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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien


Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Jochi Kioizaka Bldg. 2F
7-1 Kioicho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102-0094, Japan

03 – 3222 5077
03 – 3222 5420



The event is held in English.

Admission is free, registration is required.

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Contemporary Japanese Theatre Workshop

27. Juli 2019

Organizer: Barbara Geilhorn

This workshop investigates recent themes and issues in contemporary Japanese theatre. Themes that will be discussed include regional theatre, theatre and community, the role of the avantgarde and contemporary challenges. We consider some of the urgent issues that Japanese theatre is addressing today. Featuring a mix of presentations by senior scholars and new voices in the field, this workshop is open to everyone interested in theatre in the contemporary world. Presentations are in English.


Tag 1         27. Juli (Samstag)

10:15 A.M.
Welcoming Remarks

Franz Waldenberger, German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo

Barbara Geilhorn, German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo

10:30 A.M.
Butoh and Modern Dance


Barbara Geilhorn, German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo

Performance Community in an Age of Reenactment: Kawaguchi Takao’s About Kazuo Ohno and the Conversation with Ghosts

Peter Eckersall, the Graduate Center, CUNY


This paper considers the development and reception of Kawaguchi Takao’s About Kazuo Ohno: Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces (2013). ‘It suddenly popped into my head,’ Kawaguchi writes, ‘I want to become Kazuo Ohno’ (Kawaguchi, website). Indeed, it is what becoming means that is a central question in this paper. Kawaguchi was not trained in butoh but rather studied mime and is well-known as a contemporary dancer and performance maker. He says that he never saw Ohno perform live and has reconstructed the dances from viewing film and photographic documentation of Ohno’s much loved butoh performances covering the period from the late 1960s to the 1980s.

This paper explores how some of the responses to Kawaguchi’s dramaturgical work for About Kazuo Ohno, which involved much research of media documentation, show a sense of unease about the role that remediation and remaking has come to play in the production and reception of live work. While tactics of remediation are well advanced in contemporary performance, there is also a continuing fascination for the live and the ‘authentic’ presence of liveness.  This is also in the context of how butoh has become something of an international phenomenon. Having drawn from a widely acknowledged influence of German expressionist dance and then, in some circles, exploring expressly Japanese cultural interests, butoh is the most international of Japanese performance genres and is practiced in many national and regional contexts. My aim is not to revisit the arguments in Performance Studies from the late 1990s about liveness but to rather consider the future possibilities for the development of radical art forms such as butoh that emerged in the heady countercultural politics of the 1960s and have grown internationally as aesthetically challenging artforms. While, in this paper, I explore About Kazuo Ohno as a reenactment of butoh, I also aim to highlight how Kawaguchi’s work gives rise to questions about butoh’s interwoven histories, forms and ideas.


Peter Eckersall is Professor of Theatre Studies in the PhD Program in Theatre and Performance at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Department of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne. His research interests include Japanese performance, dramaturgy and theatre and politics. His recent publications include: The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics, co-edited with Helena Grehan (Routledge, 2019), New Media Dramaturgy: Performance, Media and New-materialism, co-authored with Helena Grehan and Ed Scheer, (Palgrave 2017) and Performativity and Event in 1960s Japan: City, Body, Memory (Palgrave 2013).  He has worked as a dramaturg for more than 20 years and is the co-founder of the Not Yet It’s Difficult performance group based in Melbourne.

Learning to Linger: On Memory and Migration in Eiko Otake’s Movement Art

Andrew Eglinton, Konan Women’s University, Kobe


This paper is part of a larger research project, co-conducted with Mika Eglinton, called „Japanese Women on the Move: Migration, Memory and Gender in Contemporary Performance.“ The project draws on in-depth interviews with internationally renowned practitioners from Japan to examine the ways in which women artists negotiate the social, political and psychological changes that occur in the shift from „natal“ to „trans-natal“ lands through their performance practices.

