Art and Action in Postwar Japan: From Reportage Painting to the Expo Destruction Group

Fig. 1: Zero Jiggen, Futon Ritual in Ginza. Photograph by Kitade Yukio, Collection of Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Courtesy of Zero Jigen-Kato Yoshihiro Archive.

By KuroDalaiJee
Translated by Shimada Yoshiko

from ACT: a decade on, January, 2019

Note: The original version of this article was first published in Chinese on the 47th issue of the Art Critique of Taiwan, translated by Lin Hui-chun from Japanese. To mark ACT’s editorial transformation into the 10th year, we present this paper here anew, with a timely update by the author, for our special online issue. Newly translated by Shimada Yoshiko, this paper still keeps Lin’s notes, as suggested by KuroDalaiJee, for readers’ information.

1. What is Art-Movement? – From the Art in the 1950s

To this day, the history of ‘movements’ in postwar Japanese art is still unwritten. In postwar Japanese art studies, the Reportage Paintings of the 1950s, the Hi-Red Center (1962­­­–1964) (note 1 by Lin Hui-chun, hereafter [1]), and Akasegawa Genpei’s (a member of HRC) Model 1,000-Yen Note Incident (1964–1970) [2] are frequently discussed, alongside Bijutsuka Kyōtō Kaigi (Bikyōtō, Artists Co-struggle Council, 1969–1971: see Chapter 4). However, the interconnections among these groups and their activities have not been fully discussed and—more importantly—it has not been objectively verified whether these activities were socially valuable movements for the general public beyond the small circle of avant-garde (or later contemporary) art and its artists, critics, journalists and enthusiasts. To begin with, exactly what kind of action can be designated as a movement for artists? What is the relationship between artistic expression (including performance art: performance by visual artists) and political action? The process of ‘socialization’ of an artist’s actions goes as follows: an artist forms his/her political ideas, this is then expressed, presented in an exhibition, received by the audience, distributed in society and may induce further actions. However, analysis of this process is often neglected. It seems that only when an artist’s political ideas can be straightforwardly deciphered in his/her art works that his/her action can be evaluated in accordance to the afrtistic criteria set by the insiders of the art circle.

For instance, did the street actions by Hi-Red Center (Takamatsu Jirō, Akasegawa Genpei, and Nakanishi Natsuyuki) have any socio-political significances? Their 1962 Yamanote Line Festival (before Akasegawa’s joining the group) [3] and the Campaign to Promote Cleanup and Orderliness of the Metropolitan Area (Cleaning Event), 1964 (where performers dressed in white coats cleaned the streets of Ginza), the performance noted in postwar art history, had little actual impact on the wider society. From a positive perspective, it can be said that the action exposed and mocked the forced gentrification of the metropolitan area before the Tokyo Olympic. However, according to Kawada Isao, an art circle outsider, these events looked like “merely strange action by a weird group” or “show-off artists,” and was “no more than obstruction” for the passengers and passers-by.

As for their intention to ‘stir’ the situation, Kawada wrote that “it would not be understood other than by insiders of so-called avant-garde art,” and he rather harshly added that “it exposed these elite art-school-graduates’ spoiled brat-ness.”[1] Compared with these individuals, Kawada pointed out, the painters from the Revolutionary Artists Front (RAF), who participated in the 1960 June Action Committee of the Anti Japan-US Security Treaty (known  as the ‘Anti-Anpo Struggle’), including Katsuragawa Hiroshi, Nakamura Hiroshi, Yamashita Kikuji and other members of the Avant-Garde Art Society, had a much deeper and more direct commitment to politics. Another art group, Neo Dadaism Organizers (Neo Dada, including Akasegawa before he joined HRC) participated in the Anti-Anpo demonstration against then Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke in front of the Diet Building on June 15, shortly after the group’s inauguration, even though there was no consistent political action taken by the Neo Dada artists before or after June 15. Many other artists and cultural organizations participated in the anti-Anpo demonstration[2]. In fact, Anti-Anpo was already the slogan of the 13th Japan Independent Exhibition (hereafter Nihon Independent) held of February 1960, organized by the Nihon Bijutsu Kai (Japan Art Society, JAS). 

JAS had been established in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II. In January of the following year, they declared their mission in their magazine Art Movement, as “creating art and culture of the people,” “liberating art to the people,” and “eliminating the feudalistic system and conventions of art.” A number of influential postwar artists joined JAS and showcased their works in the Nihon Independent and some of them joined the organization of the exhibition. However, art historians and museum curators have had an extremely low opinions of JAS and the Nihon Independent since 1947. One year after inauguration of the Nihon Independent, the Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper launched an exhibition of the same name (Japan Independent Exhibition, later changed to Yomiuri Independent Exhibition to differentiate itself). 

With its greater media power that could widely report on art that caught the attention of art critics, and its ‘anything goes’ openness—without any political orientation—the Yomiuri Independent attracted many young artists. Works showcased in the Yomiuri exhibition, including some by the aforementioned Neo Dada members, were often made of everyday materials, even junk (later called ‘Anti-Art’) which became the starting point of art in the 1960s. On the other hand, the Nihon Independent and other activities of JAS could not come up with a new methodology to respond to the changing currents of art and politics; instead, they were stuck with the stereotypical images of laborers and other rigid illustrations of political themes, and were gradually forgotten by history. 

Yet in recent years, young scholars have started to reevaluate the workplace-based Circle Movement of the 1950s [4], Reportage Paintings, publications and other activities within a broad perspective of social movement history. At the same time, Asian modern/contemporary art history is now finally being recognized in Japan. If one puts postwar Japanese art in the context of Asian art history, one can get a new perspective, as most 20th century Asian art occurred within the broader contexts of social movements in an attempt to gain social and cultural independence from Western colonization.

I think some of the largest Asian art movements participated in by the people and for the people were separate from the cultural propaganda enforced by the Chinese Communist Party after 1947. One example is, the Woodcut Movement of the 1930s, promoted by Lu Xun in China (with its impact expanding to Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Korea, etc.) Another is the 1980s Korean Minjung Art (People’s Art) movement. Both movements penetrated deeply into the society, transcending the conventional system of art production and circulation which used to be dominated by artists from the privileged class, educated in the modern Western-style art at universities and showcasing their paintings or sculptures in galleries that targeted elite critics or rich patrons. This is why I consider the Woodcut Movement in China and Minjung Art in Korea to be art-movements worth discussing in the context of Asian art history. The Woodcut Movement in China used cheap materials to represent the hardships of laborers, and its publication in various parts of China played a significant and powerful role as a campaign medium during the Sino-Japanese War. The on-site art practice of the Korean Minjung Art movement was grand in its scale and was presented in the form of huge paintings, including those co-produced by students and laborers, which were hung in the locations of rallies and demonstrations against the military dictatorship. All of these practices in China and Korea help us realize what exactly is missing from, or what we have ignored or concealed, in Japanese art.

