Put Yourself On the Beam

By Hiroko Tamano

January 17, 2023, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Butoh dancer on a hillside

(Still from the video by Field Station Media. ID: Butoh dancer Hiroko Tamano wears a blue, white, and red knit cap and a white suit, tennis shoes and gloves. A pale pink scarf is wrapped around her neck with the ends billowing in the wind outside the front of her jacket. Her arms are raised towards the sky as she peers forward, eyes hidden behind gray-tinted glasses.)


An email exchange between guest editor Rowena Richie and butoh legend Hiroko Tamano 

RR: Hi, Hiroko. I recently saw you in The Jaws of All Are Red With Gore! [a collaboration between drag performer Silk Worm, movement artist Frank Leasing, and Hiroko Tamano]. I have attended a number of Bare Bones Butoh shows over the years. And I’m guest-editing the Dancers’ Group publication In Dance. The theme of the next issue is “go back and get it.” Or, how do we engage with our past to shape the future? Would you be interested in contributing a piece of writing? What is on your heart and mind at the moment? 

HT: Good questions read out good answers.
I have questions for you.

1: What makes you want to step out into the wild field to find a writer on your page?

2: Dancing has lots of different forms, but what is the equal point?

3: Our World has been changing so much in the last 200 years, 100 years, 50 years, 30 years, 10 years even. 100 years from now, what can you imagine of our World, our life?



RR: OK, this is exactly why I invited you to write — you challenge me! 

  1. What makes me want to step out into the wild field to find a writer on my page? 

We cut across diverse dance landscapes and encourage new growth on these pages. The community is invited in through the kitchen door where they see dance makers’ raw ingredients–fresh verbs, process and practice potlucks. Why do I want to find a writer on YOUR page? To capture your thoughts! Who are you? What lights you up? Where do you want to go? I am moved to draw out this dancing Hiroko voice. 

  1. The equal point of dance is the start and end. The drop out of the womb. The drop dead.
  1. 100 years from now I imagine the bog buck moth will have flickered out. Their wings, like their habitat–the once flourishing bog buckbean fields–dust. And so it goes in the dance of life. One sheds, one exits, one adapts. 

Your turn! How would you answer your own questions (and a few others)? 


HT: 1: What makes you want to step out on the written page?

When making a dance piece, words and noise-sounds build images inside dancers’ bodies.

Each alphabet has its own world.

When the alphabets connect, they produce a common meaning.

(It is a kind of Chemistry.)

Writing letters is good practice for Dancing & Life.

2: Dancing has lots of forms, but what is the equal point?

Dancers’ soles are on the Earth. Dancers’ heads are pointed to the sky.

Gravity holds the dancer’s body on the surface (skin) of the Earth. And at the same time, an anti-gravity wave released from the core of this planet waves through the dancer’s body and extends out to outer space.

3: 100 years from now. What can you imagine of our World, our life?

Originally, there is no such thing as something belonging to something.

Each and every life respects its own dew drop like life.

The morals are in common.

Trust leads to peace of mind.

4: Where does movement begin and end?

Starts at the birth of our Universe.

Ends when the perfect silence meets the pure black space.

5: What is the origin of Butoh?

Sincerity, Sympathy & Care.

(ai): 3 legs spiral up to Heart

The 3 legs are Past, Present & Future.

 (kokoro) is the spinning disk inside of our chest. It has 3 fire flames: one in the center, and the right and left end have one each.

When the 3 spaces and times spiral up into the heart, strong beams are released above.

Put yourself on the beam.

6: How have you resettled Butoh in the Bay Area?

In 1976, the “Japan Now” exhibition at SFMOMA was the first BUTOH appearance in the USA, by Koichi Tamano.

In 1979, we settled in Berkeley, CA.

So many people support each other…ALL we were YOUNG!

7: What are your hopes for the future of Butoh?

 Soil starts absorbing spring-sun and melted snow water.

Winter snow melts, changes shapes and disappears.

Nutritious water lets the innocent seeds wake up.

8: Why are Butoh and Drag performance wonderful compliments?

Both have honesty and myth.


RR: I love your Japanese lessons. More please! Are there characters for Honesty? Myth? Butoh? Drag? 

 HT: Drag:   Inside of bushy tree, there is a happy bird singing.

This weekend we will review Koichi Tamano’s choreographed work “Swamp” (1979). We plan to dedicate it to SF Zen Center’s first annual Butoh & Zen Event.

Hiroko  Nice Rain Today


RR: It was wonderful attending the first-ever butoh performance at the Zen Center. 

My friend who is a Zen practitioner was really excited about bringing in a butoh performance because she said there is so much sitting in Zen practices, but not that much movement. How could this joint meeting open up both butoh and Zen practices, do you think?  


HT: Thank you for sending Wind to me.

Writing is awakening my brain.

Zen Center’s gig was very good timing.

It was a clear step for each person.

Zen is mindful and But-Oh! is windful.

Zen is a wild thing originally.

Hi  I will send you more very soon.

[later that night. Subject line “BUTOH:”]

Eager to exist like weeds. Dandelion!

Wanna take a seat where you’re sprayed with the splashed water by a thirsty wolf.

Good & Bad are equal. So, carry no judgment. Zen-zen! (none at all).

