Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by BCA Wheel of Dharma.
Fumiye Nancy Shibata studied with Mitsusa Bando, established the tradition of coordinating dances in the Buddhist Churches of America’s Southern District, and taught Bon Odori in Los Angeles and Orange County for approximately sixty years.
Nisei couple Kango and Yoshiye Naito ran a hotel on M Street in Sacramento’s Japantown and their only child, Fumiye Nancy Naito, was born in 1934. Beginning at the age of five, Nancy studied Japanese classical dance with Shizuko Inbe and Misa Bando, who had recently completed her dance training in Japan.
During World War II, Nancy and her family were incarcerated at the Tule Lake concentration camp, and there she reunited with Misa Bando and resumed her dance lessons. Nancy was paired with another young girl, Yumi Funakoshi, in the dance, “Kira no Nikichi,” and after numerous performances, the two became known throughout Tule Lake as “Fumi and Yumi.”
Nancy and her family moved to Los Angeles after the war, and in yet another coincidence, rediscovered Misa (Mitsusa) Bando. Nancy continued her lessons and earned her professional dance name, Misaye Bando, during a whirlwind summer trip to Japan in 1958.
Nancy attended the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in the early 1950s and was recruited by Dorothy Takata Lord to help teach Bon Odori. In the mid-1950s, she and other instructors were escorted by Reverend Masami Nakagaki to the Orange County Buddhist Church to assist the local teachers. By the late 1950s, Naito was the lead Bon Odori instructor in Los Angeles and regularly visited Bunkado in Little Tokyo to peruse the latest Bon Odori records. She taught older dances such as “Hinomoto Ondo,” “Kagoshima Ohara Bushi,” “Sakura Ondo,” and “Tokyo Ondo,” and choreographed newer dances like “Manmaru Ondo,” “Shinran Odori” and “Tsurukame Ondo.”
During this time, Nancy called a meeting of all the Bon Odori teachers affiliated with the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and its branch temples. News of this meeting spread, and at the appointed date, representatives from across the BCA Southern District were in attendance. The teachers convened in the basement of the Los Angeles temple, collectively decided on a shared repertoire of eight to ten dances, and taught those dances to their respective temples. In this way, dancers were encouraged to attend different Obon festivals throughout the summer. This practice proved extremely popular and continues to the present day.
Nancy and Alvin “Al” Shibata were married in 1962, moved to Orange County in 1965, and had four children — Bruce, Craig, Nanelle, and Noreene. Nancy became the lead instructor at the Orange County Buddhist Church in 1967, taught a Bon Odori class for men in the 1970s to encourage their participation, and ran her own classical dance studio. During Bon Odori practices, Nancy would explain the meaning of the dances and patiently break down each phrase into manageable steps and movements.
At the Orange County Obon, you would find Nancy volunteering in the boutique booth, running off to help people dress in their yukata, and dancing joyfully in the inner circle. Nancy retired from teaching Bon Odori in 2015.
To view additional articles, visit the BCA Website at www.buddhistchurchesofamerica.org and search for “50+ Years.”
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.