"BAKERU" Project

Encountering BAKERU around the World in Los Angeles Part I

A long time ago, when the world was much simpler than now, we were surrounded by the sacred and the dignified. People of the past prayed and showed gratitude for those things—acts that evolved into what we call tradition and culture. An act of bakeru (transformation) that constitutes an important part of local performing arts can also be seen as a form of prayer or showing gratitude.

The installation work BAKERU, in which one can experience that transformation on screen using a mask, is a new expression produced by learning from such local performing arts traditions in Tohoku. It is an embodiment of our hope that the value of tradition will be passed down to future generations.

This BAKERU from Tohoku has come out of Japan to meet BAKERU from other parts of the world.

Things that have been passed down for generations contain rich worldviews, such as tradition, techniques, and the culture itself. What kind of worldview of BAKERU exists in other parts of the world? What do we have in common? In conjunction with BAKERU: Transforming Spirits held by JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles, we filmed and produced this work—a collaboration of Tokyo Shishi Odori and Aaron ten Bears from the Native American Lakota tribe.


Aaron ten Bears

Musician, actor, traditional dancer, and model Aaron ten Bears is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, raised in Oklahoma. He conducts presentations of traditional northern dance and educational programs at pow wows across the country. To accept his own traditional culture, his approach has been active, working on the Lakota language, philosophy, ceremonies, and dance, among others.


Founded in June 2013 by a person from the Maikawa district, Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture who lives in the Tokyo area, and those who believe in the potential of local performing arts tradition. They perform Shishi Odori, a local performing art that has been performed for 300 years in contemporary Tokyo, an enormous international city.

Asking questions about BAKERU in other parts of the world

We asked question to Aaron ten Bears, who collaborated with Tokyo Shishi Odori, about what BAKERU means to the Lakota tribe.

—What’s the significance of transformation by wearing paint and regalia?

To Lakota people, putting on our regalia and using paint is a very sacred process. This process of “transformation” is very spiritual and is directly indicative to “who we are” as traditional native people.

—Can you tell us a bit more about the use of paint?

The use of paint (face, body, etc.) is a reflection of each warrior’s personal “medicine.” Our belief/philosophy is that as long as you adhere to your personal medicine, it will carry you through… Using paint allows us to channel our personal “power.”

—What is the significance of paint on the face, especially elements like red and white?

My paint/medicine hails from a great many sacred things. What I can share is the red band around my eyes denotes perseverance, endurance and wisdom. The white lightning that comes from my eyes represents intellect, life and the power and respect for Wakinyan (Spirits of the air). Additionally, the white hails spots are a protection.

Continue to the Encountering BAKERU around the World in Los Angeles Part II