Table Speech

Dancing with Prayer for Peace

February 18, 2015

Ms. Yoko Morishita
President, Matsuyama Ballet Foundation

 I started ballet 64 years ago at my hometown in Hiroshima. Being a third-generation atomic bomb survivor, I was physically fragile and a doctor advised me to do some exercise. Incidentally ballet lessons started at a kindergarten right in front of my house. At the age of three, I got completely fascinated by ballet which later shaped the course of my life. As I entered elementary school, I travelled alone from Hiroshima to Tokyo on the overnight express train for my lessons with great excitement. I only realized afterwards how nervous and worried my parents had been until they got a telegram from my teacher informing my safe arrival in Tokyo. When I turned twelve, I asked my parents to allow me to move up to Tokyo and become a ballet dancer. They accepted my decision. I come from an ordinary family. My father was an office worker and my mother started a small restaurant named “Kitchen Morishita” in Hiroshima to pay for my train fares. I am always grateful for their support and understanding.

 Throughout my 64 years, there were some difficult times but I have never thought about giving up ballet. Thanks to the support of my parents and people around me, I can still practice ballet 5-6 hours a day at the age of 67.

 To be honest, I have been clumsy and a slow learner from my early childhood. I was often the last child to master new steps. My ballet teacher was very upset but my parents didn’t say anything. I practiced hard at home and when I mastered the new steps, they cheered me up. My parents motivated me to keep trying at my own pace without giving up.

 I also try to think positively about what to do next. I got influenced by my grandmother who suffered severe burns on her face, hands and the left side of her body caused by the atomic bomb. Fingers on her hand were fused together from the burns. When my mother started her restaurant, my grandmother came from Iwakuni to help and take care of us. She never complained about the war or her disability. She always told us how grateful and blissful she was for being kept alive. Her attitude towards life taught me many lessons as I pursued my career in classical ballet. I always get a positive feeling after practicing hard for each stage, no matter how difficult the move or step may be.

 Works of art, including ballet, are meant to make the audience happy. I hope to convey the importance of courage, hopes, love and thoughtfulness as well as gratitude for life to many people through my performance. The experience of my grandmother made me long for peace more than anything else.

 Last year, I was invited as a judge to the Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria. Forty years ago, I became the first Japanese dancer to win the Gold Medal at this competition with the longest history. Having won this most prestigious competition gave me various chances to perform overseas, including Vienna, the Palais Garnier and the 25th Anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. As I am still an active dancer, which seems to be miraculous to some, I was asked to give a performance at Varna. I chose “Song of the Birds” by Pablo Casals. This piece is short but is filled with prayer for peace. I was relieved to see the audience from around the world received my message for peace with delight. I firmly believe future generations must be told about the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 As a dancer, I need to practice hard every single day so that I can encourage the audience to “keep trying” with dreams and hopes through my performance. I keep moving my body even during a flight to be ready for my stage at the destination. Ballet is enjoyable as there is no end to it. But it means you must practice every single day as our bodies cannot be deceived. “If you don’t practice for one day, you’ll notice it. If you don’t practice for two days, your colleagues will notice it. And if you don’t practice for three days, your audiences will notice it.” At my age, there is still so much to learn and I keep trying every day. I feel like a freshman and extremely fortunate to be able to keep dancing.

 There will be a performance in May and members of my ballet company would be delighted to welcome you all. We join our forces and practice hard to give impressive performances on stage that will make our audience happy.