Japanese postwar art history is limited to particular avant-garde or contemporary modes of art that were approved by the art museums and critics. The established theory held that Japanese contemporary art started with Gutai Art Association, then moved to Mono-ha [School of Thing/Matter] (not a formal organization, but rather a group of artists with common tendencies.) This is similar to Korean art history which was dominated by the Minimalistic abstraction known as Monochrome Painting. This was highly regarded in Japan, while Minjung Art was ignored for a long time. [3]

Viewed from the standpoint of the Woodcut movement and Minjung Art movement, several half-forgotten elements of Japanese postwar art resurface and demand deeper examination within postwar art history. They include: the reportage painting of the 1950s (and even this has been ignored by quite a few critics); some lesser-known works and activities of JAS; Shimomaruko Cultural Group of workers in the Keihin region (participated by the novelist Abe Kōbō, painter Katsuragawa Hiroshi, and filmmaker Teshigahara Hiroshi) and their publication of the poetry collection Shimomaruko (1951–1953)[4]; the amateur painters’ group Keihin Picture Society, also one of the workplace circles, and their published collection of woodcuts[5]; and publication of the series of Testimonies of Japan (1955), a collaborative effort of painters, novelists and poets of the Society of the Present.[6]  

However, a comprehensive introduction of these recently re-discovered artmovements of the 1950s is more than this article can cover. In order not to overtly expand the range of the discussion, and to clarify the perspective of re-examining art in the 1960s, I would like to redefine the concept of art-movement. Although more verification is still needed, my definition of art-movement is as follows. Firstly, the artist (creator of artworks, regardless of art education background) should present his/her works to the general public in alternative venues or through publication (regardless of the outcome), instead of in the conventional exhibitions space for art insiders, and that works are the result (not only the process) of their investigation, research, and study. Secondly, the artworks should not only be rooted in realities but also include the artists’ dissent towards that realities (with analysis, critique, and counter-proposal). Thirdly, this position should not be concluded within personal reflection or be the result of individual hand work, but rather the product of the collaboration of individuals, groups, or organizations working in different genres and disciplines. Only when all three criteria are fulfilled, can it be an artmovement, instead of ‘art activism’ that often prioritizes political aim. When art can connect to movement without being dictated by politics, then it can be called art-movement.[7] 

This definition may seem a bit too strict because it would exclude many artworks, activities, and events. For instance, even when Reportage Paintings dealt with issues regarding the Ogōchi Village (which will be discussed later), Uchinada US army artillery range, or Miike coal mines, if these works have only been displayed in galleries or art museums in Tokyo, they would not be considered as art-movement. Also, language-based works and immaterial actions of Matsuzawa Yutaka (1922–2016), a pioneer of Japanese Conceptualism, and the Anti-Art performance[8] of Itoi Kanji (1920–)[9], even with their obvious antiwar and anti-civilization messages, as well as the events of HRC mentioned earlier, shall be excluded, as their messages could only reach the art insiders who could interpret and sympathize with them. They did expand the notion of art, but their practices cannot be seen as movement. In order to review the whole avant-garde art from a perspective of history of movements, such narrowing viewpoint is necessary, and even with this criteria, we can still bring many forgotten yet valuable practices to light. For instance, Ikeda Tatsuo’s publication of his graphic works and articles to deliver his messages to more people can indeed be counted as an art-movement especially as it was done in collaboration with intellectuals and political activists, even without any organizational support. Such definition would be possible only when we expand the concept of ‘works’ and evaluate the ‘actions’ of artists in relation to the society.  

Another example to examine the concept of art-movement is that of Ogōchi Village. In June 1952 in Ogōchi Village, located in western Tokyo, the Alliance of Laborers and Farmers was formed in an attempt to connect workers in cities and villages. In order to support this and other struggles around the living conditions of forest laborers against forest landlords, or against the dam construction but for the improvement of dam construction laborers’ working conditions, Katsuragawa Hiroshi, Yamashita Kikuji, Bitō Yutaka, Shimada Sumiya, Irino Tatsuya, and Teshigahara Hiroshi were sent to Ogōchi Village as ‘cultural organizers’ and subsequently published the Ogōchi Weekly in mimeograph. This is an example of the combination of art and movement, but also an ironic and tragic example in many levels. In fact, in 1959, Katsuragawa had to conclude this experience with the following statement: 

We participated in the Ogōchi movement not from our voluntary or political will, but rather were ordered by the [Communist] party leadership with a weirdly deformed political line which sent us there to be ideologically reformed. 

(…) Truly, we were mere amateurs as political operatives; as for cultural operatives, all we could do was publication and distribution of newsletters with hand-printed illustrations, and not much else.

 (…) As for political intervention, our action was a total failure.[10]

When Katsuragawa reported his physically and mentally exhausting experience in a meeting in Tokyo, Okamoto Tarō, one of the leaders in pre-war avant-garde art, “criticized [him] fiercely” and “cruelly condemned” his action for being “nothing to do with painting.”[11] 

However, Katsuragawa’s report at the meeting made Ikeda Tatsuo pursue the path of Reportage Painting.[12] The following year, he went to various sites to investigate political movements: the anti-US base struggle in Tachikawa; anti-US army artillery range movement in Uchinada; and coalminers’ strikes in Tsukinokawa and Miike. Unlike Okamoto, who aimed at a purely artistic avant-garde but was later absorbed into the establishment that supported the Osaka Expo ’70, Ikeda and other artists presented a possibility of art-movement by an alternative avant-garde.

From the following, more positive summery by Katsuragawa, it is possible that, in addition to painting-based on-site materials created by Ikeda Tatsuo and Yamashita Kikuji et al, the overall action of artists experiencing first-hand social and political issues and presenting them in Reportage Paintings can be seen as art-movement.

However, utterly unrelated to the political and cultural operatives forcibly imposed by the party, each of us got intense physical stimulations and gained countless creative subjects in our experiences of the natural and social realities of the village. In this naked power of the fierce and desolate mountain village, all members found their individual opportunity to get out of the psycho-analytical aspect of surrealism.[13]

If, as Katsuragawa mentioned, “the consciousness of avant-garde in action had been transformed into “artistic avant-garde attempting overall expansionof artistic expression,” the successors of such avant-garde in which actions become art, may be the performance artists who gathered under the banner of Expo ’70 Destruction Co-struggle Group (hereafter Expo Destruction Group, EDG) in 1969. 

2. From Anti-Art to Performance—the Late 1950s to the Mid-1960s

It is not an easy task to find the lineage between Reportage Paintings in the early 1950s and the EDG in 1969, with nearly 20 years separating them, and such huge differences in artistic style. During this period, drastic changes occurred in art that used to mean presenting (mostly) paintings and sculptures in art museums or galleries.  Under the influence of Art Informel from France; Anti-Art, which employed and exhibited everyday objects as materials in the last stage of the Yomiuri Independent Exhibition; the emergence of artworks using motion, sound, and the body, and of events and happenings that stood away from plastic works or exhibitions, the definition of art was greatly changed and expanded. In the same period, some important political movements occurred. The New Left movement emerged; there were mass demonstrations against the 1960 renewal of Anpo (US-Japan Security Treaty), which was a civil movement unprecedented after WWII; and after the failure of Anti-Anpo struggle, the anti-establishment movement disintegrated and re-organized. There were also social changes, such as major urban development and gentrification prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic, the development of Shinkansen (bullet trains) and expressway networks, and the spread of new communication and news media such as telephones, televisions, and weekly magazines. Quite similar to today’s rapid globalization, these drastic changes brought odd mixture and coexistence of the old and new, the rural and urban, the Japanese and the Western. A more detailed discussion can be found in my Anarchy of the Body concerning how such great social changes impacted art and performance. Here, I will only touch on important developments that connected Reportage Painting and Expo ’70 Destruction Co-struggle Group (EDG). 

Since the late 1950s, the Japanese Communist Party and the Japan Socialist Party still had a certain political power, but some of the youth and radical intellectuals had already lost faith in them; instead, they participated in―or at least empathized with―the New Left movement, and attempted a cultural movement totally different from the existing party lines. One of the pioneers of this movement was the Circle Village (1958–1961)[14] based in mining regions in Fukuoka. The philosophy of Tanigawa Gan [5] in relation to Circle Village indirectly and directly had an impact on the art group Kyūshū-ha [Kyūshū School], which was most active almost at the same period as the Circle Village. The possibility of ‘circles’ as an alternative cultural movement was also practiced by Asai Masuo[15] [6], who was based in Seto, away from the elite intellectuals and artists in Tokyo, and advocated the commune movement with local teenagers. In 1964 and 1965, he organized the Jōmon Festival, seeking to return to primitive community, which was totally different from the Grand Meeting of Heroes (1962) by Kyūshū-ha that sought an alliance with happening artists in Tokyo. Also, In the early 1960s, totally independent from Ono Yoko’s and John Cage’s US-imported happenings at Sogetsu Hall (1962), there emerged performances and events by groups such as Neo Dada, Group Ongaku [Music], Hi-Red Center, and Jikan-ha [Time School ] between 1962 and 1964, as well as the Eiga Kenkyū Kai (Film Study Club) in Nihon University and VAN Eiga Kenkyū Jo (VAN Film Institute) with strong political consciousness which organized happening-like events with visual artists. It can be said that the revolutionary and provocative energy of the youth that had been stagnated after the failure of the Anti-Anpo struggle found a new breakthrough in art. 

