(in order of sessions)

Peter Eckersall

Decentered and slow: dramaturgies of nonplace in the work of Okada Toshiki

Decentering performance is way of undermining its certainties and rethinking the relationship between performance and the production of culture.  Japan’s modern and contemporary theatre genres, including shingeki and angura, are examples of decentered performance where established conventions can be overthrown, and new avant-garde forms emerge.  In this way, the idea of decentering Japanese performance is at the heart of Japanese theatre in the last 120 years.  Decentering is also a movement towards dissipation; it refers not only to the vectors and movements in modern Japanese theatre history, cultural regionality, and/or innovations in/or rejection of theatrical forms.  It is a movement away from a point of activation and something that might be understood as ripples and emanations that flow out and between things.  In such a situation, hierarchies of meaning and a sense of what theatre is can be upended.  In one sense, such upheavals are discussed in relation to the theory of postdramatic theatre (Lehmann 2006); a way of making theatre that decenters the central place of the dramatic form and leads to the rise of performance as hybrid dramaturgical assemblages.  Postdramatic theatre has strong affordances with the contemporary Japanese theatre movement, that can draw from theatre traditions such as noh and classical Japanese aesthetics more broadly and is already predisposed to corporeal dramaturgy, liminal fictive worlds, and suggestion.  However, in thinking about the idea of decentering itself, are there important and distinctive contexts for this idea that arise in discourses of Japanese performance and, if so, how, and to what ends?  Is a decentered Japanese performance a sign of something wider?

In considering these questions, I will explore how decenteredness is discussed in some wider Japanese forums – principally a 2010 issue of the journal Review of Japanese Culture and Society on the theme of ‘Decentering Theory: Reconsidering the History of Japanese Film Theory’ (see: Gerow 2010).  I will then consider the term’s application to the slow dramaturgy and ecological perspectives of Okada Toshiki’s recent work Eraser Mountain (2019) made in collaboration with the sculptor Kaneuji Teppei. 

Barbara Gilhorn

Cultural exchange between Tōhoku and the urban centers – The triple disaster as a
trigger of cultural decentralization

Boasting a wide range of unique folk performing arts, local variants of classical theater such as Kurokawa Noh or providing the inspiration for the creation of Butoh as a new form of dance, the northern prefectures of Japan have been central to the development of the country’s theatre scene. Although the exchange between the regions and the cultural hubs is not a new phenomenon, research and public attention has long been absorbed by the capital’s cultural scene. Focusing on the area most directly afflicted by the triple disaster, my paper will argue that “Fukushima” has triggered a growing interest in the issues of the region and its arts. Artists from Tōhoku received growing attention for their work addressing the calamity and its aftermath. Theater makers from the big urban centers were rushing to Tōhoku to do research and transmit first-hand knowledge to their audiences at home. Playwrights and directors traveled to the stricken areas to produce art that gives local citizens and their issues a voice. Based on representative examples addressing the Fukushima disaster, my paper will analyze various levels of cultural exchange between Northeastern Japan and the urban centers. I will scrutinize, how these works reflect on the mutual dependency between the capital and the regions and challenge the strong focus on the capital’s cultural scene.

Kyoko Iwaki

Hesitant Japan: Queering Relationalities in Theater der Welt 2023

Legibility together with visibility are two of the many contested terms in Queer Studies, as by doing so, the subject, indeed, becomes an understandable entity, but also, perhaps unwillingly, becomes an agent that submits to the centralizing logic of modern liberal humanism. In order to counter this centripetal force and avoid becoming a supplementary narrative of the West, Hentyle Yapp calls to resort to the ‘logics of the minor,’ which helps us ‘hesitate’ – pause, for a moment – and not immediately be enfolded in the normative discursivities (Yapp 2021, 4-5). Using this queer framework of the ‘minor’ as a dramaturgical methodology, this paper question how, in theatre and performances, narratives and dramaturgies of Japanese artists have shifted from the major to the minor; visuality to fugitivity; and from the willingness to be centralized to maintaining the peripheral positioning. And beneath all these shifts, I argue that there lies an underlying ‘hesitance’ to enter the centre of hegemonic artworld, though in different tonalities: hesitance coming from inferiority fearing failure (Umesao 1974, 31) and hesitance of performing legible ‘success’ (Halberstam 2011, 3). To deliver the argument though comparative analysis, I will refer to two different renditions of the Theater der Welt festival both presented in Frankfurt-am-main: the 1985 edition where artists such as Suzuki Tadashi were invited, and, the upcoming 2023 edition realized by two Japanese programmers including myself. How can hesitance be used as a dramaturgical tool to address those subtle issues beyond the legible and the visible, and how can the hesitant dramaturgy become a political action to queer Japan?  

