Japanese in the World – Asa Shimada
This time I´ve interviewed a very sweet woman, Asa Shimada who lives in Iceland. I´ve been always curious about this country but all I knew was the volcano, spa and Björk. Why Asa had decided to come to this icy country and what does she do there? Let´s start!
1. What´s your name and which part of Japan are you from?
Asa Shimada. I was born in Chiba city in Chiba prefecture. My both parents are from Kobe prefecture and we moved quite a lot when I was small.
2. Where do you live now and when did you come to this town?
I live in Stykkishólmur in Iceland. It´s a very small town of about 1,000 people. I first moved to Iceland in 2004 but in 2012, I moved to Norway then I came back again recently to Iceland. I´m quite new in Stykkishólmur.
3. Where were you before Iceland and what were you doing?
I guess this is a habit from my childhood since my family moved a lot. It´s my dream to settle in one place but dream usually won´t come true (laugh). I will keep moving around. I love new things.
I went to Norway to finish my degree in ceramic. It was supposed to be one year but I ended up living there for two years and a half.
4. Why did you decide to come to Stykkishólmur?
Before I lived in the capital, Reykjavik but I was becoming more wild-kid (laugh) and the life in the city was getting harder for me. So I decided to move to a smaller town. Well, Stykkishólmur still has the population of 1,000 people but It´s OK.
How did I find this town? Hahaha, it was like throwing darts!
The reason I came to Iceland was I happened to fall in love with an Icelander and came here. I was already a wild kid in Japan and was interested in Iceland. Back then I was so confused by the huge selections that Japan had for anything. I was shown hundreds of different mobile phones and I was scared. In Iceland, the choice is much less and I only need to take what they have (laugh).
But the nature is amazing. It looks like the Mars but it´s closer to get! (laugh) Also you can walk around with less equipment than the Mars (laugh). It´s true that Neil Armstrong trained in Iceland before he went to the Moon. It´s similar but easier to get (laugh. She really laughs a lot).
I live in Iceland but for me, there is no borders, especially since I started dancing I strongly feel that I can be anywhere. I wish there are no borders between the countries and we could go anywhere freely. I think I would be happy if I were born in the stone age (laugh).
5. What was or is the most difficult thing to adapt?
I grew up in the family who has a strong bond. Now I´m alone here and it makes me feel a little outside of the circle. Icelanders are quite individualist but at the same time they have a character of islander. When they have to do something, they will get together and do it.
Somehow they are similar to Japanese inside but the outside is completely different. They are educated in the European way in the sense of what “you” want to do but as this is a small country with not much resources, when it comes to help each other, they have a characteristic of islanders, I think.
Oh, I know. The darkness. I was prepared for the cold but I didn´t imagine how dark it can be. I could´t wake up at the beginning. In December, around 11:30 am, finally I see a red dot rolling on the horizon. It took me three years to get used to.
I thought there was no spring in this country, then after six years, I started to sense the change of the light. Now I´m much more sensitive with the change and notice more easily when the spring comes. And summer… there is “the first summer day” in Iceland but otherwise, no one can realise it.
6. What have you changed the most after living in Iceland?
Comparing to myself in 2004 when I just came from Japan, my face has changed a lot. I was wearing a mask. I don´t know if Iceland changed me or because I have aged or I was like this and it´s come out.
I´m more open as a person and at the same time I´m more sensitive with my surroundings. Iceland makes you believe super-natural phenomena. Icelanders believe elves and fairies. I´ve experienced myself too. I think many Japanese see them when they are small but here in Iceland, many adults still feel and see them. I believe Björk does too, otherwise she wouldn´t be able to make such songs.
Japan is a Shintoism country and people do have the sense of spirituality. The amazing thing about Japan is, it´s very organized in terms of the division. In Japan, the human world and the spiritual world are clearly divided. Whereas in Iceland it´s so free and all mixed. Some Icelanders who are very sensitive with energy say that as soon as the airplane enters the territory, they can feel it. Since I came to this country, my energy reception has opened even more.
7. What is your profession? Can you tell us about your work?
Occupation is a dancer and artist.
In 2011, I suddenly started dancing. First I was interested in 5 rhythms, which was formed in California. I was crazy about dancing and one day, my Norwegian friend asked me if I practiced Buto, which started in Japan in the 60s. I had never heard of it but I started it because it was the dance from Japan.
