chizuko has taught many different dances during her long tenure as Bon Odori instructor, her favorites include such classics as “Shamisen Boogie Woogie,” “Tanko Bushi,” “Tennen no Bi,” and “Yakyuken Odori.”



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