Jyana S. Browne

Puppetry Networks of the Seto Inland Sea

Most writing on Japanese puppet theatre positions Osaka as the center of Japanese puppetry due to the presence of the major puppet theatres during the eighteenth century and the National Bunraku Theatre today. This focus on Osaka has obscured the importance of the Seto Inland Sea region as a site of the development of puppetry in the early modern period and of the maintenance of puppetry traditions from the postwar period through the present day. Beginning in the early modern era, the Seto Inland Sea fostered puppetry through its regional trade networks that connected Shikoku, Awaji, and the smaller islands of the Seto Inland Sea. Artists, performance techniques, and puppets circulated between the islands with Awaji and Tokushima in Shikoku as centers that enabled smaller islands, such as Naoshima, to develop traditions of their own. The puppetry of the Seto Inland Sea region differed from the form then practiced in Osaka and played a large role in rituals, festivals, and community life in contrast to Osaka’s primarily commercial puppet theatres. Despite the differences in audiences and practices, Osaka was knit into the puppetry networks of the Seto Inland Sea through its position as a port on Osaka Bay, which connected it to sea trade with Awaji and other points in western Japan. When the commercial puppet theatres in Osaka failed in the late eighteenth century, Osaka’s tradition vanished. In the nineteenth century, Uemura Bunrakuken, a chanter from Awaji, came to Osaka to establish the training school and a new puppet theatre and thus re-established the puppetry tradition in Osaka. In this paper, I trace the puppetry networks of the Seto Inland Sea to demonstrate how this regional hub included and extended beyond Osaka during the early modern and modern periods.

Marié Abe

From Gendered Labor to Dances for the Dead: Social Life of Tankō Bushi

Bon-odori, popular folk dance that syncretizes indigenous ancestral worship and Buddhism, has become a backbone of summertime Japanese social life and yet remains relatively understudied. This paper tracks the social life of the most quintessential bon-odori song, Tankō Bushi, as it transposed from a popular urban song to a party tune at a geisha establishment, a women’s labor song, a regional ancestral ritual dance, and into a nationally beloved bon odori song during the first half of the 20th century—as it became entangled with histories of both the Japanese and US imperialisms. Further, by examining the circuitous route through which the tune further ensnares other modes of expressions to become a platform for the post 3-11 antinuclear movement, for an expression of Japanese Hawai’ian diasporic subjectivity, and for an imagined affective alliance between Japan and Latin America in 2020s, I call for an understanding of the ubiquitous bon-odori as embodied and dynamic assemblage of multiple histories, political aspirations, and transnational imaginaries.

Michelle Liu Carriger

Shigai no Sankyo: Decentering Kyoto in Tea Discourse

Contemporary practices of Japanese Tea (chadō, chanoyu, “tea ceremony”) face a fundamental difficulty in balancing a traditional emphasis on Kyoto as the defining center of tea authority with the needs and contributions of many capillary locations of Tea practice. The circulation of influences (not just dissemination of authoritative teaching and artistry from Kyoto to peripheries) becomes even more complex when the international circulation of “Japanese” tea becomes the subject of examination. In this presentation, I begin the process of an accounting for the margins’ influence on the ‘center’ of Tea authority in two major parts. First I will briefly survey the historical precursors that belie Kyoto’s later claim to fame as the capital of Tea (not least the fact that Rikyu, “father” of wabicha, was from 16th century Sakai, not Kyoto). Then I will pivot to the 20th and 21st century issues of transnationally circulating Tea practices and culture, using the precursors to consider more critically the centrality Kyoto (and the three Sen descendent schools) have heretofore held. How does this centralized and homogenized notion of “Japanese tea” as preserved in the iemoto system of training inflect cultural identity, soft power, and Japanese transnational imagery?