In the early 1960s, the term ‘happening’ was not yet common, and ‘performance’ even less so. Artists and filmmakers often used the word gishiki [ritual, with a pre-modern connotation) to describe their expressions that involved the body. The ritual and misemono [7] are two origins of contemporary non-theatrical performance which do not rely on words (scripts). Mizukami Jun (1937–), based in Kyoto, started a series of ritual performances earlier than others. Soon after the Anti-Anpo struggle, he started to conduct street actions, then in 1965 he introduced the element of sound into his rituals, and in 1967 he joined the performance group The Play (which will be discussed in a later section). Throughout the 1960s, the most important performance group must be Zero Jigen[16] (Zero Dimension), which had conducted several rituals in Nagoya since 1963, and in Tokyo after 1964. [Fig. 1] The rituals of Zero Jigen, with Katō Yoshihiro (1936–2018) and Iwata Shin’ichi  (1935–2017) as core members, are known for their eccentric actions (such as performers crouching on all fours, stark naked, and lighting candles hung in their rears) that were often featured in popular weekly magazines. The year 1967 was the peak of their activities: they held the Metropolitan Chinchin Streetcar Funeral with Hanging Nooses and Futon in March; they held the Collective Ritual at Ultrasonic Bath in August; and they walked through a shopping arcade at the Kinokuniya Building wearing only gas masks and puttees inBuck-Naked Gas Masked Walking Ritual in December. These performances in that year were landmark works which were extremely bold yet with clever use of diverse spaces in the urban environment. 

Among artists and groups contemporary with Mizukami Jun and Zero Jigen, Kurohata (Black Flag) was exceptional in that it inherited the avant-garde art spirit of the 1950s which was oriented towards bold political actions. Based in Shinjuku, and with members from different backgrounds (painting, literature and theater), Kurohata was established in 1961 and started collective performances, along with Art Gymnastics, a solo work by Matsue Kaku (1936–1984), around 1963.[17] In 1965, when the US military began the large-scale air raid of North Vietnam, they added theatrical elements to their performance such as the Ritual Offered to the Shooting of a Viet Cong Boy, in which they performed on stages and streets, presenting their anti-US attitude and support for the People’s Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam (called Viet Cong). Kurohata’s performances incorporated traditional styles of street entertainment such as saimon-gatari (prayer songs) [8] and Buddhist rituals, which night be labelled ‘Asiatic.’ Kurohata also worked with Zero Jigen in performance events. Later on, artists of the EDG also presented overtly political statements in their performances. While Kurohata’s political straightforward appeal could seem old-fashioned, the group was arguably noteworthy as a pioneer of art-movement in performance.  

In regard to EDG, it is notable that Kurohata started to perform at the 1964 May Day festival, a site for a workers’ demonstration, and continued at this site until 1967.[18]  [9] On May Day in 1966 and 1967, Zero Jigen, Kokuin, 8 Generation, and Itoi Kanji (who did not join EDG but sent his support from Sendai) also participated. Their actions, employing artistic means such as performance and vulgar objects—which disgusted some of the more serious-minded worker participants—aimed to ridicule the rigid politics of the left-wing organizations, and at the same time, attempted to convey messages to a wider audience. Their use of ridicule and deconstructive methodology were important elements that led to the later performances of EDG. Likewise, Akiyama Yūtokutaishi (1935–), who had been an activist in a university student council and later in a labor union, was talented at deconstructing the political by parodying militarism and nationalism with disguises and gestures. After the end of EDG, he ran for Tokyo’s governorship in 1975 and 1979, and in the process turned the whole political campaign into performance art, which was indeed a notable artistic achievement.[19] 

The Play, The Current of Contemporary Art, 20 July 1969. Photographer Unknown, Curtesy of Ikemizu Keiichi.

Another important member of EDG was the aforementioned Mizukami Jun, who belonged to the same generation as members of Zero Jigen and Kurohata. In 1967 Mizukami formed a performance group Remandaran (the name was probably derived from Les Mandarins, a novel by Beauvoir) with Azuchi Shūzo (1947–), later known by the name “Gulliver” as one of the three famous Shinjuku hippies, with two other members. Later in the same year, all Remandaran members joined The Play, another group in Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and their outskirts) formed earlier by Ikemizu Keiichi (1937–), among others, who did happenings in1965 confining himself in a hand-built cage at a zoo and in busy streets. Happenings of The Play included simultaneous solo performances and collective actions. With their intentional anonymity, and the Minimalist style of the objects they created, it is hard to distinguish the individuality of the members, but their works were actually mixtures of diverse methodologies and aesthetics, encompassing Mizukami’s seemingly Western esoteric rituals, collaborative constructions in natural environments, and environmental events with sound, smoke, etc. Although The Play had never expressed their political views, their attempts at primitive labor and nomadic lifestyle in their projects (as in The Current of Contemporary Art in 1969, in which members cruised down the river that runs through Kyoto and Osaka, living on an arrow-shaped raft made of Styrofoam) reflected their criticism towards modern urban life. Also, some of the members were involved in Zenkyoto (the All Campus Joint-Struggle Committee) movement. Later, Mizukami and a few other members of The Play participated in EDG. 

Some of the younger members of EDG also had started to practice performance from the mid-1960s. Among them, 8 Generation was founded in 1963 by Kawanaka Nobuhiro (1941–) and others as a collective for film production and screening. After 1966, reorganized with new members, they collaborated with happening groups, including Kurohata, Zero Jigen, and Bara Manji Kessha [Rose Swastika Society]. 8 Generation not only documented these groups’ performances, but also turned a film screening itself into a multiple projection performance. Thus 8 Generation, along with Mizukami Jun and Yoshida Minoru, paved the way for the multi-media tendency of the early EDG. Koyama Tetsuo (1943–2010)[20] was recognized as a talented performer when he joined Jack Society, an artists’ organization formed in 1965 for social recognition of professional contemporary artists. Since late1966, with Chida Ui (1948–) as a partner directed by Sasaki Kōsei, leading artist of Jack Society, he shamelessly sought media attention with a series of novel performances titled Dating. Koyama later participated in Zero Jigen’s performances. Among the younger artists of EDG, the most important was Kokuin [Heralding Shadow][21], represented by Suenaga Tamio (1944–), which started performance at the aforementioned May Day in 1967.The fundamental philosophy of Kokuin was to liberate human subconscious desires suppressed and standardized by civilization and education. Along with Zero Jigen, their effort to create a network and to generate publicity beyond the framework of art contributed to the formation and development of EDG, both theoretically and practically. 

By 1967 these artists and filmmakers were collaborating frequently at May Day and other joint events. Increasing popularity of ‘angura (underground)’ culture and a term ‘hapuningu (happening)’ made them appear frequently on mass media. However, their happenings were too indecent and vulgar to be considered as contemporary art. These artists had given up on showing their works in ‘proper’ art venues such as Independent Exhibitions or rental galleries, nor did the prestigious art critics at that time take them seriously. Only a few filmmakers and film critics, such as Kanesaka Kenji and Satō Shigeomi, showed their support. Moreover, these May Day performers hardly ever performed jointly or collaborated with the Intermedia artists discussed in the following chapter.

3. Establishment of Contemporary Art— From Intermedia to Expo ’70

To understand the unique-ness of EDG, we need to examine the situation of contemporary art in 1968, a year before its establishment. 

