Hiroshi Watanabe: Suo Sarumawashi
Portfolio Introduction
(Excerpt from the Suo Sarumawashi Association’s official introduction)
Sarumawashi, literally "monkey dancing" evolved over a 1000-year history in Japan. Ancient Japanese chronicles refer to it as a form of religious ritual designed to protect the horses of warriors. It later developed into a popular form of festival entertainment, and was performed all over Japan from temples to imperial courts. Today, Sarumawashi is ranked alongside Noh and Kabuki as one of the oldest and most traditional of Japan's performing arts. It features acrobatic stunts and comedic skits performed by highly trained macaque monkeys.

Despite its current popularity, Sarumawashi almost perished in the 1970's. The increasing urbanization of Japan and the rise of the automobile on Japan's crowded city streets threatened Sarumawashi's place in Japanese culture as a popular form of street performance. In 1977 a group of individuals throughout Japan, fearing the total demise of this ancient art form, gathered to effect the revival of Sarumawashi. They founded the Suo Sarumawashi association in present day Hikari City (also known by its ancient name of Suo) in Yamaguchi Prefecture in Western Japan. After a series of setbacks, the Suo Sarumawashi Association finally succeeded in bringing Sarumawashi back to life. Today the association in partnership with the Murasaki Corporation runs two 600 Seat Sarumawashi Theaters, one based in Kumamoto Prefecture and the other in Yamanashi Prefecture near the base of Mt. Fuji. The Suo Sarumawashi performing group also tours frequently throughout Japan.

The reason for Sarumawashi's ongoing popularity lies in the charm and agility of the Japanese macaque monkey. Sarumawashi showcases the natural physical prowess of the Japanese monkey by combining acrobatic stunts with comical skits and dances. The monkey and trainer perform as one unit to create a bond between man and primate.

Since it was founded, the Suo Sarumawashi Association has been dedicated to preserving the art of Sarumawashi in Japan. In 1991, the Suo Sarumawashi Association was awarded the prestigious Arts Prize at the Japan arts Festival sponsored by the national government's Culture Agency - a first for any performing art group involving animals. In 1992, the Suo Sarumawashi Association ventured overseas for the first time. Four of Suo's star monkeys performed at New York's Lincoln Center to a sold-out crowd. The group also traveled across the United States for performances in New York's Central Park, the United States Senate, Harvard University, and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

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