Each year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan issues commendations awarded to individuals and organizations who are involved in the promotion of mutual understanding in international relations and educating the public about Japan and Japanese culture.
On Wednesday, January 30, Japanese American dancer Yuriko Kikuchi will receive the Foreign Minister’s Commendation at a ceremony and reception conducted by Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki, Consul General of Japan in New York. Kikuchi is being recognized for her outstanding achievements in the field of dance and for her contribution to the promotion of friendly relations between Japan and other countries.
Born on February 2, 1920, in San Jose, California, Kikuchi spent her childhood in Japan until her high school graduation. Upon her return to California, she taught Japanese dance from 1938 until 1940. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, Kikuchi was sent to the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, one of ten internment camps established by the US government to detain more than 110,000 Japanese Americans. While interned at Gila River, Kikuchi gave dance lessons to her fellow detainees.
Once released, Kikuchi moved to New York City in 1943, where she joined the Martha Graham Dance Company. She worked with Martha Graham for the next fifty years, performing and choreographing productions as a principal dancer and becoming a faculty member in 1945.
Kikuchi developed her contemporary dance style using her own understanding of Japanese culture and philosophy, which is based on dedication, respect, harmony, and cooperation, as well as Zen Buddhist values she learned while living in Japan. She incorporated those ideals into her roles in major productions by Martha Graham, such as Appalachian Spring (1944), Dark Meadow (1946), Canticle for Innocent Comedians (1952), Ardent Song (1954), and Clytemnestra (1958).
Kikuchi also had a respected career on Broadway, dancing as Eliza in Jerome Robbins’s The King and I and in Carol Haney’s Flower Drum Song.
Emiko Tokunaga, a former student of Kikuchi and herself a dance instructor, wrote the biography Yuriko An American Japanese Dancer: To Wash in the Rain and Polish with the Wind.