Hariu Ichirō, the commissioner of the Japan Pavilion in the 1968 Venice Biennale, chose Sugai Kumi, Takamatsu Jirō, Miki Tomio, and Yamaguchi Katsuhiro to represent Japan. Takamatsu, who won an award in the Biennale, and also the Best Newcomer Award of the Japanese Ministry of Education Award for Fine Arts, became a rising star in the contemporary art world. Takamatsu and Miki were also selected to participate in Contemporary Japanese Art: Florescent Chrysanthemum that toured to London’s ICA and other venues in Europe from January 1968. The list of the participating artists in the exhibition included Anti-Art artists such as Shinohara Ushio and Yoshimura Masunobu (of Neo Dada Organizers), and Kikuhata Mokuma (of Kyūshū-ha), as well as Group Genshoku (Touching Illusion; Iida Shōji and Suzuki Yoshinori), and the old and new generations of Technology Art, such as Yamaguchi Katsuhiro and Yoshida Minoru. Although the exhibition consisted of small-scale works, the line-up of the artists shows who were considered to represent Japan for international (=European and the US) audiences.

 Also from the late 1960s, the radical artists who were noticed in the Yomiuri Independent Exhibition began to be invited (along with other emerging artists) to exhibitions at the National Museums of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kyoto, selected for the annual Gendai Nihon Bijutsu Ten (Contemporary Japanese Art Exhibition), the Nihon Kokusai Bijutsu Ten (International Art Exhibition Japan, later Tokyo Biennale), both sponsored by the Mainichi Newspapers, and outdoor sculpture exhibitions in Ube, Kobe and Hakone. This indicates that what used to be avant-garde art with radical/political connotation had become contemporary art that was both safe for the establishment and internationally acceptable. 

Some exhibitions in 1968 that were later regarded as having set new artistic trends were; Tricks and Vision: Stolen Eyes (Tokyo Gallery and Muramatsu Gallery: April 1968) and the first Kobe Sumarikyū Park Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition (October – November). The former showed the trend of ‘trick art’ based on optical illusion, while the latter is known for Sekine Nobuo’s earth work titled Phase—Mother Earth which is considered to be the forerunner of Mono-ha. What both trends had in common was “exposing the inconsistency between the concept recognized by vision and the image captured by vision itself,”[22] as seen in Takamatsu’s work, as well as examining the limitation of very recognition of reality through vision. The trend of ‘trick art’ was gradually developed into Mono-ha theory by Lee U-fan, in which one or more mono (things/matters) were placed in a space in their original conditions without formal or artificial process in order for them to de-au (encounter) the world beyond modern ways of representation. This tendency was not confined to (narrowly-defined) Mono-ha, but continued to be seen in works created after the 1970s; it has become one of the most important trends in postwar Japanese art.  

On the other hand, the word ‘happening,’ which became known in avant-garde art circles through the performances of Ichiyanagi Toshi, Ono Yoko, and John Cage at the Sogetsu Hall in the early 1960s, was popularized by the mass media by 1968. A number of happenings were held in various venues from a strip club in in Shinjuku (the center of the underground culture) to a trendy disco in Akasaka in 1968. In relation to this, ‘Intermedia’ events became popular around 1968. There had been events that mixed art, music and film, such as the Experimental Workshop in the 1950s, but it was not until 1968 when the Intermedia event, which could not be categorized as concerts, screenings, theaters, or dances, became popular. This was influenced by emergence of the experimental films inspired by the underground cinemas from the US, and availability of high quality film and audio technology. In May 1967, Lunami Gallery held an event titled Intermedia participated by filmmakers, artists, musicians, and animation artists, with Kanesaka Kenji as a curator of the happenings. Kanesaka, a critic and photographer, introduced American underground culture including his own films. He later became a supporter of the EDG, and got involved in crushing of Sogetsu Film Festival as the anti-establishment actions in 1968. In February1968, Kanesaka curated the first-ever Psychedelic Show in Japan at Angura Pop (a disco named by him in Shinjuku) integrating sound, light, and body painting, which helped popularizing the underground culture even further.  

Later, Intermedia events became huge spectacles with high-tech and large set of equipment, at bigger spaces, and with more abundant fund. They could no longer be called ‘underground’ or ‘avant-garde,’ but became apolitical popular entertainment, which may be similar to the current popularity of international art exhibitions organized all over Japan as visitors industry. The Cross Talk series, curated by Akiyama Kuniharu, Yuasa Jōji, and other musicians, was first held at a disco Killer Joe’s and upscaled to Nikkei Hall in January 1969, and then at the Yoyogi National Stadium’s Second Gymnasium in February. This Cross Talk Intermedia at the enormous gymnasium, and the International Psytec-Art Electromagica at the Sony Building (sponsored by Sony and other big corporations) in April–May 1969, both of which made full use of vast amount of high-tech equipment, ample fund, Japan-US’s co-organizational power (the Cross Talk Intermedia was sponsored by the American Cultural Center with the Anpo-Alliance between the US and Japanese governments as background), and attracting large audience (over 3,000 daily), showed a clear indication that the Intermedia, formerly a part of experimental art and underground culture, would be co-opted by the state and big corporations into Osaka Expo in 1970.

Compared with this tendency of expansion and extension of art, the aforementioned Takamatsu Jirō, Sekine Nobuo, despite their attempt to create a new approach outside the existing concept of art, seemed still locked inside the realm of fine art. Exhibitions and critiques of their works never stepped outside of the art system. Mono-ha, supposed to be the representative of contemporary art after the 1970s, also followed the same path. Despite the seeming acceptance and flourishing of contemporary art (as works were commissioned for major events such as Osaka Expo etc.), it was still high-art for the elite, separated from the energy of the masses, let alone the political struggles of the time. Even the ‘star’ artists Takamatsu and Mono-ha that influenced the later generation of artists were hardly known outside art circles. Apart from Okamoto Tarō, who was exceptionally famous and became the producer of the theme exhibitions of the Osaka Expo, the only artist known by general public was Yokoo Tadanori, who represented the Shinjuku underground culture of 1968 through his posters for theater, stage design, film acting, and curating of events. The artists of the valued and accepted contemporary art, as well as the aforementioned Intermedia artists (filmmakers, visual and sound artists) were co-opted into ‘Expo art,’ flowing into what Sawaragi Noi called “the basin of waterfall of avant-garde.”[23] Tower of the Sun standing in the middle of the Osaka Expo ground was created by Okamoto who once completely rejected Katsuragawa Hiroshi’s activities for Reportage Painting. It is rather ironic that only Tower of the Sun survives this day while other gigantic constructions disappeared in the Expo site.

4. Actions for Criticizing Art System 

There were some artists who questioned and took actions against this expanding art system. For instance, in April 1968, there was a demand for disclosure of selection process of the competition part of the Mainichi’s Contemporary Japanese Art Exhibition. Artist Tanigawa Kōichi, art critic Okada Takahiko, and others organized an assembly and presented a formal request for a publicly open selection process to the Cultural Program Department of Mainichi Newspapers. Niigata GUN and Shizuoka’s Genshoku group also separately sent the same request. There were also protests against censorships by exhibition organizers and managers of the exhibition venues. These incidents happened successively between 1969 and 1971. Apart from the public obscenity cases (EDG, Shūdan Kumo [Collective Spider] in Fukuoka[24], etc.), and removal of works considered obscene, there were many cases of censorships in 1970; destruction of works using photos of Vietnam war by the park management agency (Ministry of Health and Welfare) and subsequent self-censorship by the organizers in the Contemporary Art Outdoor Festival in April; removal of art work that looked like garbage in the N. A. G. Exhibition in July at a gallery of Aichi Prefectural Culture Hall; refusal to display works that protested the local art system at Shizuoka Art Festival by the Board of Education of Shizuoka Prefecture in November. This series of events disclosed that the heightened political awareness of artists increased conflicts with the art system. 

