Butoh-Fu & Choreo (Upd: Jan 24 ’23)

“Whether it’s a squash blossom fading or a horse getting thin in the face, it all comes down to a tale of the body.” – Tatsumi Hijikata19

Butoh-fu is simply butoh qualia notation. “Fu” means something written, scored, or recorded. Butoh-fu is associated with Tatsumi Hijikata who made great use of words since he was also a poet. Nanako Kurihara even claims, “For Hijikata the body is a metaphor for words and words are a metaphor for the body.”1 Butoh-fu creates qualia sceneries, and can make great use of qualia metamorphosis. 

Butoh-fu is inherently poetic, which is why surrealistic or absurdist poetry is a great resource to play with. Butoh master Mushimaru Fujieda even calls his practice Natural Physical Poetry.41 The 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé called dance “the superlative form of theatrical poetry” and “a poem free of all writing apparatus.”44 Hence the dancers words are body-based.


SU-EN butoh company has even suggested that in the butoh context, body words is a more apt translation of “fu” than “notation.”40 Yukio Waguri adds, “A word is not a tool for recording, but is used as a kind of medium to expand on a physical image with imagination.”²

Hijikata connected words to the body in a way that reinforces the idea of the butoh body, which is that of something dead (Shisha) or empty, which words are like. Kurihara elaborates: “Instead of liberating the body from language, Hijikata tied the body up with words, turning it into a material object, an object that is like a corpse. Paradoxically, by this method, Hijikata moved beyond words and presented something only a live body can express.”17 Yoko Ashikawa adds: “Existence is driven by words. When the words don’t move, the self-abandonment begins. The word reaches its peak in the condition of self-abandonment. In this condition, the word is embodied little by little. In this phenomenon, the sub-conscious will also create.”18

According to Kayo Mikami, Hijikata’s choreographic units (CUs) were single images (or qualias), and these came along with “necessary conditions,” which Mikami says are made to “evoke the direction, speed, feeling, etc. that will bring forth the ‘movements,” but are meant to be experienced and created with, to be made ones own.7

This “to be made one’s own” is an important point. Hijikata’s images were more open and went beyond metaphor. In Michael Hornblow’s words, “The metaphor is a mould, ‘carrying’ linguistic resemblances and codifications, so it can never be truly vacant.” So, he suggests the word metaplasm instead, which “involves processes of modulation and transformation rather than the moulds or forms themselves.” He links this idea of the metaplasm to be like Artraud’s esoteric word of the hidden-god.31

Kazuo and Yoshito Ohno’s butoh-fu differed from Hijikata’s. The Ohnos’ were meant to be more contemplative and/or to be read right before an improvisational performance. Yoshito approached his father’s butoh-fu in this way himself. To Sondra Fraleigh and Tomah Nakamura, this practice resembles the silent meditative pre-performance of a Noh theatre performer.53 

Antonin Artaud Influence

Antonin Artaud actually may have been a prime instigator in Hijikata’s butoh-fu system. Both Ohno and Hijikata studied under Oikawa Hironobu, creator of the Artaud System in Japan, a system that joined movement and imagination via literary suggestion.34 Samantha Marenzi who mentions that butoh is often seen as the “realization of the theatre of cruelty,”34 claims “While Artaud lets the body penetrate his writing and his poetry, Hijikata lets poetry and writing penetrate his body and his dance.”35

Let us look at Artaud’s Description Of a Physical State and notice the uncanny resemblance to weak/sick-body/flower of kan type of Hijikata butoh-fu. The work has such resemblance, I even call it honorary butoh-fu.36

Butoh-Fu Creation

We can also deterritorialize Hijikata’s butoh-fu and replace his qualias with our own as we see fit, which I call mad-libbing. For instance, in Bugs Crawl, we can replace the qualia of bugs to that of any other qualia (e.g. frozen green peas, so with everything else remaining the same, frozen green peas will be rolling on the skin).

We can also of course form our own butoh-fu. Natsu Nakajima encourages practitioners: “to put into words that which cannot be put into words, to give a form to that which is formless.”32

Also, if it helps spark the imagination, here is a list of Shadowbody body-part based butoh-fu interchangeably called qualia tattoos, qualia yoga, or qualia gongBody Part Butoh-fu.


