Buto and the burden of history: Hijikata Tatsumi and nihonjin

Bruce Baird, University of Pennsylvania


The performance art form butô (butoh) that was born from the political and cultural maelstrom that swept Japan in the 1960's has confounded observers everywhere. Hijikata Tatsumi, the founder of butô, experienced an analogous personal maelstrom as a transplant from rural north-eastern Japan (Tohoku) to the re-energized Tokyo of the 1950's. The crux of my argument is that a performance art form that is often seen as mysterious gains that enigmatic quality by its location at the cross-roads of several philosophical, artistic, and political debates. These include a renewed focus on the body, new theories of subjectivity and selfhood, a re-evaluation of (personal) experience, explorations into pain (as well as violence and sacrifice), attempts to contest social mores, questions about the nature of gender, forays into new kinds of actor training, a re-evaluation of the actor vis-à-vis the audience and choreographer with a concomitant de-emphasis of expression, a renewed interest in surrealism, a phenomenological exploration into the properties of things and objet, worries about the extent of socialization and the strength of epistemic structures, a focus on the differential between the metropolis and the periphery, attempts to construct an effective political discourse in the face of failed student protests, and attempts to contest the exoticizing attitudes of the West. As Hijikata negotiated this laundry list of concerns, he formulated a style of dance that responded to each of them in a unique (and sometimes contradictory) way. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Asian|Dance|Theater

Recommended Citation

Baird, Bruce, "Buto and the burden of history: Hijikata Tatsumi and nihonjin" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3165637.