 Unlike the above incidents, in which the exhibition system was problematized, Matsuzawa Yutaka (1922–2006), Mizukami Jun, and other artists from Suwa, Kyoto, Tokyo, Niigata, and Nagasaki gathered for the Nirvana exhibition in August 1970, Kyoto, in an attempt to overcome the very idea of exhibition itself. Their conceptual works involving language and actions went beyond the physicality of the painting and sculpture normally represented in art exhibitions, and the Nirvana exhibition transformed itself and in the end disappeared as exhibits were gradually removed over its four-day duration. The Nirvana artists rejected commercialism and spectacles in art, and attempted to build a network of artists from remote parts of Japan. All these bold attempts deserved high acclaim; yet their utopian ideals were detached from social reality, and were incomprehensible to the general public. Hikosaka Naoyoshi, a member of Bikyōtō, dismissed both Japanese Conceptualism and Mono-ha on the grounds that that “they merely reduced artistic expression to actions and objectification within the form of contemplation, thus transformed the art as such into a tool for the unworldly mystical naturalism.”[25]

After 1968, students’ protests at University of Tokyo and Nihon University spread nationwide, and some art institutions, like Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music (present Tokyo University of the Arts) and Kyoto City University of Arts joined the struggle. Some artists who had already graduated also participated, in struggles at vocational design schools and the like. Among these, one group, Bikyōtō questioned the art systems in the most fundamental manner. Bikyōtō was formed in July 1969 on the barricaded campus of Tama Art University by Hori Kōsai and Hikosaka Naoyoshi. A leaflet distributed in the same month set out their slogan: “We shall win the struggle against modern rationalism in the 1970s by disassembling the structure of art authority!” Their concrete goals were; “dismantling the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art;” “crushing the ‘open call competition’ system of Nitten [Japan Fine Arts Exhibition][26] and Mainichi Contemporary Art Exhibition[27];”  “dismantling the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum” and “crushing the Tokyo Biennale[28] as well as the Osaka Expo.”[29] In fact, Bikyōtō attempted to gate-crush the opening of Nitten at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in November 1969, but was driven away by the security guards and the riot police who had anticipated their attack.            

Among the various actions against open call competition systems by Bikyōtō, the one with actual impact was undertaken in August 1969 against the annual exhibition of the Japan Advertising Artists Club (JAAC), which was the main gateway to success for designers. The action led JAAC to discontinue the exhibition the following month. On more powerful entities such as Nitten, National and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museums and even the Mainichi’s Contemporary Japanese Art Exhibition, however, Bikyōtō’s actions failed to have any real effect.  

As the art critic Chiba Shigeo wrote, if Bikyōtō was “not an art movement, but […] an organization for political struggle,”[30] it was re-organized into the art group Bikyōtō Revolution Iinkai (Bikyōtō Revolution Committee) in the fall of 1970, one year after riot police crushed the students’ occupation of Tama Art University in October 1969. As a newly re-constructed group, they did not merely criticize the art system (museums, galleries, art academies, art markets, and art journalism), but saw art itself as a system, and conducted a fundamental criticism on art from within. They gave up on the art as a system, but chose a difficult path: that of turning ‘being an artist’ into a battlefield against art. This transition of Bikyōtō reflected how artists were seeking to reconstruct their ‘(art)work’ through their ‘actions.’ 

5. Expo Destruction Group

In its early stage, the EDG was a contemporary of Bikyōtō, and both were joint-struggle groups of visual artists. However, the EDG focused its activities on collective performance.[31] Artists who participated in the EDG separated themselves not only from the aforementioned contemporary art introduced to the international stage, but also from the experimental music and films shown at Sogetsu Hall, and from the network of Intermedia artists. They targeted not only artists who cooperated with the Expo but also those involved in the ‘high-art’ represented by Sogetsu Hall and Intermedia. Furthermore, the EDG chose to take a path different from those of Bikyōtō, the flourishing small theater movement of Kara Jūrō and Terayama Shūji, or the Butoh dance scene of Hijikata Tatsumi: they dared to work in vulgar angura world, no matter how indecent their performances looked, with the anarchic spirit of Anti-Art shared by them.

In March 1968, the EDG artists held a joint public performance at a small theater for kōdan (traditional story-telling entertainment), and at another in November in Iino Hall, Tokyo, under the title Insanity Trade Fair. Their performances, particularly that by Kurohata, had the potential to be neither fine art nor contemporary art, but rather the kind of folk performance that had traditionally been a medium of satire and resistance for the lower classes. However, the fact that the performances at Iino Hall attracted a large audience—with some acts receiving huge applause—revealed that the popularization of ‘angura’ culture and the safety of a theater space could reduce even the most radical performance to farce.

 Learning from these events, Zero Jigen, the most experienced performance group, recognized the danger of their acts becoming routine. Taking their cue from the anti-Expo statement by the Architects ’70 Action Committee and the students’ Zenkyoto movement, they sought new operational guidelines to expand their activities. Kokuin, on the other hand, had since its establishment aimed to liberate human desires, to expand of the concept of artistic expression, and to confront political authority, which intensified after the Second Haneda Incident in November 1967. In their Kokuin Newsletter, they reported political events as well as their activities. They also published another newsletter Koebukuro [Bag of Voice], connecting young people in different fields like art, comics, film, politics, and so on. They also participated in demonstrations in June 1969 with helmets and a flag bearing their group name. Among all the groups led by artists, Kokuin was the best organized and the most comprehensively activist. Kokuin seems to have had a significant influence on the EDG, as the title of their Black Festival, held right before the International Antiwar Day riot (October 21, 1968) in Shinjuku was re-used for the EDG’s Expo Crushing Black Festival of June 1969. When members of the EDG were arrested in July 1969, the only mug shot to appear in the newspapers was that of Kokuin leader Suenaga Tamio, and it was Suenaga who led the EDG after Zero Jigen left the organization.[32]

Fig. 2: Ritual by Expo 1970 Destruction Co-struggle Group, Liberal Arts Department, Kyoto University, 10 June 1969. Photograph by Hirata Minoru, ©Minoru Hirata, Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery Photography/Film.

However, apart from Kokuin and Akiyama Yūtokutaishi, veteran activist, most members of the EDG (such as Koyama Tetsuo and Mizukami Jun) had no experience in political activism, and Zero Jigen’s ‘turn’ to the political action also appeared too sudden. What Kokuin and Zero Jigen had in common was not only their frustration that the happening had become routine entertainment, but also their anti-modern rituals of collective performance, the concept of liberating desires suppressed by modern education and consciousness, and the idea that Anti-Expo in cooperation with Zenkyoto could be an effective strategy to convey their messages to a wider audience. In EDG events, each group enacted independent performance as well as a collaborative performance with the signature gestures of Zero Jigen: raising one hand and lying on the ground. What differentiated these from the original Zero Jigen performances was that they all wore helmets painted ‘Anti-Expo’ and decorated with reliefs of wings, manifesting their identity as a political activist group.

Fig. 3: Ritual by Expo 1970 Destruction Co-struggle Group at Anti-war Expo (Hanpaku), Osaka Castle Park, 10 August 1969. Photograph by Hirata Minoru, ©Minoru Hirata, Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery Photography/Film.

In its early phase, the EDG held performance events accompanied by film screenings (Nagoya in February 1969, Kyoto in March, and Fukuoka in May). Later, they joined the students’ movements; this development culminated as the five-day Anti-Expo Black Festival in June 1969. The event started at the Ikebukuro Art Theater in Tokyo, then they traveled in a tour bus to Hamamatsu and Nagoya where they did collective rituals, then performed the naked hand-raising ritual on the balcony of the Liberal Arts Department of the barricaded Kyoto University. [Fig. 2] On the following day, they demonstrated in Kyoto downtown, performed the hand-raising, lying-on-the-ground on the construction site of the Expo surrounded by the riot police and plain-clothes officers. Then they held another ritual at Nagoya University. The series of performances, demonstrations and discussion attracted attention from the mass media, but the tour came to a sudden halt in July with the arrests of Katō, Suenaga and other three members of Kokuin, Akiyama, and Koyama. In August, the Expo Site Anti-Expo Association led by the Kansai Beheiren (Citizen’s League for Peace in Vietnam) held the Expo for Antiwar (Hanpaku) event, participated by activists, artists and musicians from various parts of Japan, including EDG performing their hand-raising ritual. [Fig. 3] In September, they held a ritual and discussion event at the Shibuya Yamate Church, then in October, participated in an attack on the Sogetsu Film Festival. In December, Suenaga participated in the Anti-Expo Teach-In at Osaka University of Arts where students conducted the ritual performance. In 1971, Zero Jigen held rituals at Hosei University, Keio University, and at Sanrizuka (the site of the anti-Narita Airport struggle) with many students participating [Fig. 4], but they ceased to organize their own events. Suenaga, who had dissolved Kokuin and formed a new group PEAK, organized music events and set up a network of various citizen-activist groups including women’s liberation movement. The EDG, however, had ceased all activity by the end of 1969.

