The atomic gaze and Ankoku Butoh in post-war Japan
Ankoku butoh is an original Japanese dance form that emerged in the mid to late 1950s in Tokyo. Co-founded by Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo, it was an artistic response to social conditions as the nation of Japan underwent radical shifts from Imperial Japan’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific war (1931–1945), to defeat and US-led Occupation of Japan (1945–1952) and the formation of the US-Japan alliance within the cold war division system. In this chapter I explore how the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 and the hibakusha (people exposed to the atomic blast 被爆者 and radiological effects 被曝者) it produced can be seen reflected, in both a conscious and subconscious manner, in the artistic works and approach of ankoku butoh. The impact of this historical event was not limited to the concentrated devastation wrought by the atomic bombs. Rather, the fusing of the atomic bombs and human hibakusha and the permanent alteration of living organisms due to direct exposure to this force was symptomatic of broader societal changes underway both before and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to the military, industrial and epistemological systems required to devise, construct and use the atomic apparatus. One way of conceiving of this apparatus is as a modality or way of seeing, which for purposes of brevity and utility I call the ‘atomic gaze’. In this chapter I suggest how ankoku butoh, as it developed over time, can be seen as a creative and prototypical form of resistance to the force of this atomic gaze and its myriad impacts. This is intended to contribute conceptual ways of approaching social and cultural histories in the post-1945 period.