In this paper, I focus on three aspects of migration that figure in the work of New York based movement artist, Eiko Otake. This includes, memories of geisha and playing with the trope of exotic femininity; the idea of the journey as choreography; and the idea of a body that „lingers“ in performance. I piece together segments from a recent interview with Eiko, as well as images and writings from her personal production archive, and texts by dance and performance studies scholars, in order to ask: what insight into the transformative process of migration does Eiko’s performance work provide?

Eiko is an award-winning dancer and choreographer whose passion for dance began at the height of the Tokyo student uprisings in 1968. She first entered the U.S. in 1976 with a dance production called “White Dance,” created with her long-term collaborator, Koma. Since 2014, Eiko has embarked on a period of solo work exploring the relationship between body and place. The project has taken her to cities around the world, including to Fukushima in the wake of the March 11, 2011 earthquake.


Andrew Eglinton is a lecturer in theatre and performance at Konan Women’s University, Kobe, Japan. He is currently working on two research projects, the first on the function of documents in 20th and 21st century performance, and the second on women, migration and memory in modern Japanese performance.

11:30 A.M.
Coffee Break

Theatre and Society


Peter Eckersall, the Graduate Center, CUNY

Tanino Kuro’s Works Reflecting Social Issues in Contemporary Japan

Ken Hagiwara, Meiji University Tokyo


Tanino Kuro (b. 1976), playwright, director, and the leader of his own theatre company Niwagekidan Penino (Garden Theatre Group Penino, 2000-), has been working on unique creations. He presented his works at international festivals in Japan including Festival/Tokyo and World Theatre Festival Shizuoka, and in Europe, Australia and the U.S.

His works are remarkable with extreme, grotesque, surrealistic, but also funny and comical figures and circumstances. Daremo Shiranai Anata no Heya (The Room Nobody Knows, 2012) depicts a 40-year-old man failing entrance exams for decades and his elder brother discussing in a room with extremely low ceiling. Jigokudani Onsen Mumyo no Yado (Hell’s Valley Hot Spring, Inn of Delusion, 2015) shows a puppeteer and his dwarf father in an inn in a rural hot spring site. In addition, the stage sets are full of sur- or hyper-realistic elements, and the acting area for the actors are often very narrow, so that the audience could almost experience the same circumstance as the figures. In this way, Tanino’s direction gives strong visual and spacious impressions.

On the other hand, although often surrealistic and funny, Tanino’s works reflect real and serious social issues in contemporary Japan. The Room Nobody Knows can be interpreted as a critical message on the system of higher education in Japan which puts huge pressure on young Japanese. Hell’s Valley Hot Spring recalls the problems of urban development in prefectures facing rural depopulation.

In fact, Tanino creates his works often based on his own real-life experiences. He was born in a family of psychoanalysts in Toyama prefecture and studied at a medical college in Tokyo in which he established a student theatre company. He then started to work as a psychoanalyst while creating and presenting his works at his atelier in a flat in Shibuya which belonged to his grandmother. Many of Tanino’s works reflect these developments of himself observing his own social circumstances.


Ken Hagiwara ( is professor at the School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University in Tokyo and former research associate of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University in Tokyo. He gives courses on Japanese theatre history and undertakes research on modern and contemporary German and Japanese theatre. His activities include translation and preparation/operation of subtitles for guest performances by companies from German-speaking countries in Japan, and he has worked for Rimini Protokoll, Christoph Marthaler, and Rene Pollesch among others.