Fig.4: Zero Jigen, Ritual at Hosei University, Tokyo, 9 September 1971. Photograph by Kitade Yukio, Collection of Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Courtesy of Zero Jigen-Kato Yoshihiro Archive.

The First Manifesto of Expo Destruction, written by Katō Yoshihiro, was published in the May 1969 issue ofFilm Review magazine. The same magazine published the second and the third Manifesto in consecutive issues and the fourth published in July after core members were arrested. The Second Manifesto and the Third Manifesto reported on events in Kyoto and Fukuoka, respectively, while the Fourth Manifesto focused on the unjust arrests and the Expo for Antiwar event in Osaka. The First Manifesto set out the basic philosophy of the EDG, but after four-month long activities and discussions, the philosophy of EDG developed and became clearer, which can be found in the Fourth Manifesto and Expo Destruction by Eros: The Reality of the Unjust Arrests of AEG’s All-Naked Ritual Performance, written by Katō and published in Design Critique in October 1969.

The common thread through the first to the fourth Manifesto is their aim of making use of the situation caused by the Expo. The following excerpt from the First Manifesto is about an imaginary plan typical of Katō:

From Kyoto, from Okayama, from Kyushu, from Nagoya, from 3,000 comrades, from the hippie communes, the Expo is swarming into my hole […] We are not afraid of approaching the politicians so that we can be immune to their brazen wickedness. Power should be unified in order to be effective. The new ‘e-e-janai-ka’ [10] protest march would be meaningless if it does not have over 10,000 participants.

The Expo is not a place to see things, but to be seen by the 99%. Turning a place to see into a place to be seen is the Revolution.

This huge happening venue is waiting for us with open arms. Just as holding a geba-bo (gewalt [violence] stick: wooden pole usable as a weapon [11]) is revolutionary, let’s wear white gloves and raise one hand and walk for at least 30 minutes!

And for those brave willing to be more physical, you can achieve the second revolution most pleasantly by lying in the plaza fully clothed. Regulations write “No casually lying on the ground,” therefore, we must lie “seriously” with a stern face. 

(All quotes from the First Manifesto)

The above called for participants from all around the nation to carry out actions (hand-raising and lying down) that “everyone can do” and would be “safer than geba-bo” at the Expo site. However, these are regular Zero Jigen actions and have no particular relation to Expo Destruction. By the Fourth Manifesto and Expo Destruction by Eroticism, however, Katō discussed the significance and methodology of Anti-Expo in more objective tone. First, he criticized the Expo as an embodiment of information control through technology. Unlike the direct violence by the riot police and the Self-Defense Force, it implemented “indirect, soft, and unconscious brainwashing” on us. 

A technological information machine (the Expo) with a facade of culture and art is an experiment of predicted cultural control that will unconsciously manipulate and brainwash human being in the coming century. The Expo, controlled by the old madmen of the old system, is the violence of the 20th century. (Expo Destruction by Eros)

This viewpoint was not yet clear in the First Manifesto. Zero Jigen had contrasted the seedy body, props from old Japanese households, and anachronistic army military styles with the modern urban space. This had been a style of Koyama Tetsuo, born and raised in the countryside, started his performance around his incompatibility with Tokyo, and expressed his anti-urbanism and anti-modernism through ritualistic actions such as defecation and slaughtering live cattle on stage. However, technology was not the main target in these performances. This change might have been brought out by Suenaga Tamio of Kokuin, who had been inspired by Asari Atsushi’s study of children’s paintings, and aimed for liberation through the suppression of education, art systems, social and family constraints, and control of brains by cybernetics. 

The second theme that the EDG developed in its practice was the occupation as a means, which became evident in the slogan in the Second Manifesto: “Turn the Expo into the Second Fortress of University of Tokyo!”

From the fortress of the University of Tokyo to Shinjuku Station West Plaza, a site gets escalated into another site, and generates insanity in the Expo plaza. The Expo plaza is exactly the field for occupation. The crazy nonsense radical occupiers will be changelings of violent occupation and they will directly occupy the Expo. It will become a plaza to propose and realize the legal, but irrational, and endless methodologies well beyond control of the Self-Defense Force and the guards. (The Fourth Manifesto)

The plaza will be a vacuum dimension of the crack of discontinuation, and a space for expression, where infinite amoebic movement germinates. (…) The Expo Plaza transformation movement turns it to a site for participation, not a site for viewing. The plaza will swallow those anonymous and infinite active bodies who cannot help expressing themselves. (Expo Destruction by Eros)

From what we have seen so far, the EDG was not much concerned about ‘crushing’ existing frameworks of art (such as Nitten and juried competitions sponsored by major newspapers), as Bikyōtō had been. This is true even in light of the EDG’s denunciation of the aforementioned Intermedia events at the Yoyogi Stadium, the Sogetsu Hall ‘salon,’ and the architects who accepted commissions for the Expo. Moreover, they seemed to have had little interest in major political issues such as the renewal of the Japan-US Security Treaty in 1970, or even the anti-Vietnam war movement. Even though they had experience in collective action and performances which had impacted the public in crowded urban spaces, the EDG was, after all, a temporary alliance of artist groups which had widely differing ideas, styles, and backgrounds, and which were not used to taking a united action even for the sake of political effectiveness.

Therefore, they seemed in the end to have destroyed themselves by taking actions without sufficiently investigating their direction or methodology beforehand. Nevertheless, the fact these performance artists did not indulge in self-referential conceptual games, or limit themselves to an internal critique of the art industry, and that they did criticize the Intermedia art that let itself be co-opted into the high-art and entertainment industries deserves attention, as does the fact that they expanded their activism as bodily expression in reference to the political activism such as Anti-Anpo struggle, anti-Vietnam war movement, and struggles at the barricaded campuses all over Japan. Although they were not as adamant about being artists as those in Bikyōtō, the EDG did not become absorbed into the political action either. As Yoshida Yoshie witnessed at a rally in the Shibuya Yamate Church, September 1969, the EDG stood against the Zenkyoto students who prioritized their political agenda, insisting on pursuing their ‘cultural struggle’ through ‘artistic action.’[33]

While violence in the 20th century is shifting from direct violence to indirect manipulation of information, why do we still hold on to the primitive violence of geba-bo sticks that cannot exercise any essential violence? It is because Gewalt (violence) in which the occupation of campuses should be the primary means, is nothing other than the purely theoretical action of expression. (Expo Destruction by Eros)

6. What Leads to Today’s Movement

The EDG did not go deep inside a political struggle or join workers for organizational and cultural propaganda task, as Katsuragawa Hiroshi and other Reportage Painters had done, nor did they take effective action for a specific political goals. They may be called “attention-seeking artists” who “utilized the political and philosophical struggle and chaos” as an opportunity to free-ride, in order to ‘express themselves,’ on the Anti-Expo movement directed by Beheiren and Zenkyoto. (Kawada Isao, refer to Note 1).

Yet I consider their actions close to my definition of art-movement according to the three criteria mentioned in Chapter 1. First, they were introduced not only in art journals but also popular weekly magazines and opinion magazines, having enough impact on the wider society. Secondly, they challenged (and got arrested for it) the social order with their expression, using their bodies as the medium of resistance to the Expo ideology and mind-controlling technology. Finally, they received support and sympathy from the student activists from Kyoto University as well as practitioners of counter-culture outside the art circles.  

