Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

The Japanese Jazz Age part 4: "The Dance that could not be Named"

When Tomoyoshi Murayama returned to Japan in 1922 after a year's study in Germany, the avant-garde movement in Taisho period Tokyo gained one of its most flamboyant and energetic artists. 

Murayama had been in Germany to ostensibly study philosophy, but he quickly gave that up and threw himself into the Dada and Futurism movements, meeting giants such as Marinetti and Kurt Schwitters, and putting on exhibitions of his own work.

He returned to a group of artist friends who called themselves the Mavo Movement, 'Mavo' standing for Conscious Constructivism.

Murayama and his cohorts saw art as a process that involved all of the senses and most of the materials found in everyday life. He said repeatedly that he was not a Dadaist, and expressed a number of theories regarding art, describing his own intentions as "freedom, strength, reality ... all of myself, boiling over". His own artworks were mixed-media creations that defied description, using such materials as paint, cloth, rope, human hair, nails, dolls and used train tickets.

In May 1925, the Mavo group, in conjunction with a drama troupe called the Sanka, staged "Sanka in Theater" at the Tsukiji Little Theater in Tokyo. It was an evening of art, dance, and music designed to showcase Mavo Conscious Constructivism, and resulted in shocking and outraging the audience, who had no idea what they were in for. The theater was filled with a variety of sounds and smells, such as racing motorcycles and burning fish. Dances were performed in aggressive, staccato, improvised movements, possibly inspired by Stravinsky's "Sacre du Printemps". Murayama himself, in an androgynous page-boy haircut and a woman's dress, gave a solo performance that the Chuo Newspaper art critics later described as "a dance that could not be named", accompanied by music from a "sound-constructor" device made from tin cans and spinning bicycle wheel. At the end of the performance, Murayama destroyed the sound-constructor onstage, Jim Hendrix style.

Murayama was not just picking up on trends coming from Europe. He was actively trying to develop those ideas, to take them in new directions, and bring them into everyday life. His work was extremely influential, and not just in Japan - traces of it can be seen today in the creations of artists such as Stockhausen and John Cage.  

NEXT: The reaction of Japan's art world to the destruction of Tokyo in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. 


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Comment by John Paul Catton on September 24, 2012 at 11:32am

Sorry Lord K, I haven't had time to say thank you! I appreciate the link, and if it's all right with you I shall use some pictures, when I get time to write the article. 

Comment by lord_k on September 17, 2012 at 3:03pm

Regarding your future entry: there is a few examples of artwork here, probably you'd like to use some. Keep up the good work!

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