Get to know how Argentine tango arrived in Japan.
Samurais, kamikazes, shodo, giri, yamato-e, haniwa, sushi, ramen, sake, kimonos, taikos, koto, pagodas, manga, maneki-neko, Hokusai, Babana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata, Akira Kurosawa, Toyota, Nintendo, Canon, Yen, origamis, sumo and tango. Tango? Keep on reading…
“He who has art can go anywhere” says an old Japanese proverb that recalls when samurais retired and continue to sing in order to sustain themselves.
This Japanese proverb seems to be the life motto that Baron Tsunayuoshi Tsunami Megata inherited from his samurai grandparent Kaishu Katsu, a noble Japanese warrior. Megata had a secret talent for tango for several years, a talent as a raw diamond that has not been sculpted yet. An unrecognizable and hidden talent for tango that had never been danced, neither by him nor his country.
However, in 1920 Megata traveled to Paris to get plastic surgery done. The somewhat vain Japanese felt uncomfortable with his face features, which he found gloomy and ordinary. And so, he landed on the World-known capital around those years. The great urban and cosmopolitan culture.
That marvelous and overwhelming City of Lights where you could find artists like Picasso, Miró, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Faulkner walking on the meanders of the Senna river. This metropolis that in Hemingway ́s words: “… Always gives something in exchange for what you leave there”. And this was Megata ́s case that, among other artistic streams, found himself face to face with tango that already inhabited Paris; he felt so overwhelmed that he wanted to take it with him.
The samurai’s grandson fell in love with the milonga art in Paris after his encounter with it in the cabaret El Garrón, where Manuel Pizarro ́s orchestra performed. While he was there, he forgot all about plastic surgeries, he even forgot Paris. Megata immersed himself in tango and he dedicated himself to practice this dance until he became an excellent dancer. The first in his lineage, a pioneer in his country.
What started out as a “touch and go” trip became 6 years stay. The Japanese returned to his country in 1926 filled with tango discs and the firm purpose to replicate this art in his homeland. Following this goal, he opened a free tango academy in Tokyo in which he begun to teach how to dance the Argentinian music to the Aristocratic Society of the time.
The response of the Japanese audience was an unexpected success. On the other side of the planet, in Argentina people were talking about bandoneons, cortes, quebradas, orchestras and of a guy named Carlos Gardel. Japanese television broadcasted tango shows and libraries were selling “A method to dance Argentinian tango”, a guide made by Megata so that people could learn authentic tango.
The deed was done. Tango had landed and shared in Japan by Megata. Tango had arrived to Asia in order to stay.
As years went by, fanaticism became more intense. Japanese tango singers were being born such as Ranko Fujisawa. Alongside, orchestras from the Rio de la Plata as the one of Juan Canaro and Osvaldo Pugliese, landed on the island to expose tango in its purest form.
Tango became a Japanese matter. Like sumo and aikido, milonga was being practiced in workshops, academies and even contests. This strong relationship awarded Japan with three World Tango Championship recognition that took place in Buenos Aires in 2009, 2010 and 2017.
Megata died in 1968 leaving behind an unmeasurable tango legacy in his country. As a sign of gratitude towards Baron Megata ́s history, Luis Alposta composed the lyrics to the song “A lo Megata” in 1981. The lyrics to which Edmundo Rivero would later add music to become a beautiful tango tribute to the samurai ́s grandson.
At the end, we are not sure if Japanese adopted tango or tango adopted them first.
Videos: Edmundo Rivero singing “A lo Megata” // The Japanesse Anna Saeki singing “Caminito”.