“Choreography is a negotiation with the patterns that your body is thinking.” – Jonathan Burrows45

Choreography using butoh-fu tends to bring out depth in performance. It is a good way to avoid fitting into shapes or falling into mere mime. A piece can be very tightly or loosely choreographed. What matters is the reality of the qualia world entering the body.

Also, choreography does not mean there is no improvisation. Within the choreography, there can be different degrees of improvisation. It is also recommended to keep an open choreography where even at the last moment during the actual performance, something can change, and so perhaps think in terms of both choreography and improvisation or choreoprovisation.

Preliminary steps:

  1. Find an intention and state with simplicity.
  2. Develop a chronology or Jo-Ha-Kyu (and/or Jo-Ha-Kyus within Jo-Ha-Kyus). Important: Find a strong opening (Jo) and a strong ending (Kyu).
  3. Find the music track(s) or lack thereof (see next session: Sound Score)
  4. Find the length
  5. Find the title

Once the choreography is created, repeat, repeat, repeat. Sleep on it and repeat again. Having at least one choreographed piece to perform in different places is recommended. Keep polishing, refining, or even cutting. The experience of seeing how the piece evolves is a reward in and of itself. Keep an attitude that the piece is never actually “finished.”

Exercise: Microtones (Advanced)

This is a recommended practice to apply to choreographed pieces. In a piece of which one is very familiar with, one can build the attitude that on top of the piece (like a microtone), there is always improvisation. This improvisation happens due to the present environment which can either be internal or external.

Sound Score

The sound score is an art in and of itself if one chooses to have one. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Any sound or music can be utilized, depending on the thematic intention of the dancer. Be aware, however, of dance cliches or overused contemporary dance scores such as (bias here) Arvo Pärt.* Original music or sound is best, especially if one wants to avoid the copyright notice nuisance when uploading the performance to a platform such as YouTube.
  • Be aware of Mickey Mousing or following the choreography with the music exactly. One, however, does not need to throw the whole idea out either. Sometimes the dancer might desire to follow the music like a puppet but other times might want to dance alongside it like a duet. If one is following the sound, keep in mind that one can also begin the choreographic element corresponding to the sound element a little earlier or later. Sometimes the sound can even be opposed.
  • What comes first, choreographic creation or sound score? Creation can come from either direction. Choreography can provoke an element of a sound score or an element of a sound score can provoke an element of choreography.
  • Like in ones choreography, transitions in the sound score can be very valuable, especially fade in and outs. Free software such as Audacity are programs that can mix sounds rather well. If one is saving the audio file for a performance, always save as .wav file, not mp3.

Butoh-Fu Collection

We can look to Hijikata’s butoh-fu for inspiration. We have a list of Tatsumi Hijikata’s butoh-fu as written down by the notes of Hijikata’s pupil Yukio Waguri. We also have butoh-fu translations from Rhizome Lee, Yoko Ashikawa, Kurihara Nanako, Endo Mariko, Sawako Nakayasu, Seisaku Nagaoka, Kayo Mikami, Natsu Nakajima, and Kuniichi Uno.

Then we have Kazuo Ohno’s butoh-fu translated by Mariko Miyagawa, Nakamura Yoshihiro and one butoh-fu of Yoko Ashikawa.

Hijikata also had 16 scrapbooks of butoh-fu which combined words and art. Below see the pictures that were in these scrapbooks. A complete butoh-fu for Hijikata incorporated various art/pictures.25

Last on this  page we have some of SU-EN’s butoh-fu/program notes as well as Sondra Fraleigh’s, Atsushi Takenouchi’s, and Frances Barbe’s.

Yukio Waguri Translations²

Most of the written butoh-fu translations can be credited to Yukio Waguri and his butoh-fu CD-ROM. Waguri separated Hijikata’s butoh-fus into 7 worlds.

1. World of Flowers — 16 butoh-fus.

2. World of Abyss — 16 butoh-fus.

3. World of Birds and Bees — 11 butoh-fus.

4. World of The Neurology Ward — 17 butoh-fus.

5. World of Anatomy — 12 butoh-fus.

6. World of Burnt Bridges — 4 butoh-fus.

7. World of Wall — 12 butoh-fus.

Flamen14 — (Not listed in the original Waguri CD-Rom)

Update: Since Spring of 2020, Waguri’s butoh-fu has also been placed on a wonderful website for free here: https://butoh-kaden.com/en.