What about many stories from masses of bodies?

From the beginning, why do we have a body?

When light moves, shadows change the form to a two dimensional world.

In our daily life, those strange two dimensional lives are connected to three dimensional objects. When I walk down a street, my shadow connects to the shadow of a tree on a sidewalk. So, I extend this black flat myself into Tree.

Then, both agree we are the same.

Rewind: Three dimension – Two dimension – One dimension – Zero dimension…

Forward: Three dimension – Four dimension…

Try to imagine a four dimensional myself.

Three dimensional me must be a kind of shadow of the four dimensional me.

It may be a floating Amoeba, a space Fungus.

While sleeping, dreaming, imagining, meditating…we travel through our own dark space to go somewhere or to something. Unexpected visitors come.

Fifth dimension! Oh! I don’t know.

Telepathy might be common sense there.

As far as following those words and sentences, what makes everything connected?

Vibrations ))))))))))))))  That’s it!

When I say something, the sound releases into the air and keeps spreading. Even though it gets thinner and harder to hear, the waves keep going. Finally, it reaches the skin of our Universe and bounces back.

The sound keeps traveling back across the Universe and reaches me.

It takes about 200 years, about 7 generations of human life.

200 years later, my human body is already gone, so the sound affects my 7th generation children.

I look back on my fortunate life. 200 years ago, who was my ancestor who said the words of love?

On the other hand, misfortunes might be an appeal from our ancestors.

It must be solved. That is why chanting prayers keeps existing for thousands of years.

Panting happily, a girl shakes her body, seems to have just arrived over a desert.

Words fall into the infinite depth of her body.

From the depth, words rise up, metamorphose into many different matters.

Strangely her body blows and shrinks.

View “fissioning Moon” again & again = view my body getting kneaded up from one cell…then find the extraordinarily miserly in the backroom of a sheep-pen.

Longing, unhappiness. (What an impiety to parents.)

Want, corruption.

Must go down into Hell! (No guarantee of safe return.)

Vomit. Mock. Forget oneself. Easy to get flatter.

Self-conceit. Self-righteousness.

Encounter with Koichi Tamano.

He was born one year after World War II’s end at the foot of Mt. Fuji by the big [Ooi] river.

His father was a piano tuner and mother was a spinner.

He was the 9th child of the family, but only 3 brothers remained in those days.

After finishing junior high school, he started working as a lathe turner.

Then, he moved to Tokyo, where a year before, the Olympics was boomed.

While working at a cabaret, he saw a floor show which was beautiful & thrilling. That was an encounter with Butoh Founder Hijikata Tatsumi.

18 year-old Koichi entered Hijikata’s dance studio.

27 year-old Koichi’s recital was produced by his teacher Hijikata.

In the program note, Hijikata praised him, “This innocent child was the gift from his parents to weave a beautiful Butoh tapestry without lack of ignorance and misery.”

After he left his teacher’s studio he connected with Artist Union of Japan (mostly conceptual artists). He pulled Butoh into the Art scene. (In the early 70’s Butoh was totally underground.)

In 1976 SFMOMA had an exhibition “Japan Now.” It featured many Artist Union members and the first appearance of Butoh Koichi Tamano.

In the audience were seated Allen Ginsburg, Donald Philippi (aka Slava Ranko) and others.

My eyeballs are so easy to be tricked. I have been viewing a variety of illusions.

Many flickers…they are my dogs, cats, friends, gold fishes, plants, Pa, Ma, Gran-Pa, Gran-Ma…they inspire me, raise me.

43 years ago, I cut through wind and landed on this continent.

The continent accepted me and gave me big time & space.

Saying “YES” to myself makes my life so wealthy. That’s what I keep telling myself.  Because, I can regret it later, not now.

From the criterion of mythical, everything is acceptable.

We enshrine something and do ceremonies and festivals.

 Bu: Spin & get trance

 Toh: Step on the sun reflecting on water and splash!

I have a big appreciation for this Land. It gives me a lot!

I’m writing this on Thanksgiving night.


This article appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of In Dance.

Hiroko Tamano. 1952: Born in Fukuoka prefecture of Japan, as the 2nd daughter of a farm family. Age 2, adopted by a Literature family. Age 8, the family moved to Tottori prefecture. Snow country. Age18, entered Art University in Tokyo. Age 20, entered Butoh founder Hijikata Tatsumi’s studio. 1972: Dance debut in Hijikata's work at Kyoto University West Auditorium. Hijikata's work “27 Evenings for Four Seasons” in Tokyo. 1973: Started living with Koichi Tamano. 1976: A daughter was born. 1979: Moved to the USA. Settled in Berkeley, California. 1980s: Arch Studio, Mabuhay Gardens, Theater Lab, Eureka Theater, SFMOMA, Canada tour, etc. 1981-’85: worked at Moom Basket Futon Shop under Fusako de Angels. 1990s: Japan tour, Europe tour, SF Butoh festivals, "Camp Winnarainbow" under Wavy Gravy. 1995-2012: Country Station Sushi Cafe owner. 2017: The first annual "Life & Death Celebration" Butoh gathering. Butoh Works with Koichi Tamano: “Fetus of Nature” (1988),"Piece on Earth" (1989), “MandaLove" (1992) and others!