Of course, the art movement of the period (1968– early 1970s) cannot be represented solely by the EDG. Though not all could be covered in this paper, groups such as Niigata GUN, Shūdan Kumo in Fukuoka, and individuals such as Itoi Kanji practiced their activism in their own ways. By examining these artists’ activities in light of the historical context and their interconnections (although they might not have seen one others’ actions), we can draw the following conclusions as to how to practice political activities from the cultural perspective today.            

The first has to do with the occupation. Various groups temporarily occupied public space, such as the May Day’s site, Shinjuku West Exit Plaza (and, though never realized, the Expo Plaza) to express their message. Back then, there was still room in both the urban space and the mass media for anonymous individuals and groups to intervene and occupy. Although this room has been narrowed by government regulations since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1970 Expo, urban space and the media cannot be completely homogenized, and some breathing space still exists today.  

The second is the political action in festive disguise in which seriousness and farce, genuine messages and jokes, are integrated. As in the ‘sound demonstration’ in streets found all over the world in recent years, actions in such a style subverts rigid political action and slogans, utilizing eye-catching objects, odd attires, sound, film, and other extravagant artistic media.  

The third is alternative events that expose the politics behind major cultural events (such as Biennales and Triennales, ‘media art’ events such as animation, comics, and spectacular high-tech screening, under the national cultural policies) sponsored by the government and/or big corporations. This includes strategy of ‘take-over’—adopting the first “occupying” methodology, subverting major events (and the relevant mass media) from within.  

The fourth is the networking that connects artists from remote locations. Since the latter half of the 1960s, with the increased number of art events outside metropolitan areas, previously isolated performers had more opportunities to meet and collaborate. Also, since the early 1960s, group newsletters and other self-published ‘zines,’ such as mimeographed publications of Asai Masuo, Art 21 (1966 – 1967) magazine of Zen Nihon Gendai Geijutsuka Kyōgi Kai (All Japan Contemporary Artist Council), Kokuin Newsletter and Koebukuro by Kokuin, Angura Tsūshin (Underground Newsletter) by Iwata Shin-ichi of Zero Jigen, and Newsreel (followed by Droppower) by filmmakers, attempted to establish independent media network for communication and finding kindred spirits. These can be said as forerunners of today’s blogs, Twitter, and Facebook on Internet for communication and community building.  

The fifth is the use of traditional body culture that still remains in the behavior of Japanese people. Education after Meiji Period excluded traditional music and theater, and forcibly implemented modern physical education suited to military needs. However, vernacular body culture, such as traditional folk performances, rituals and festivals, memories of childhood games, and even the everyday behaviors that are common for Japanese but anthropological curiosities to outsiders, cannot completely disappear. It would be a pity if this culture, rooted deeply in the body, is promoted only in folk entertainments for preservation of tradition, Kabuki which is now recognized as high-art though in fact originated as entertainment for the lower classes, or utilized in established contemporary art forms such as Butoh and contemporary dance. 

However advanced documentary and communication technologies have become, the fate of performance is always to be transient and temporary, site-specific, and contextual. In the days of less advanced documentary technologies, it was inevitable that the EDG’s vulgar style and blunt politics would be loathed or ignored by the art establishment whose elitist view of art was framed by European and US art history and critical theories. However, these artists of the 1960s dared to use their bodies to confront the society and created a history of art-movement with their performances. Reconstructing this history may initiate a breakthrough from the domination of our brains by modern technologies and the cultural industry—just as “anonymous and infinite number of active bodies that cannot help expressing themselves” exist everywhere in the world, forever. 

  1. Kawada Isao, “Zen-ei geijutsu to rokujū nen anpo (Avant-garde Art and the 1960 Anpo),” Anakizumu (Anarchism), Issue 12, August 2009, pp. 62-63.
  2. Sōsaku no ba to seiji no ba (Field of Creation and Politics),” “Anpo mondai wo megutte (On the Issue of Anpo),” Bijutsu Undō (Art Movement), Issue 60, February 1961, pp. 28-36.
  3. Refer to Kuroda Raiji, “Fragments on Postwar Avant-garde Art in Japan seen from People’s Art in Korea,” Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum (ed.), Art Toward the Society: Realism in Korean Art 1945-2005, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum and Japan Association of Art Museums, pp. 232-240.
  4. Michiba Chikanobu, “Shimomaruko bunka shūdan to sono jidai: Gojū nendai Tokyo nanbu sākuru undō kenkyū josetsu (Shimomaruko Cultural Group and its Age: Preface of the Study of Southern Tokyo Group Movement in the 1950s),” Gendai Shisō (Modern Thinking), Special Issue of December 2007, pp. 38-10.
  5. Justin Jesty, “Hanga to hanga undo (Printmaking and Printmaking Movement),” ibid, pp. 152-161.
  6. Toba Kōji, Senkyūhyakugojū nendai: Kiroku no jidai (The 1950s: The Era of “Recording),” Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2010, pp. 63-76.
  7. Under the aforementioned context, for more information regarding the concept of art- movement and its development in Asia, please refer to Kuroda Raiji, Woodcut Movements in Asia: Genealogy of Modernization with Media of the People, Kuroda Raiji and Igarashi Rina (ed.), Blaze Carved in Darkness: Woodcut Movements in Asia 1930s-2010s, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Arts Maebashi, 2018, pp. 13-18.
  8. For more information regarding “anti-art,” refer to Chapter 2 of Anarchy of the Body.
  9. Refer to Chapter 18 of Anarchy of the Body.
  10. Katsuragawa Hiroshi, “Sengo bijutsu no sōzōteki syutai wo megutte: ‘Ikōki no vijon’ yori (On the Creative Subject of Postwar Art: From the ‘Illusion of the Transitional Period’),” Art Movement, Issue 58, July 1959, pp. 21-22.
  11. Katsuragawa Hiroshi, Haikyo no zen-ei: Kaisō no sengo bijutsu (Avant-garde of the Ruins— Recollections of Postwar Art), Ichiyōsha, 2004, p. 141-142.
  12. ibid, p. 143.
  13. Katsuragawa, “On the Creative Subject of Postwar Art from the ‘Illusion of the Transitional Period’,” p. 22.
  14. Refer to Matsubara Shinichi, Gen-ei no komyūn: “Sākuru mura” wo kenshō suru (The Commune of Illusion: Examining “Circle Village”), Sōgensha, 2002.
  15. Refer to Chapter 12 of Anarchy of the Body.
  16. Refer to Chapter 13 of Anarchy of the Body and the article below: KuroDalaiJee, “The Rituals of ‘Zero Jigen’ in Urban Space”, R, No.2, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, 2003;
  17. Refer to Chapter 14 of Anarchy of the Body; KuroDalaiJee, “Yakeato no gishiki: ‘Kurohata’ to senkyuhyakurokujū nendai bunka no kasō (The Ritual in Ruins of Bombing: Kurohata and the Lower Layer of 1960s Culture)”, Shakai Bungaku (Social Literature), No. 36, Septemeber   2012              , pp. 31-43.
  18. The group that recruited Kurohata to join May Day was the Shigun [Sight Group]. We have yet known much about this artists’ group but they seemed to be established as early as 1954, and published the “Song Supporting Vietnam” in an exhibition, attempting to combine left-wing messages with performative event.
  19. Iwata Shin-ichi participated in the mayor’s election in 1973. He was not only earlier than Akiyama Yūtokutaishi, but also more serious. Please refer to KuroDalaiJee, Iro no hitotsu taranu kakumei: Reinbō shichōsen ni miru isedai no kyōtō to danzetsu (Revolution that Lacked a Color: On the Joint Struggle and Breaking Off of Different Generations Seen in the ‘Rainbow Mayor Election’),” Art Critique Rear, No. 41, March, Special Issue Tsuitō: Ōkina Iwata Shin-ichi (In Memory of Iwata Shin-ichi the Giant), pp. 46-55.
  20. Refer to Chapter 15 of Anarchy of the Body.
  21. [Refer to Chapter 16 of Anarchy of the Body.
  22. Okada Kiyoshi, “Gendai bijutsu e no toi: Busshitsu kara no tankyū to mono ha wo megutte (Inquiring into Contemporary Art: On the Exploration and Matter and Mono-ha),” Senkyūhyakunanajūnen: Busshitsu to chikaku (1970 Matter and Perception: Mono-ha and Creators that Inquires Origins) (exhibition catalogue), 1995, p. 13.
  23. Sawaragi Noi, “Zen-ei no takitsubo (The Avant-garde in the Basin of Waterfall),” (ed.) Shima Atsuhiko, Nakai Yasuyuki, Ohno Yuko, The Savage Mind in the Modern Age: Reconsidering Postwar Japanese Art History: Report, National Museum of Art, Osaka, 2006, pp. 97-98.
  24. Refer to Chapter 19 of Anarchy of the Body.
  25. Hikosaka Naoyoshi, Hanpuku: Shinkō geijutsu no isō (Repetition: Aspects of Emerging Art), Tabata Shoten, 1974, p. 284.
  26. The Exhibition was first organized by the Ministry of Education in 1906 as a juried open competition exhibition, and as the organization changed, so has the name of the exhibition changed to the Imperial Art Exhibition (Teiten) and the New Ministry of Education Art Exhibition (Bunten). In 1958, a private organization (non-profit corporation) took over and managed the exhibition ever since. The exhibition thus changed its name to Nitten (Japan Fine Arts Exhibition). It is held in Tokyo and other cities in Japan and is recognized as the most authoritative exhibition in Japan. 
  27. Japan Contemporary Art Exhibition, organized by Mainichi Newspapers since 1954, consisted of the invitation section and the competition section.
  28. Tokyo Biennale, also known as the International Art Exhibition Japan, has been organized by Mainichi Newspapers since 1967 and alternates with the Japan Contemporary Art Exhibition every year. In May 1970, Nakahara Yūsuke curated the exhibition with the title Between Men and Matter, introducing cutting-edge international art trends such as Arte Povera, Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, Performance Art, etc.
  29. Leaflet issued on July 5, 1969, included in Hikosaka Naoyoshi, Repetition, pp. 249-252.
  30. Chiba Shigeo, Gendai bijutsu itsudatsu shi 1945–1985 (The Deviated History of Contemporary Art 1945-1985), Shōbunsha, 1986, p.166.
  31. For more information regarding Expo ’70 Destruction Joint-Struggle Group (refer to as the “Expo Destruction Group” in this article), please refer to KuroDalaiJee, “Performance Art and/as Activism: Expo ’70 Destruction Joint-Struggle Group,” Yoshimoto Midori (ed.), Josai University’s Review of Japanese Culture and Society, Josai University, 2012, pp.154-173; reprinted in Victor Wang (ed.), Performance Histories from East Asia 1960s–90s: an IAPA Reader, DRAF (David Roberts Foundation), London, 2018.
  32. Suenaga Tamio, “Kaichō! Kyōki banpaku jigoku: Banpaku hakai, koremade no kiseki (Look! Mad Expo Hell: Traces of Expo Destruction to This Day),” Kōzō [Structure], February 1970, pp. 122-129.
  33. Yoshida Yoshie, “Hanpaku seiryoku wa teitai shitaka (Has the Power of Anti-Expo Stagnated?),” Bijutsu Techō (Art Notebook), December 1969, p.10.


