Monthly Archives: July 2009


The Great Buddha of Kamakura, photo by JBGOn Monday July 20, I went to Kamakura, which was the capital city of Japan between 1192 and 1333. It is a religious hub with 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines. We hiked from temple to shrine and saw many but not all of them. Ginger and I were guided by our new friend Hiromi who is charming and lots of fun.

We visited the Great Buddha (32 feet high) at Kotokuin Temple. He is seated out-doors because in the 13th century a tidal wave washed away the massive temple structure that used to house him. He remains unmoved and most impressive.

Hase Kannon Temple is home to the famous 11-headed gilt statue of KannonStatue female diety, Kamakura, photo by JBG (29 feet tall). The many faces of the goddess symbolize various stages of enlightenment and she is a carved from the trunk of a giant camphor tree. WOW!

Julie With Fox, Kamakura, photo by JBGOne of my favorite shrines, paid tribute to foxes (inari) with thousands of the little buggers everywhere. It was charming!

Vampire Diety, Kamakura, photo by JBGI had a delicious, very Japanese lunch of soba noodles covered with a lovely pile of delicately arranged vegetables (I couldn’t tell you what most of them were).  We enjoyed a delicious cup of macha (thick green tea) and elegant sweet bean paste treats about mid-afternoon then on to the money laundering, I mean “washing” shrine , where you wash your money in the sacred stream and pray for it to bring you wealth. Hope it works!

The most magical part of the day happened after dark when we visited the largest shrine. There was an enormous lake filled with giant lotus, with leaves as broad as my torso and head-sized flowers of pink and white.  I took some photos but they are not very good. We had a lovely encounter with an 80 year-old man who spoke English and told us about the history of Kamakura, the shogun and women samurais. He included some fascinating and sometimes gory details the history books leave out. What a fabulous day in Japan!Hiromi With Paper Crane Chains, Kamakura, photo by JBG

New Digs

Entrancee to Kazuko Asaba's House, photo by jbgI have found a new place to stay. Ginger Krebs, my friend from Chicago who is also here dancing and checking out Japanese culture is rooming with me.
Kanazawa-bunko Temple, photo by JBGWe are staying in the home of Kazuko Asaba, a lovely, new-age, world-travelled artist. I feel right at home; it’s just like Asheville and only a 10-minute walk to the beach. Kazuko’s home is in an area called Kanazawa-bunko. It is named for the oldest library in Japan which is here. There is also a very picturesque 750 year-old temple (seen here) practically in our back yard. It is much cheaper, bigger, and “cooler” than our hostel in Yokohama.

Last night Yoshito took us to a jazz concert plus we had back-stage passes and met the musicians. It was really good music and a lot of fun.  The Japanese are very well-behaved at concerts unlike most of us Americans. Afterwards we ate at an Italian restaurant with a Japanese flair–pasta with seaweed. . . ?

Workshops and Classes

So far I have taken most of my classes with Yoshito Ohno and Natsu Nakajima. By meeting people in these workshops, I have found out about other classes and performances around Tokyo.  Even though I get most of my information via translations from bilingual students, I feel I am gaining some valuable information that I can work on for years. But I am sure much is lost because of the language barrier.

I took class with a Sankai Juku dancer that seemed like Martha Graham gone butoh; I probably will not go back to that one. But I did take a class with Seisaku, who studied with Yukio Waguri and is an excellent teacher.  His work is based on emptiness in the body, not images, and a new way of defining space. The first half of the class is a thorough physical warm-up conducted by Yuri, a modern /ballet trained dancer who has been drawn to butoh.

Natsu’s classes start with Noguchi Seitai, exercizes using massage, breathing techniques, and physical training. In her creative work she encourages use of dance elements (space, time and energy) as well as blending abstract dance movement with theatre actions.  She claims that Hijikata believed that butoh was pure theatre.

Yoshito’s classes involve no warm-up, so I have to arrive early to get these old bones moving. His style is warm, generous, and encouraging filled with imagistic suggestions which are quite poetic and inspiring. He often quotes and imitates both Hijikata and Kazuo and modestly refers to himself as shadow or frame. Though in his 70’s, he is still a vibrant force, touring the world, performing and teaching.

After all classes there is social time. Yoshito always serves tea or wine and snacks. Often everyone goes out for drinks and delicious Japanese food served family style. I love this country, its customs, and most of all its people!

Meeting Kazuo Ohno & Dinner With Yoshito

On Saturday night after class I was fortunate to visit Kazuo Ohno in his bed. He woke up when we came into his room, then dozed, then woke again while we were there. I held his beautiful hands and in my exitement blurted out many silly things . . . “honor to meet you. . . . waited for this moment for 12 years . . . thrilling to touch your lovely, expressive hands . . . so much admiration . . .  at this moment fulfilling the ultimate butoh dance . . . thankful to be a witness . . . fulfilling moment in my life . . . and so on.” I am sure he hears this all the time from so many admirers.  Meeting Kazuo Ohno, on his death bed was truly one of the top ten!

On Sunday, my friend Nathan and I went to the Asakusa area where we bought Japanese incense and bathed in a very old, funky onsen (public bath). The water was hot, clean and most refreshing though.

After our baths we went to Ginza to see a performance by a new Japanese dancer friend I met at Yoshito’s class. She was so lovely, possessing a quiet, passionate elegance within the tiny gallery /performance space crowded with 30 or so spectators. Afterwards everyone gathered for wine, beer and snacks –artists, dancers, critics, film producers — a very artsy crowd, many of whom spoke English so I was able to communicate. It seems when artists, no matter what nationality, get together there is great conversation which opens up the potential for creative collaboration.

Yoshito invited Nathan and I to have dinner with him at a famous, old restaurant in Ginza called “Torigin”, named for the chicken dishes they specialize in. The food was delicious and Yoshito and I drank much red wine then staggered to the subway clinging to eachother in order to stand.

Yoshito Ohno

After teaching class, Yoshito, son of butoh founder Kazuo Ohno, often dances with a puppet of Kazuo, to the music of Elvis. It is really a treat!

On Saturday night we danced a requiem for Pina Bausch, avant garde German choreographer and dear friend of the Ohnos, who died on Friday June 26. We danced about strength and delicacy to “Amazing Grace” and “Ave Maria.” There were students from Brazil, Thailand, Israel, Japan and the US. It was quite powerful!

Yoshito with Kazuo puppetKazuo has a generous and warm personality. Because he was in the first ankoku butoh performance when he was 14 he has been present for the entire history of the genre.  His classes are filled with quotes and stories about Hijikata and Kazuo.