Japanese scholar Sumio Morijiri spreads the magic of vibrant Yakshagana in Japan

After a break of several years from academia,  Sumio Morijiri, folklorist, and cultural anthropologist, gave back to Mangaluru the wealth of knowledge of folk art in the region he had researched.

Published: 08th July 2018 03:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th July 2018 06:39 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

MANGALURU: For the Japanese scholar, what started as theatre enthusiasm grew to envelop the folk arts of the coastal region. After a break of several years from academia,  Sumio Morijiri, folklorist, and cultural anthropologist, gave back to Mangaluru the wealth of knowledge of folk art in the region he had researched and assimilated. He published two books in the Japanese language —  one on Yakshagana and the other on Bhootakola.

Almost three decades since his first visit to the city as a tourist and researcher, Morijiri relaxes in the monsoons of Mangaluru. A retired visiting faculty of Mangaluru University, he welcomes students who require guidance in their India-Japanese relationship research.

Morijiri was born in the historically rich town of Asakusa in Japan. He started his cultural journey as a student by actively participating in theatre and won accolades from Tokyo University. That is when his tryst with theatre began. Young Morijiri established a modern theatre group in Waseda University where he had studied French literature. He associated himself with the ‘new theatre movement’ that aimed to revive theatre in various parts of the world, including India and Japan. Right then, Morijiri was invited to Kerala by historian K. N. Panikkar and others who were introducing Kalaripayattu, a traditional martial art, into theatre to shape the bodies of the actors and bring in the vigour into the performances.

He recalls that in 1987, he was invited to Kerala by Panikkar and others for the Basa festival where he studied the traditional art form there. During his travels, he was introduced to other performances in Mangaluru. Yakshagana caught his fancy, and he invited a troupe to the International dance festival and conference in Tokyo. Thereafter, he took the troupe to a few, out of the thousand theatres in Tokyo, before introducing them to other cities. “I was a teacher of theatre and yet could not speak to the Japanese students about the traditional Indian culture. When I set up the stage for Yakshagana artistes in Japan, I knew I had to study the form in more detail,” he says.

Every year, he visited Hampi University for the study of the art form. “I was recompensed by  Japanese University. India did not pay for the research,” he recalls. In 1996, Morijiri joined Mangaluru University as a visiting professor and was surprised by the lack of knowledge about Yakshagana and Bhootakola among the young. He studied Yakshagana in all its richness. The language was not a barrier for Morijiri, who believed when people of Mangaluru who speak five different vernacular languages could join Yakshagana, language did not matter.

“It’s a mind to mind connection. That is the power of performing arts,” he says. He understood it as a dance-drama, through the elements of rhythm, melody, and dance.
Likening it to the Kabuki theatre in Japan which also uses elaborate makeup, old language, cross-dressed male performers, and story which is performed through dance, he says both were the kind of performances where the audience would not know who the playwright or scriptwriter was.
What troubles Morijiri, but to an extent makes him smile, is the increasing use of Yakshagana ‘dance technology’ in “Masala movies”(Bollywood).

He also learnt about the ritualistic folk performance Bhoothakola, which he also observed in Kerala.
However, for his study of the ritual ceremonies he concentrated on mainly three cases  -Twin heroes Koti Chennayya, Goddess Ullallty Bhut and goddess Bhagavathi, through which he took a peek into the Tulu-speaking community in the coast that worked to conduct the festival.

Tulu people, he observes, practised their religion as Dravidians. The rituals were not part of Brahminism, which brought into the region from the Northern part of India after the tenth century, he says.
The professor, who is spreading the fragrance of Yakshagana in Japan, was felicitated on Saturday by Kala Gangotri Yakshagana Kendra of Uchila.

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