An Aesthetics of Relationality – Making Theatre about Dementia Care

Barbara Geilhorn, German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo


In a super-ageing society such as Japan, issues of care-giving and improving the wellbeing of elderly people are becoming increasingly important. In recent years, art works that actively include the elderly or address problems of high age have gained attention. My paper investigates the work of Sugawara Naoki, founder of the theatre group OiBokkeShi and a trained caregiver, who is based in Okayama prefecture in central Japan but has become known to a growing audience around the country. The name (AgeSenilityDeath) points to the key issues of his performances and workshops. Sugawara‘s plays, which feature the 91-year-old Okada Tadao in the lead role, attract a great variety of audiences, among them local citizens and medical staff. Besides writing and staging plays, Sugawara holds workshops on aging and theatre that aim at both improving the wellbeing of people suffering from dementia and making participants conscious of how they interact with the elderly in need of care. In so doing, he is among the first theatre people in Japan to address age-related topics and to respond to the challenges of an ageing population. My paper will investigate Sugawara‘s approach to theatre and explore the contents and methods of his ageing and theatre workshops. I will scrutinize how age-related issues are addressed in selected productions and will place them in the context of international applied theatre practice. My paper will show how Sugawara‘s theatre activities contribute to creating age-friendly localities and scrutinize culturally specific aspects of his interventions.


Barbara Geilhorn is a senior researcher at the German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo. Before joining the DIJ, Barbara was a JSPS postdoctoral researcher based at Waseda University and worked as a lecturer at the University of Manchester, at Free University Berlin and at the University of Trier. Barbara has published widely on cultural representations of the Fukushima disaster, negotiations of gender and power in classical Japanese culture, and stagings of contemporary society in Japanese performance. Her essays have appeared in journals such as The Asian Theatre Journal, Japan Review and The Asia-Pacific Journal. Publications also include Fukushima and the Arts – Negotiating Nuclear Disaster, co-edited with Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt (Routledge, 2017).

1 P.M.
Lunch Break

3 P.M.
Theatre and Politics


Peter Eckersall, the Graduate Center, CUNY

Spectres of the Ward: Transit in Tokyo in Contemporary Japanese Performance

Corey Wakeling, Kobe College


Contemporary Japanese performance has a unique interest in the reinvention of locality. Such an intrinsic orientation governs my present research on heterogeneous streams of performance practice active in in the broad church of Japanese performance today. This paper focuses on two works that engage in strategic attempts to reinvent locality, with both cases engaged in a practice of estranging spectators from spaces commonly understood as national foci: 1) Sendagaya Ward, site of both the National Stadium (notable as an architectural marvel and the central site of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics) and the under-construction New National Stadium, and 2) Roppongi Station, a deeply globalized site of human traffic. The two works engaged with these spaces are Akira Takayama’s company Port B’s work, Tokyo School Project: Fukushima (Tōkyō Gakushū Ryokō Purojekuto: Fukushima) (2019) in the case of Sendagaya Ward, and Okada Toshiki’s play produced with the Münchner Kammerspiele and presented at the Rohm Theatre in Kyoto in 2018, NŌ THEATRE (2017), in the case of Roppongi Station.

With this paper I hope to bring to light a common escalation in efforts to reinvent locality in performance in otherwise the entirely divergent dramaturgical practices of Takayama and Okada. Both in the end similarly reveal a discontentment with the desubjectivizing forces at play in discourses of nationalism that smooth over particularities of the two Tokyo-based localities in question. More specifically, I propose that localities in which the national subject notably forced into commerce with the world undergo problematization by way of dramaturgical intervention exploring transit. As such, these two works of performance from the last two years serve to illuminate new concerns in the Japanese performance context.


Corey Wakeling is an associate professor of English at Kobe College where he has taught since 2015. His essays on modern and contemporary textuality and performance appear in journals such as Modern Drama, TDR, and Performance Research. He holds a PhD in English and Theatre Studies from the University of Melbourne (2013).

Theatre as Assembly: Radical Dramaturgy in 'Theatre Commons'

Tadashi Uchino, Gakushuin Women’s College Tokyo


Since the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, concepts such as participation and assembly have been radically updated. Subsequent to Judith Butler’s well-known theorization of a renewed sense of public assembly in 2015, German theorist and dramaturg Florian Malzacher has extended Butler’s ideas to consider “theatre as assembly.” In “Theatre as Assembly: Spheres of Radical Imagination and Pragmatic Utopias” (2019), he examines concrete and “agonistic” forms of contemporary theatre practice.