Nobuko Anan

Building a Home in Limbo?: Dance Box’s Little Lullabies in Nagata, Kobe

Far from the major theatres in Tokyo or Kyoto, in a working-class district of Nagata, Kobe, is a theatre called Dance Box. While it was originally focused on contemporary dance, it is also hosting a variety of non-dance programs that connect with local migrant communities. The theatre highlights the important role of migrants in the Japanese nation, which is often rendered invisible in the national public sphere.

One example is its recent project, Little Lullabies in Nagata, Kobe (2021-2022). The team of Yokobori Fumi (Programme Director of Dance Box), Tsutsui Jun (playwright), and Miura Mana (graduate student of arts) asked locals of Nagata with various roots—Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Amami Islands, the Philippines, and Korea—to sing lullabies and record their singing. The team published a picture book based on their memories of these lullabies with a QR code which allowed the readers to easily listen to the recordings.  On one hand, this project may evoke an idealized lost home with their mother(land)’s singing still in their memories. But also as lullabies are mostly sung to loved ones, they remind us of the care that we received or gave to others—lullabies embrace the existence of the others. I will explore this project as an attempt to respond to the neglect and isolation experienced by migrant communities through the work of care.

Angela K. Ahlgren

“You Took a Part of Me”: Karole Armitage, Megumi Eda, and Drastic Japanese Classicism in New York

Known as the “punk ballerina” when she began choreographing in the 1980s, Karole Armitage has spent four decades de-stabilizing notions of “the classical” in dance across a wide-ranging oeuvre that includes choreography for opera, Broadway, and music videos, as well as the concert stage. Parts of her repertoire, not unlike her mid-century modern and postmodern predecessors, meld her earlier punk-tinged ballet choreographies with Asian forms and aesthetics. For her 2019 Noh-inspired work, You Took a Part of Me, Armitage adapted the 15th century play, Nonomiya, for the contemporary ballet-modern stage. The work was first presented at the Japan Society with minimalist staging and evocative choreography. I take this production as a jumping-off point through which to explore several related issues. First, I examine the history of presenters, discourses, and artists who have made New York a center for Japanese performance in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Second, I offer Armitage’s work as a rich site of inquiry that highlights a long trajectory of Orientalist tendencies in US American dance without, I hope, resorting to a binary framework of good and bad forms of appropriation. Finally, I attempt to complicate the appropriation binary by exploring in detail the collaborative nature of this choreography. Here, I center Armitage’s long-standing work with Japanese dancer Megumi Eda, among others. This presentation brings together archival materials, choreographic analysis, and feminist and Asian Americanist dance and performance studies frameworks to better understand the routes and bodies through which Japanese performance moves in New York. 

Katherine Saltzman-Li

Where’s the Center?: Center and Periphery in Edo-period Kabuki

The aim of this workshop is to revisit the relational position of center and periphery in various forms of Japanese performing arts and to reconsider exchanges between the central cultural hubs of Tokyo and Kyoto and regions of practice outside these two major urban centers. The center and periphery binary usually sets up an idea of centers standing independently with varying degrees of patronage or interest towards what they spawn. I examine Edo-period kabuki, where scholarship has indeed given us a view of primary centers of formative and representative activity – Edo and Kyoto/Osaka – from which all practices and new developments emanated. In spite of there being two such major urban centers, the center/periphery binary still operates in these studies. Most obviously, scholars discuss play material, acting styles, and production practices, to name a few elements, according to the “softer” Kansai or the “wilder” Edo approaches.

What if we loosen the grip of this picture? What if we expand our application of the relatively-fixed idea of center and periphery to centers and peripheries and explore the creative possibilities from cross-pollination among the various and mutable domains affecting production? Could this bring us closer to an understanding of this popular art in its time? I argue that we must see the dynamism of Edo-period kabuki not simply as a reflection of the characteristics and spirit of each major urban area, each in its own orbit though with occasional appearances of actors from the “other” center that could infuse something new, but rather as a product of intersecting centers of various kinds: spatial, cultural, formal.

