The University of Iowa

Michael Sakamoto Japan Foundation Travel Grant - Final Report

Thank you very much to the Japan Foundation and the UI Center for Asian and Pacific Studies for granting me the opportunity to do fieldwork in Japan in December 2016-January 2017. The funds enabled me to do further research for multiple interdisciplinary scholarly-creative research projects. Below is a summary of each of my many research activities over an 18-day period, December 16, 2016 to January 2, 2017.

Nagasaki –

I spent a day in Nagasaki visiting the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, A-bomb memorial sites, and the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum. I had visited the Hiroshima A-bomb museum and memorial sites on earlier trips, and I had wanted to compare both the modes of presentation of the public discourse around the bomb as well as how the public interacts with the sites. The Nagasaki Museum is a bit smaller in size and impressed me as having been designed with a more solemn atmosphere than the Hiroshima museum, which has more public activity facilities and caters to a broad international public. The main bomb memorial hall, most specifically, was quite solemn yet also designed as a public art installation with the names of all the deceased sculpturally encased. This allowed me to reflect more deeply upon the ways in which international public discourse around the bomb has been aestheticized, which speaks directly to the way in which butoh dance discourse has been aestheticized in the same manner on the assumption that the art form echoes the bombing. This experience, combined with current academic writing on the ways in which butoh has been perceived and exotified in the West, can contribute to my own writing on the subject.

Takachiho –

I spent a day touring and photographing in the pilgrimage site of Takachiho (in Kyushu), where the mythical cave of the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu is located. I observed how discourse around the myth is marketed to domestic tourists at the mountain/cave site, at area temples, and in area businesses that cater to the tourist market (e.g. restaurants, souvenir shops, entertainment venues, hotels). I also attended a tourist-oriented, kagura ritual dance performance, observing an example of how a traditional spirit ceremony is commodified for a commercial market.

Kyoto –

I spent three days in Kyoto exploring the contemporary dance scene, attending three nights of diverse performances at UrbanGuild, a popular contemporary performance venue, and Butoh-kan, a new venue dedicated specifically to butoh performance. I interviewed Ima Tenko, a third-generation female butoh dancer who performs regularly at both venues and who gifted me with photobooks, programs, and performance DVDs for use in my ongoing butoh research. Ima-san was especially informative on the topic of diverse cultural embodiments in early butoh, as the company in which she began as a young dancer, Byakko-sha, was the first butoh group to be inspired by Southern Japanese and Southeast Asian corporeal imagery instead of the more standardized northern Japanese/Tohoku style.

Hosoe Eikoh –

In Tokyo, I spent many hours visiting the photo studio and offices of seminal Japanese photographer Hosoe Eikoh, who collaborated closely with both butoh founders, Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. The photo essay, Kamaitachi, created in the mid-1960s by Hosoe and Hijikata, is a seminal visual touchstone of butoh identity for most butoh practitioners in Japan and globally, and I am developing a chapter about it in my book monograph on butoh for Wesleyan University Press. The interview, thus, focused primarily on Hosoe’s inspiration for the work as well as his approach to working with a range of butoh artists.

Hijikata Tatsumi Archive –

Also in Tokyo, I spent two days researching at the Hijikata Tatsumi Archive at Keio University, the premiere repository of butoh-related materials, including thousands of photos from the 1950s to the present. I researched many hundreds of photos that I may request permission for usage in my monograph.

While at the Archive, I also viewed rare butoh performance films and videos from the 1960s through 1980s as general research on butoh corporeality and especially Hijikata’s choreographic aesthetic.

Ohno Yoshito–

In Yokohama, I spent an entire day with first-generation butoh dancer, Ohno Yoshito, son of butoh co-founder Ohno Kazuo and the only remaining living dancer who performed in what is considered the first butoh performance, Kinjiki (1959). Yoshito-sensei gave me a three-hour private lesson, followed by an extended photo shoot of him in multiple locations.

Tashiro/Ugo-Machi –

I spent three days in the village of Tashiro in the township of Ugo-Machi in Akita Prefecture, the location where most of the photos from Kamaitachi were taken as well as the rural home of Hijikata’s paternal family line from the late 1800s through the present. With the assistance of numerous local residents, I found many of Hosoe and Hijkata’s original shooting sites and initiated a photo series of my own, echoing contemporary traces of the original photos in modern-day Tashiro as well as through my own Japanese-American, performative body (working title: My Kamaitachi). I also visited and documented the brand new Kamaitachi Museum of Art, a small venue dedicated to the artwork in the center of the village.

Akita-shi –

I spent a day visiting Akita City. I had dinner and networked with Yoneyama Nobuko, Hijikata’s niece who produces butoh-related events throughout Akita Prefecture. I also visited the Yoneyama family gravesite, where Hijikata’s parents’ ashes are buried, and toured an extremely comprehensive exhibition of photos throughout Northern Japan by the famous Japanese photographer, Kimura Ihei, who captured traditional rural culture in the region from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Tokyo –

In Tokyo, during the last days of the trip, I photographed more material for the My Kamaitachi project as well as networked with contemporary butoh artist, Ishimoto Kae, who is the only English-speaking teacher of the Hijikata choreographic method.