My talk will first introduce Malzacher’s highly contextual yet theoretically relevant notion of “theatre as assembly,” referring to a long-standing continental-European tradition of theatre as a self-reflexive public institution. It will then examine an alternative form of “theatre as assembly” in Japan, where after a complete neo-liberalization and de-politicization of the cultural sphere, it has become necessary to launch a more humane exploration of culture through alternative arts platforms. More concretely, I will discuss a new kind of small scale yet politically refreshing transnational performing arts festival called “Theatre Commons,” where workshops and lecture-demonstrations are the main features. The curator of “Theatre Commons,” Soma Chiaki, viewed as a dramaturgical presenter and cultural activist, has been considered successful in creating a new kind of “theatre commons” among politicized youths.


Tadashi Uchino received his Ph.D. from The University of Tokyo (2001). He was a professor at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (1992-2017), The University of Tokyo, and is currently a professor at the Department of Japanese Studies, Gakushuin Women’s College. His publications include The Melodramatic Revenge (1996), From Melodrama to Performance (2001), Crucible Bodies (2009), and The Location of J Theatre (2016). He is currently a contributing editor for TDR and is also a member of the board of directors for the Kanagawa Arts Foundation, the Saison Foundation, and Arts Council Tokyo, as well as serving on the selection committee for the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize and a member of ZUNI Icosahedron’s Artistic Advisory Committee.

4 P.M.
Coffee Break

4:30 P.M.
Artist Report


Barbara Geilhorn, German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo

Perspectives on Asian Women's Performing Arts Collective (Ajokai)

Mika Eglinton, Kobe University of Foreign Studies


The Asian Women Performing Arts Collective (or Ajokai) consists of artists, producers, translators, scholars, and film directors from various Asian countries. The collective was launched in 2012 by Hitsujiya Shirotama and Yanaihara Mikuni and was inspired by the Conference for Asian Women and Theatre created in the early 1990s by the late Kisaragi Koharu and Kishida Rio, both of whom were leading female playwrights and directors. The group convenes on an ad-hoc basis to work on artistic projects that seek to understand women’s experiences across the wide range of ethnicities, societies, languages, cultures, and histories that form part of contemporary Asia.

In this paper, I reflect on two projects that I contributed to within the collective, and discuss the broader implications of these works in relation to the terms „women“ and „Asia“ that feature in the collective’s name. The first project was a curatorial collaboration with the Vietnamese video artist Nguyen Trinh Thi, which involved creating an installation of her video work „93 Years, 1383 days“ in a disused house in Shinnagata, Kobe, as part of the Shitamachi Arts Festival in 2018. The video work explores Thi’s grandmother’s Buddhist bone-cleaning and reburial ceremony called bốc mộ. The second project was an Ajokai meeting in Hue, Vietnam. This three-day meeting included chaired discussions, performances, interviews, talks and visits in and around the city of Hue in central Vietnam. One of the themes of the event was “Water, Movement, Voices.”


Dr. Mika Eglington is Professor of English Theatre and Cultural Studies at Kobe University of Foreign Studies, Japan. Her areas of research are on early modern and contemporary British drama, with particular emphasis on productions of Shakespeare in both European and Asian contexts. Her academic publications include contributions to The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare (Routledge, 2008), Shakespeare Studies 49 (2011), Shakespeare 7.3 (2011) and A History of Japanese Theatre (Cambridge University Press, 2016). She is also actively involved in the creation of theatre as a dramaturg, translator and critic. Her recent translation works were commissioned by Festival/Tokyo, Kyoto Experiment, Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre and Aichi Trienniale. She is a regular writer for English and Japanese language media including the Japan Times ( She is one of the core members of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A) and Asian Women Performing Arts Collective (AWPAC) and a co-researcher for Scene/Asia and Art Commons Tokyo. Supported by the ACC, she is currently on sabbatical leave as a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan Normal University (Dec. 2019- ) as well as the City University of New York (March 2019- ).

Verwandte Forschungsprojekte

Buchprojekt: Okada Toshiki & Japanisches Theater