Origami Tales: The artful performance of Kuniko Yamamoto

By | May 7, 2016

Today we visited an event at a library in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, which had many great activities for kids including a free book for the first 1000 children to arrive, boardgames, picture taking area, face painting, and live performances. The first performance was by a Japanese woman of the name of Kuniko Yamamoto, titled “Origami Tales”. We didn’t quite know what to expect, but since it was at a library I thought maybe it would be some sort of book reading of Japanese fairytales.

Though it was scheduled to start at 10:30am, it didn’t actually start until nearly 11am, and by then there was a good number of people in the auditorium, nearly all families with children.

The performance began with an older woman walking on stage, wearing what appeared to be a traditional Japanese kimono. She began to speak to the audience about Japan and how the flight is so long to get there, and what children would do on the long flight to try and avoid becoming bored. Although she had a thick accent which at first caught me at guard, I soon grew use to it, and eventually realized had she spoke perfect un-accented English, she wouldn’t really seem so “foreign” after all.

After a few minutes it was clear she was very good interacting with children, with her very expressive facial gestures and body movement helping to get laughs from everyone. After a few minutes of performing without props, she finally brought out her origami which was quite impressive. While many of the origami models she used were fairly simple, she leveraged her expressive motion skillfully to bring them to life, while integrating them into her stories. She used a few other props, and I feel that one of the best of them was actually not related to origami.

For those not very familiar with Japan, there was some interesting cultural bits to learn, including the story of 1000 cranes, as well as some cultural differences between people who live in Tokyo and those who live in Osaka, the second largest city in Japan (Tokyo is of course #1). She spoke about how people from Osaka are generally more aggressive and loud than those from Tokyo. Since I have not lived in either city I generally like to be open minded about such stereotypes, but this is something I’ve heard before from several other Japanese people so I think there is some truth to it.

While the purpose of the performance wasn’t to learn Japanese, there was some Japanese phrases interjected here and there, for example basic phrases like “konnnichiwa” and “arigatou”, and even the Osaka greeting “Donai? Bochi bochi” which was used as an example of how Osaka people differ from Tokyo-ites.

Overall, the show was quite enjoyable and even moving at a few points, with some deeper topics touched upon here and there. The performance really exceeded any expectations I had. The only minor disappointment was that I wished she used a bit more origami, and did more folding from scratch as opposed to using pre-folded or pre-made models.

I am not sure how often she does shows in the U.S., but the person who introduced her said she had worked at Disney and other famous places, so if you are lucky she may come near you someday. If so, I highly recommend seeing her live.

Though it is a bit of neta-bare (spoilers), if you want to see a video which shows portions of some her act you can check it out on her website here: http://kunikotheater.com. Just be aware that the video there is a few years old (I’d guess at was recorded at least 10-15 years ago). Her website has some other interesting stuff, like a study guide, that you might want to check out as well.

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