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Suo Sarumawashi

(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.

 

Hiroshi Watanabe was born in Sapporo, Japan. He graduated from Department of Photography, College of Art, at Nihon University in 1975. He moved to Los Angeles after graduation and became involved in the production of TV commercials, eventually working as a producer. He later established his own production company and produced numerous commercials. He received an MBA degree from UCLA Business School in 1993. In 1995 his passion for photography rekindled, and since then he has traveled worldwide extensively, photographing what he finds intriguing at that moment and place. In 2000 he closed the production company in order to devote himself entirely to the art and became a full time photographer.

His work has been published around the world, and has been exhibited in many galleries across the United States and Japan.

Awards

1973 Advertising Photographers Association, Japan
1978 Los Angeles Times
1996 Western Art Directors Club
2000 Advertising Photographers of America, Los Angeles
2000 London Photographic Awards
2001 Advertising Photographers of America, Los Angeles
2002 Print Center
2002 Center for Photographic Art
2002 Photo Review
2003 International Photography Awards
2003 Photo Review
2003 Advertising Photographers of America, Los Angeles
2004 Black & White Spider Awards
2005 Photo Review
2005 Black & White Spider Awards
2006 Photolucida Critical Mass Book Award
2007 Photo City Sagamihara Awards
2008 Center Project competition First Prize

Collections

His work is in the permanent collections of following museums:

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Santa Monica Pier 2000

Houston Museum of Fine Arts
Ellis Island 2, New York 1999
White Terns, Midway Atoll 1999
El Arbolito Park, Quito, Ecuador 2002
Patient ES, Schizophrenia, San Lazaro Psychiatric Hospital 2002
Chikako Suga, Matsuo Kabuki 2003
Yuki Nonaka, Matsuo Kabuki 2003
Musume's Head, Ena Bunraku 2004
Yoroboshi, Naito Clan 2004

George Eastman House
Vietnam War Memorial, Washington D.C. 1999
Church, San Lazaro Psychiatric Hospital 2002

Santa Barbara Museum of Art
El Arbolito Park, Quito, Ecuador. 2002
Vietnam War Memorial, Washington D.C. 1999
Edison Pastillo, Ecuador. 2000