Rhizome Lee Translations

Quiet House³ — Last piece of Hijikata where he also participated as dancer.

Sick Dancing Princess (Ch. 1) — Also known as “Ailing Dancer,” “Ailing Dancer Mistress,” and “Ailing Terpsichore.” This is Hijikata’s post-Quiet House stream of (sub)consciousness notation, which was never performed.4

Flower of Kan — Gathered Hijikata Butoh-fu lines/images specifically related to physical and/or mental disabilities, edges, problems, etc.5

Yoko Ashikawa Translations6

Walking of Measure

Goya Or The Pope of Pus

Michaux or The Man of Light

Beardsley No. 1 Thru 4

The Flower Garden of Bresdin

Bugs Crawl

Walking Through the Woods of Bresdin— This was Hijikata’s last butoh-fu.16

Kurihara Nanoko Translation12

Unidentified Jean Fautrier Painting — (This title references Fautrier, but the painting is that of Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh iii, 1957.)

Endo Mariko Translation


Candy Avalanche15

Sawako Nakayasu Translation

Costume en Face — Translation of Moe Yamamoto’s notes.20

Seisaku Nagaoka Translation

Walk of a Measure aka Walk of a Log21 — From Seisaku Nagaoka’s notes.

Natsu Nakajima Translation


Unknown Translator29

Flamen (short version)

Flamen — Long version of the Flamen butoh-fu. Audio narration here.


Short-Tempered Flower


Cow: Variation 130

Kayo Mikami Translations & List of Butoh-Fu “Postures”

Rose Girl22

Grave Watchman23

Goya—Pope of Pus24


List of Butoh-Fu “Postures” — AKA Choreographic Units (CUs) from Kayo’s Laboratory Notes ’78 to ’81.Waguri (see above) recorded Hijikata’s butoh scores/”necessary conditions” for several of these CUs.

Kuniichi Uno Translations

Ailing Terpsichore Excerpts — These are excerpt translations of what Rhizome Lee calls “Sick Dancing Princess” and has been called by others “Ailing Mistress” and “Ailing Dancing Mistress.”  This is Hijikata’s post-Quiet House stream of (sub)consciousness notation, which was never performed.38

Mariko Miyagawa’s Kazuo Ohno Translations10

Admiring La Argentina (1986)

The following is from Water Lily (1987)


Jean Genet & Androgyny

Nakamura Yoshihiro’s Kazuo Ohno Translations

Untitled from Hooked-Nose Salmon49

Untitled Haiku From Hooked-Nose Salmon50 

Two Untitled Writings From Dessin51

Two Untitled Writings From Hooked-Nose Salmon52 

Kazuo Ohno, Self/Unknown Translator

Reflection on the Dead Sea47 

Preparation for Monet’s Water Lilies48 

Kazuo Ohno, Unknown Translator

The Dead Sea 37

The Dead Sea – Episode for the Creation of Genesis46 

Yoshito Ohno Butoh-Fu, Translated by Tamah Nakamura

The Patience of Not Starting

Yoko Ashikawa Butoh-Fu

Smoke — 1989 butoh-fu from a Yoko Ashikawa workshop.28


Peacock Walk43

Hijikata Scrapbook Pictures/Artists

The breakdown of these scrapbooks in English is due to the wonderful scholarship of Kurt Wurmli in his PhD dissertation called The Power of Image – Hijikata Tatsumi’s Scrapbooks and the Art of Buto.27

Scrapbook 1 (Avalanche Candy) — Same name as both a butoh-fu translated by Endo Moriko here and was the name of the part of the 1972 piece Twenty-Seven Nights for Four Seasons.26

Scrapbook 2 (Flower)

Scrapbook 3 (Stage Hints, Circus) — This entire scrapbook almost entirely dedicated to the circus.

Scrapbook 4 (On Material II Fautrier) — This scrapbook is more abstract.

Scrapbook 5 (Beggar-Hanako Material) — Very likely the scrapbook that inspired A Story of Smallpox.

Scrapbook 6 (On People/Character) — Focuses on characters.

Scrapbook 7 (Bird-Snipe) — Focuses on birds.

Scrapbook 8 (On Animal(s)) — Focuses on animals.

Scrapbook 9 (Da Vinci) — Focuses on facial expressions of Da Vinci paintings.