Rosemary Candelario

Jinen Butoh: Entering the Flow of the Universe

Butoh, an avant-garde dance form that developed in Japan in the 1960s and has since spread around the world, is fundamentally about the transformation of the dancing body into something else: a tree, an animal, a mythic creature.. This is a fundamental ecological skill: to be willing to let go of who we are as human individuals in order to ensure collective survival of the more-than-human world. This paper, a draft of a chapter from my book project, Butoh Ecologies: Dancing with Nature as Embodied Ecological Praxis, focuses on the work of Atsushi Takenouchi, an early member of Hoppo Butoh-ha (“Northern Butoh School”). Takenouchi calls his butoh, “Jinen,” an old Japanese word that refers to the unity of nature, humans, and the divine. This paper draws on critical environmental and ecologial theories as well as indigenous philosophies to analyze Jinen Butoh’s largely Europe-based workshops, which draw on seasonal and elemental imagery and the direct experience of nature to produce solo work that is both deeply personal and aimed at universal connection. In this, Takenouchi’s connection not only to Tatsumi Hijikata’s Tohoku-based imagery, but also to Kazuo Ohno and his ideas of a universal “Nature” with connections to the human soul and cycles of birth, life, and death, make his outdoor butoh work unique.

Eun Young Seong

Freedom to Reimagine: The Heroine’s Death in the 1948 Opera Chun Hiang

In 1946, shortly after the end of Japanese colonial rule, Zainichi Koreans commissioned the Japanese composer Takagi Tōroku (1904-2006) to write music for an English-language opera based on the popular Korean folktale Ch’unhyangjŏn. Two years later, on November 20, 1948, the Fujiwara Opera Company staged Chun Hiang, the first opera composed by a Japanese composer in postwar Japan, in Tokyo. Despite its successful staging of the Japanese-language version in Tokyo and Osaka from 1948 to 1949, Chun Hiang was not performed again until 2002. Furthermore, the English-language version has never been staged to this day.

Examining the historical context in which Chun Hiang was produced bilingually, in English and Japanese, I show Zainichi Koreans’ intention to present the Korean folktale Ch’unhyangjŏn internationally. I argue that the astonishing change from the original story’s happy ending to a stark portrayal of the heroine’s death reflects a strong sense of freedom which allowed Zainichi Koreans to imagine themselves beyond the limited sphere of Japan and Korea. Contextualizing the production process offers nuanced understandings of interactions between Japanese artists and Zainichi Koreans in the late 1940s.

Mariko Okada

Reinforcing Tokyo Discourse: Female Dancers from the Countryside who Led New Dance Movements in Japan

They were three female dancers from outside of Tokyo who energetically promoted the theatrical movement, “New Dance Movement (新舞踊運動)” in the early 20th century. Tsubouchi Shōyō, a well-known theater scholar, theoretically lead this current. Three dancers tried to embody his discourse. They emerged suddenly in the male-dominated Japanese theatrical society and succeeded in gaining fame. Several prominent artists collaborated with them, writing the text, creating the music, and providing the stage arts and costumes. The novelty of their work remains in the spotlight today.

Can this fact be regarded as an example of shifting the center of Japanese theatrical performance? This movement undoubtedly transformed Japanese dance; More precisely, Japanese dance has become an independent art form through the current.

The achievements of these three female dancers are undeniable. However, can it be said that being female and from outside of Tokyo brought about a change in the urban, male-centered world of the Japanese performing arts?

Their position is the issue to consider. Why did the three respond to Tsubouchi’s argument? How was he perceived by the theatre community back then? The new dance movement developed along with the strengthening of the nation-state system. The three women were on the stage for the commemorative ceremony for the 2600th anniversary of founding the Emperor’s Japan. Through this process, it could be said that these women embodied the central narratives in a very radical manner rather than the marginal discourse.