The Expanding Universe of Butoh

The challenge of Bishop Yamada in Hoppo Butoh-ha and Shiokubi (1975)

Authored by: Kosuge Hayato

The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138691094
eBook ISBN: 9781315536132
Adobe ISBN:


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Letting himself be seduced by the report of a performance by Bishop Yamada, the poet Yoshioka Minoru, “thoughtlessly” got on a train in Tokyo that was bound for Tsuruoka in the Shonai area on October 10, 1975. Only the critic Ichikawa Miyabi travelled with him on the train. However, when they reached their destination, many butoh admirers, including Amazawa Taijiro, Matsuyama Shuntaro, Nakanishi Natsuyuki, and Ikeda Tatsuo gathered in a large granary at the foot of Dewa Sanzan (a range of three mountains: Gassan, Haguro, and Yudono), which is considered one of Japan’s most sacred places, a place where the gods dwell. Their purpose was to watch the inaugural performance of the Hoppo Butoh-ha (Hoppo Butoh School) – a work entitled Shiokubi. The granary being used as an auditorium was full of enthusiasts from all over the country, as well as local people. Later, Yoshioka remembered:

I was fighting starvation and cold with rice balls made by the performance staff. But the party afterwards was charged with an atmosphere of excitement. A dancer was singing on a table where a young woman was kicking sake bottles and dishes. It was certainly a memorable night in the history of butoh. A turkey was huddled in the shadows, as if in a dreary washing place.

Yoshioka 1987, 87 Many young audience members slept bundled together after the performance and went home at daybreak. The image of ill-prepared Tokyo artists and intellectuals enjoying a performance in rural Japan, but fighting off hunger and then huddling together to ward off the chill of a northern autumn night encapsulates so many of the tensions that were at work between urban and rural Japan (and at work in butoh itself) in the 1960s and 1970s. Using the performer Bishop Yamada and his group Hoppo Butoh-ha as a lens, the chapter will look at the tension between the urban and the rural in butoh.

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