Scrapbook 10 (Picasso Character) — Focuses on Picasso, yet also has other artists. Other than Guernica and one other image, no other specific pieces noted from Wurmli.

Scrapbook 11 (Stone Wall) — Multiple artists depicted.

Scrapbook 12 (Nerve)

Scrapbook 13 (Shooting Star)

Scrapbook 14 (Light) — Focuses on the 3d.

Scrapbook 15 (Blue Scrapbook)

Scrapbook 16 (Yellow Scrapbook) — No images available.

Hijikata Choreographic Chronology

Tatsumi Hijikata’s Chronology11

SU-EN Butoh-fu/Program Notes

This company began from its staging of Kaze no Cho (Butterfly of the Wind) which was choreographed by Yoko Ashikawa. It is one of the first non-Japanese butoh companies. The following are some program notes/butoh-fus.39

Scrap Bodies (1998)

Headless (2001)

Slice (2003)

Soot (2013)

Voracious (2015)

Rotten Process — One of around 60 “Body Materials”

Sondra Fraleigh Butoh-Fu

Glass & Water55 (Based in Yumiko Yoshioka’s words)

Atsushi Takenouchi Butoh-Fu, Translated by Kyoko Nakamaru


Frances Barbe Butoh-Fu

Insects57 (Based in Tatsumi Hijikata’s Bugs Crawl)

