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This 70-year-old Japanese woman left home to learn Mohiniyattam

Think Change India
29th Nov 2017
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Hisayo Tateo Watanabe, aged 70, is a Japanese woman hailing from Yokohama. Her story just reinforces what we've already heard so many times — that age is just a number and it is never too late to pursue anything one wants to. In Hisayo's case, the thing she wanted to pursue was Mohiniyattam, a dream that lingered in her mind for nearly two decades.

Image source: The News Minute

While working as a librarian in Tokyo 20 years ago, Hisayo had seen prominent Mohiniyattam dancer Deepti Omcherry Bhalla perform and instantly fell in love with the art form, so much so that she flew to India and trained under Deepti in Delhi.

Deepti is now a professor of music at Delhi University. Speaking with The News Minute, Deepti said,

"Before moving here, she did her groundwork on the subject. She had some basic understanding about the theoretical aspects of Mohiniyattam. Whatever I taught, Hisayo would take it very seriously. She would always come to class well-practised. I didn't have to put too much effort in teaching her the movements."

Hisayo's dream came true when she gave her first solo Mohiniyattam performance to live music in Kochi recently. Hisayo doesn't look at her age as a constraint, for she is all pumped up to learn the next levels of the dance form. After having trained under Deepti for some time, Hisayo moved to Kerala to add more authenticity to her learning. That was when she met Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma. After Kalyanikutty Amma passed away in 1999, Hisayo trained under her daughter Sreedevi Rajan and her granddaughters Smitha Rajan and Sandhya Rajan.

Talking about her tryst with Kalyanikutty Amma, Hisayo in an interview with The Times of India said,

"I was her first Japanese student. I knew only a little English and our communication was mostly through sign language. She would throw a small stick at me whenever I did something wrong, and keep telling me to open my eyes wider, all the time. She was a strong woman, and treated me like family. She would take me to her friends' and relatives' houses, and arranged my arangettam all by herself, free of cost."

Though she returned to Japan after her training, she kept visiting Kerala every two years and her recent Kochi performance was also arranged by Kalyanikutty Amma's daughters Sreedevi and Kala. Talking about her first performance, Hisayo says there's nothing like performing to live music, and Kerala has a special charm.

Hisayo met her life partner Tateo during an interactive session about India 30 years ago. They remained friends for more than 15 years and got married 10 years ago, when Hisayo was 60 and Tateo was 65.

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