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50+ Years in the Dance Circle: Michiya Hanayagi of the SF Bay Area

In a decorated career spanning six decades, Madame Michiya Hanayagi performed across the globe, participated annually in community festivals, taught approximately 1,000 dance students, and led Bon Odori at temples throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Michiya Hanayagi was born Michiko Kuwai in 1929, the first daughter of Shigeyoshi and Chiyo Kuwai in Nagoya prefecture. The four children — Toshihiko, Michiko, Eiko, and Etsuko — received a thorough education with additional instruction in the arts. From the age of 6 through high school, Michiko studied Japanese classical dance with Jutoku Hanayagi.

After the end of World War II, Michiko moved to Tokyo and enrolled in business school while studying with Jusuke Hanayagi II, head of the Hanayagi School of Dance. Michiko received her professional dance name, Michiya Hanayagi, in 1947.

While in Tokyo, Michiya Hanayagi met Shigeru “Shig” Kubota, a Nisei translator working for the U.S. Army. The two were married in 1949 and moved to Berkeley, California, in 1954. She opened her dance studio in 1956 and taught Bon Odori at the Buddhist Church of Oakland. By the 1960s, she was leading Bon Odori at temples in Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Union City. Over the years, she provided instruction to Bon Odori teachers and dancers from Concord, Marin, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Sebastopol.

Michiya Hanayagi carefully selected Bon Odori with suitable themes and included regional dances when requested. She taught popular dances such as “Tokyo Ondo” and “Yakyuken Odori,” religious dances like “Bon Odori Uta,” “Shinran Odori,” and “Shinshu Ondo,” and a country (inaka) version of “Tanko Bushi.”


In 1974, Michiya Hanayagi was designated the head instructor and choreographer for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Buddhist Churches of America. In 2006, the BCA recognized the 50th anniversary of the Michiya Hanayagi School of Dance and her 50 years of Bon Odori instruction.

Through the sponsorship of the Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco, Japan Society, and Japan Airlines, Michiya Hanayagi and her dancers performed in Japan, Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, and throughout the United States.


In the Bay Area, she choreographed for productions of “Madama Butterfly,” “Pacific Overtures,” and “Ghost Memories,” and participated annually in the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and events sponsored by the San Francisco Japantown and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.

Michiya Hanayagi received awards and commendations from the Hanayagi School in Tokyo, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, City and County of San Francisco, Japanese American Association of Northern California, and National Japanese American Historical Society. In 2009, she was awarded the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays from the Japanese government.

Michiya Hanayagi and Shigeru had three children — James, Eileen, and Sandra. The two girls studied Japanese classical dance with their mother and earned their professional dance names, Michisuya and Michisenya Hanayagi, respectively. James is a retired financial worker, Sandra is a business owner and volunteers at the Hanayagi School in Tokyo, and Eileen continues her mother’s work teaching Bon Odori at temples throughout the Bay Area.


To view a full list of 50+ teachers, follow the link: www.bit.ly/fiftyplusyears. If you have an additional dance instructor for us 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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