Woman in the Swamp58

¹ Nanako, Kurihara. Tatsumi Hijikata: The Words of Butoh. TDR (1988-), Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring, 2000). Page 16.
² Waguri, Yukio, Butoh-Fu CD-Rom. 2006.
³ Lee, Rhizome. The Butoh. 2017. Pages 120 – 137.
4 Ibid. 337 – 354
5 Ibid. 208 – 212.
Mikami, Kayo. “Tatsumi Hijikata: An Analysis of Ankoko Butoh Techniques” 1997. Tokyo. Page. 100, 101, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 113.
7 Ibid. 105.
Ibid. 161 – 169.
Ibid. “The Human Body as a Vessel-an approach to Tatsumi Hijikata’s Ankoku Butoh” 1992. ANZ Publishers.
10 Miyagawa, Mariko. Kazuo Ohno’s Dance and His Methodology: From Analyzing His Butoh-Fu. From Cord Procedings. 2015. Page 120-122.
11 Nanoko, Kurihara. Hijikata Tatsumi Cronology. TDR. The Drama Review. Volume 44, number 1 (T 165). Sring 2000. Pages 29 to 33.
12 Calamoneri, Tanya. Becoming Nothing to Become Something: Methods of Performer Training in Hijikata Tatsumi’s Buto Dance. pHD dissertation. Page 43. 2012.
13 Ibid. Page 134, 135.
14 Ibid. Page 136.
15 Ibid. Page 147.
16 Truter, Orlando Vinent. The originating impulses of Ankoku Butoh: Towards an understanding of the trans-cultural embodiment of Tatsumi Hijikata’s dance of darkness. Rhodes Unviersity. 2007. Page 76.
17 Nanako, Kurihara. Tatsumi Hijikata: The Words of Butoh. TDR (1988-), Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring, 2000). Page 17.
18 Bergmark, Johannes. Butoh -Revolt of the Flesh in Japan and a Surrealist Way to Move. Stockholm. 1991. http://www.surrealistgruppen.org/bergmark/butoh.html
19 Hijikata, Tatsumi. Wind Daruma. TDR (1988-), Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), pp. 71-81
20 Hijikata, Tatsumi, and Moe Yamamoto. 2015. Costume En Face: A Primer of Darkness for Young Boys and Girls. Translated by Sawako Nakayasu. New York: Ugly Duckling Press.
21 Nagaoka, Seisaku. Exploring Japanese Avant-Garde Art Through Butoh Dance Online Course, Keio University. Step 3.14. Video. Sept 2018. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/japanese-avant-garde-art-butoh
22 Mikami, Kayo. Body as Receptacle: An Approach to the Technique of Ankoku Buto. Tokyo: ANZ-Do, 1993. Page 118-119, 183.
23 Ibid. 188, 189.
24 Ibid. 114.
25 Wurmli, Kurt. The Power of Image – Hijikata Tatsumi’s Scrapbooks and the Art of Buto. PhD Dissertation. University of Hawaii. 2008. Page 144.
26 Ibid. Page 146.
27 Ibid. Page 153 – 279.
28 Ashikawa, Yoko. Translator unknown. Retrieved by Rhizome Lee with a note that it came from a workshop. Date retrieved: 10/22/2018 at the Subbody Butoh School in Dharamsala, India.
29 Hijikata, Tatsumi. Translator unknown. Retrieved by Rhizome Lee at unknown date. Date retrieved from Rhizome Lee: 10/22/2018 at the Subbody Butoh School in Dharamsala, India.
30 Hornblow, Michael. Special Affects: Compositing Images in the Bodies of Butoh. Masters Thesis. 2004. University of Technology, Sydney. Page 44.
31 Ibid. Page 45.
32 Nakajima, Natsu (1997). Ankoku Butoh. Lecture delivered at Fu Jen University
decade conference, Taipei: Feminine Spirituality in Theatre, Opera, and Dance. Page 6.
33 Mikami, Kayo. “Tatsumi Hijikata: An Analysis of Ankoko Butoh Techniques” 1997. Tokyo. Page. 104.
34 Marenzi, Samantha. “Foundations and Filiations: The Legacy of Artaud in Hijikata Tatsumi”.The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 143.
35 Ibid. Page 144.
36 Corti, Victor, trans. “Description Of a Physical State. Antonin Artaud: Collected Works Vol. 1. London: Calder and Boyars Ltd., 1968. Page 54-56.
37 Ohno Kazuo. 1989. Goten, sora o tobu. Ōno Kazuo butō no kotoba . Tokyo: Shichō-sha. Page 152 & 169.
38 Baird, Bruce. “The Book of Butoh; The Book of The Dead”. The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 171-176. Translation of: Uno, Kuniichi. 1986. “Butō no sho, shisha no sho.” Yurīka no. 237 (18 July): 30–37.
39 SU-EN. “SU-EN Butoh Company – Body, Nature, and The World”. The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 286, 288, 289, 290
40 Hensbergen, Rosa van. “Waguri Yukio’s Butoh Kaden”. The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 426
41 Fujieda, Mushimaru. Himalaya Subbody Butoh Center. Dharamsala, India. March 03, 2019 workshop.
42 Fraleigh, Sondra H. Dancing into Darkness: Butoh, Zen, and Japan. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999. Print. Page 144 thru 146.
43 Ibid. 147 & 148.
44 Lewis Shaw, Mary. 1988. “Ephemeral Signs: Apprehending the Idea through Poetry and Dance.” Dance Research Journal 20(1): Page 3.
45 Burrows, Jonathan. A Choreographer’s Handbook. 2010. Print. Page 146.
46 Fraleigh, Sondra & Nakamura, Tamah. Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. NY, New York. 2006. Page 59.
47 Ohno, Kazuo. Ishikari no hanamagari (The Ishikari River’s Hooked-nose Salmon). Karinsha. 2002. Page 60.
48 Ibid. Ohno Kazuo butoh fu: Goten sora o tobu (Ohno Kazuo on Butoh: The Palace Soars Through the Sky), Tokyo: Shicho sha. 1992. Page 69.
49 Ibid. Ishikari no hanamagari (The Ishikari River’s Hooked-nose Salmon). Karinsha. 2002. Translated by Nakamura Yoshihiro. Page 39.
50 Ibid. Dessin, Kushiro, Hokkaido: Ryokugeisha. Translated by Nakamura Yoshihiro Page 34, 35.
51 Ibid. Unpaginated.
52 Ibid. Ishikari no hanamagari (The Ishikari River’s Hooked-nose Salmon). Karinsha. 2002. Translated by Nakamura Yoshihiro. Forward and 36.
53 Fraleigh, Sondra & Nakamura, Tamah. Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. NY, New York. 2006. Page 61, 62.
54 Nakajima, Natsu.‘Ankoku Butoh’, Speech at Fu Jen University Decade Conference, Feminine Spirituality in Theatre, Opera, and Dance, Taipei (October 1997). 1997. translated by Lee Chee-Keng in 1997, revised by Elizabeth Langley in 2002.
55 Fraleigh, Sondra & Nakamura, Tamah. Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. NY, New York. 2006. Page 122.
56 Ibid. Page 132.
57 Ibid. Page 136, 137.
58 Ibid. Page 137.
* I have heard Arvo Pärt so many times in dance pieces that to me, it has become an identifiable dance cliche.
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