Notes by Lin Hui-chun
Unless otherwise specified, all translator’s notes referred to KuroDalaiJee, Nikutai no anākizumu: Senkyūhyakurokujū nendai nihon bijutsu ni okeru pafōmansu no chika suimyaku (Anarchy of the Body: Undercurrents of Performance Art in 1960s Japan), Tokyo: grambooks, 2010.
  1. The group name Hi-Red Center was made up of the first kanji (adopted logographic Chinese characters) of its members, Takamatsu Jirō, Akasegawa Genpei, and Nakanishi Natsuyuki, and translated into English. 
  2. In 1963, Japanese avant-garde artist Akasegawa Genpei commissioned a printer to make molds and print thousand-yen bills as artwork for exhibition. He was searched by the police and charged with violating the Act on Control of Imitation of Currency and Securities. The trial lasted from 1965 to 1967 and he was found guilty and sentenced three years in prison, with one year of probation, and the original mold was confiscated. (Source: Wikipedia Japan)
  3. On October 8, 1962, Takamatsu Jirō, Nakanishi Natsuyuki, and others conducted performance on the trains and platforms of the Yamanote Line. Nakanishi painted his face white and conducted random performance using egg-shaped objects, and Takamatsu with a rope-like object in an attempt to subvert the existing relationship between artists and spectators. 
  4. The workplace circle movement after WWII attempted to inherit the proletarian cultural movement and began under the impact of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation and Japanese National Cultural Confederation. The movement thrived in the 1950s and subsequently developed into a broader movement that involved women’s groups, religious groups, and local groups, contributing immensely to the formation of grass-root cultures. Ideally, a workplace circle is a voluntarily organized group formed by laborers where members share their work and daily life experience, and address issues through discussions; lectures are held by inviting scholars; and it is also a mechanism of lifelong learning. However, in reality, workplace circles often have a hard time maintaining its independence and autonomy, and cannot draw a clear line with politics and political party. (Takemura Tamio, Cultural Movements and Historical Consciousness of Post-War Japan: in relation to the movement of writing the history of the workplace and of the individualGendai shakai kenkyū (Study of Contemporary Society) 2, Faculty of Contemporary Society, Kyoto Women’s University, November 2001.)
  5. Tanigawa Gan (1923-1995), Japanese poet, critic, social activist, and education activist.
  6. Asai Masuo (1942-1966), artist, critic, and organizer of cultural group in Seto, Aichi Prefecture.
  7. Misemono (folk exhibit) is a form of popular theatrical entertainment following premodern tradition. In a temporary hut, stunts and other entertainments are performed, and rare animals and objects, and the body of the disables are exhibited. Prostitution and human trafficking are sometimes conducted. Misemono reached its peak during the Edo period.
  8. Folk prayers in the Edo Period. Organically, they were sung by itinerant monks while shaking the staff and blowing the conch. Traveling performers then combined it with folk tunes and begged for money when singing the tunes. Folklore stories was also added to go with the tunes. (Source: Kōjien)
  9. The original meaning of May Day refers to the Labor Day on the first of May, but in Japan, it can broadly refer to the assemblies and festivities for workers held on the first of May.
  10. E-e-ja-nai-ka (Why not?), a social activity based in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and major cities in Eastern Japan, later expanded from to the western regions from July 1867 to April 1868, at the end of the Edo Period and the start of the Meiji Period. Sacred amulets were said to have fallen from heaven and crowds wore costumes, singing and dancing, and parading on the street. They made up a variety of lyrics related to sexual liberation, and resentments against political situations and prices of goods and services. There were also songs meant only for fun. E-e-ja-nai-ka was used as refrain in all those songs (unrelated to the lyrics but added in the middle or end of the lyric to as a rhyme). There is yet a recognized conclusion on the origin and purpose of e-e-janai-ka; generally, it is understood as social/political protests of the public who were discontent with political situations and wanted social reform. (Source: Wikipedia Japan)
  11. The word Gewalt is German, meaning violence and power. Gewalt sticks are symbolic weapons often used in Japanese student movements in the 1960s. The material was usually four-corner wooden sticks originally used in construction. Gewalt sticks, safety helmets, and dust masks are the three symbols of left-wing protest groups. (Source: Wikipedia Japan)

KuroDalaiJee (Kuroda Raiji) is an art historian and curator. He graduated from Tokyo University in 1985 with an MA degree in Humanities and Sociology. The exhibitions he has researched and organized while working at the Fukuoka Art Museum (1975–99) and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (1999–present) include the first retrospectives of Group Kyūshū-ha (1988), Neo Dada (1993), and Collective Kumo (1997), and the solo exhibitions of Lee Bul (2001), Lionel Wendt (2002), and Long Chinsan (2011). He also co-curated the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale in 1999, 2002, 2005, 2009, and 2014.