That time I was in Norway for my university degree in ceramic but I joined the performance art class. That was when I started dancing more focused on Buto and improvising based dance.
Last year I was given an opportunity to perform at Rokko Meets Art in Kobe in Japan. Since I was in Japan, I started looking into some interesting things that I wouldn´t see in Iceland. There I met Mikusano Mitakara, which I´ve just organized in Iceland and Norway (21st and 22nd of July).
Mikusano Mitakara fit well to my style. You move according to what you feel although there is a certain direction to follow. Including this, since I started dancing, my circle is growing. I´ve been meeting curious and interesting people. The nationality is no longer important but when I meet them, I know I was supposed to meet them. I don´t think I can stop now. I know the dance and meeting people are my way of living. When you do what you really like to do, the money becomes less important. Somehow, it just happens.
8. What expectation do you have for your life in Stykkishólmur?
I wish the borders disappear! (laugh)
I have a theory that things that don´t go well will disappear. So it´s important to look for new possibilities. I see the economy in Iceland seems to make the same mistake, which is a pity. But there are some people who are looking at another direction although they are still the minority. And I think this movement is not only in Iceland but it´s happening in everywhere.
I believe each one of us is here because of the reason. And if each of us do what they want to do, I think that is the best (laugh).
9. What is your identity as Japanese in this country?
I don´t know what nationality I have nowadays. Maybe because I don´t come from Japan directly. Hmm, it´s difficult…
I was learning ceramic because I´m Japanese but at one point I´d realised ceramic is attached to the food. I didn´t know much about Icelandic food. Also the clay doesn´t come from Iceland. I lost the meaning of doing ceramic here. It makes more sense to do it in Japan and of course, I will do it when I go back.
When I was in Norway, it was such an international country with many immigrations and I didn´t need to feel where I was from. But then last time I performed in Japan and participated Mikusano Kotodama, I started being interested in kotodama (言霊). I always had a complex about words. I believed I could´t express myself with words and that´s why I used art to fill that gap. But when I was in the workshop of Mikusano Mitakara, I felt like I wanted to learn kotodama. In this sense, Japan has come back in me after many years.
Hmm, how can I say… When I left Japan, Japan was always the contrary of the rest of the world. But while I was living in Europe, that division disappeared and all merged. Now among the mixture I notice some are quite Japanese. I´m re-discovering Japanese parts within me. I don´t mind what nationality I have but I´m happy when I can speak Japanese. I feel free. This is how I feel Japan in me.
Oh, I know! I can´t live without chopsticks! When I moved to Norway, I was feeling strange but didn´t know why. Then one day I realised I didn´t take my chopsticks. Once I got them, everything was in its place (laugh). Yes, that´s it. Yey!
10. What music do you like to listen when you work?
Voice. Some people have an amazing voice and moves me. Hang drum! I can´t stay still when I hear it. I don´t understand why people can sit and listen in the concert.
Recently I was given a Kalimba, which makes me dance too.
Oh, and Masakatsu Takagi! A friend told me about him when I was in Japan and oh, I can´t stop dancing!
I can´t dance choreography. For me, dance is not a from but something arises within me by listening to the sound. So listening is fundamental. If there is a sound that reaches to your heart, you dance, don´t you? (Sorry, I can´t dance…)
When I was a child, I was told that I could be anything when I grew up but not a singer. I was a bad singer. But now I sing (laugh). When you dance, you sing without thinking. I can´t go back anymore!
11. What do you like the most about your work?
To dance (laugh). No, to be honest, I love pachinko (burst into laughter).
When I dance, I don´t feel alone although I´m dancing alone. I feel like something makes me dance. I think a writer may feel that way that something comes down to him and makes him write. I feel the same. When it happens, I feel very thankful.
Dance is my communication tool. Maybe it´s my delusion that I can express everything. Maybe I´m rely on it too much. But I can fill all those gap without any words. I had never imagined I would dance and I´m amazed myself how far I came. I just want to keep dancing.
Interview with Asa was full of laughs. I felt very light after talking to her. Is it because of the elfs or her discovery of dancing has made her free? I love to talk to her again and next time, in person. This is her new project. How is she going to dance? I´m curious.
She has organised two workshops in Iceland and Norway last weekend and this week. Norway workshop in Bergen is still available.
More information : Mikusano Mitakara in Bergen.
More about Asa´s performance and art works : Asa Shimada website
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