KAWASAKI — The Tokyo Games wowed the world last year, even without spectators, and organizers pulled off the spectacle amid the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone is now looking ahead to the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics. Break dancing has been added to the 2024 Games, and preparations for the new competitive event, called “breaking,” are underway in Kawasaki, a city known as a mecca for break-dancers.
A place to connect
Three young people were practicing their break dancing moves in front of JR Musashi-Mizonokuchi Station in Kawasaki shortly after 10 p.m. on Aug. 5. Sweat was dripping from their foreheads. Large glass windows near the ticket gate served as a mirror.
One of them, a 28-year-old local company employee, said, “I’m able to meet people here and make connections.”
He moved to Kawasaki from Aichi Prefecture four years ago to improve his dancing skills. He break-dances with friends in front of the station two or three days a week after work, practicing until almost the last train departs.
“I like being in an environment where people can see me,” he said, adding that he is always careful about his movements and the volume of the music so as not to disturb other people.
The area in front of the station was redeveloped in the late 1990s and started attracting young people, including break-dancers, because it has a sprawling open space, large glass windows and an awning that keeps people dry when it rains.
Katsuyuki Ishikawa, 41, a Kawasaki native who heads the Japan DanceSport Federation’s break dancing division, joined the circle of dancers here when he was a university student. That’s when he begin break-dancing in earnest.
Although break dancing is a sport and international competitions have been held since the early 1990s, it once had a negative image as the style is said to have been invented by gangs in the United States that used it as a means of settling disputes and break-dancers would perform in a group in the streets accompanied by loud music.
To gain public understanding, Ishikawa and the other dancers submitted to the train station and neighborhood police station a list of those who practice in the space, including their names, occupations and contact information.
The break-dancers also submitted a written proposal to the local ward office asking for its understanding of their activities. In addition, they have worked to increase public recognition such as by participating in local festivals.
Ishikawa won a world championship in 2005 and other dancers have become active and known, which have increased public understanding.
In 2018, Kawasaki collaborated with the federation to host the World Youth Breaking Championship. The city also incorporated break dancing in its basic urban planning policy formulated that year and started holding break dancing events.
Nowadays, Mizonokuchi is a place known among break-dancers not only in Japan but overseas, too.
Word is that a British official inspecting Tokyo Games pre-training camp sites for the national team wanted to visit Mizonokuchi.
Ami Yuasa and Shigeyuki Nakarai are based in Kawasaki. Yuasa, 23, won a gold medal at the World Games held in the United States in July, while Nakarai, 20, earned a bronze. Both moved to the city from Saitama and Osaka prefectures, respectively, to practice more seriously.
Aiming for gold
The federation’s break dancing division has about 1,000 registered athletes. As the number of participants in competitions continues to increase, the actual number of competitive break-dancers is likely higher.
Japanese athletes won medals in new Olympic sports such as surfing and skateboarding at the Tokyo Games, influencing a new generation to take up those activities.
“Break dancing athletes were inspired by the Tokyo Games,” Ishikawa said. “I’ll help the Kawasaki dancers to win gold medals in Paris.”