Missing Bodies, Missing Voices: Ordinary Lives and the Reframing of ‘Postwar Japan’

Missing bodies, missing voices’ engages critically with historical actors whose movements and words can deepen, challenge and change the accepted conceptual and chronological orders of historical knowledge of postwar Japan.  


We bring together farmers from Tohoku, dancers from Tokyo’s backstreets, miners in Kyushu, and ordinary housewives, among other historical actors. We ask of them how they saw their lives in the 1950s and 60s, and indeed before 1952? For instance, when turning to the thoughts of female farmers in rural Japan, what does ‘democracy’ or ‘feminism’ mean? When shifting our focus from accepted narratives of environmental movements in the 1970s to the science experiments of ordinary housewives in their backyards in the 1950s, how does out understanding of ‘environmentalism’ deepen? What does the ‘body’ mean for those contending with what their bodies meant, and how they could use them?


Though our focus is largely on the postwar period, thinking with these historical actors will also expand our understanding of the transwar perspective. The embedded concept of pre- and post-war makes less sense when seen from the perspective of these actors. Many were subject to the same difficulties regardless of wartime. Moreover, many continued to engage in or projects they began pre-1945. When we turn to these ordinary lives, the divisions historians use to mark the twentieth century may collapse.


Bringing together scholars from both Japanese and Anglophone academia will also encourage a transnational exchange of knowledge and scholarly perspectives. Finally, we conclude with a performance on butoh, a genre conceived in this period. This allows participants to experience how ideas generated in this period have evolved up to today.


Missing Bodies, Missing Voices: Ordinary Lives and the Reframing of ‘Postwar Japan’


Pavilion Room, St Antony’s College, Oxford


Friday 10th-Saturday 11th March 2023


Register here, or online here





This event is supported by the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, the Toshiba International Foundation, and the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation.


Our conference concludes with the performance of a dance genre created in this period, allowing us to experience how ideas generated in this period have evolved up to today.


Butoh Performance: Eternity123

Old Fire Station, Oxford

6pm, 11th March 2023

Tickets: https://oldfirestation.org.uk/whats-on/eternity-123/


Eternity 123 is the third instalment of a feminist dance triptych choreographed and performed by Vangeline (Elsewhere in 2018, Erasure in 2019, and now Eternity 123).

Eternity 123 traces the symbolic journey of women’s liberation across time. With this piece, Vangeline also celebrates the impact of women on the art form butoh, exploring the link between women, butoh, and “cabaret.”

‘In the 70s and 80s, women butoh dancers danced in “cabarets” to make a living in Tokyo”, says Vangeline. “This history has led to unique methods and contributions by women in our field–contributions that have typically been overlooked. In the 1990s, I also made a living in New York as a go go/burlesque/vaudeville dancer. In this piece, I celebrate women trailblazers while playfully exploring these layers of history.”

Behind all significant cultural movements and changes in history, the lives of countless women can be found, as well as countless voices that have been silenced. As we challenge our collective memory by telling their stories, we redefine the importance of women’s participation in society.


Vangeline is a teacher, dancer, and choreographer specializing in Japanese butoh. She is the artistic director of the Vangeline Theater/New York Butoh Institute (New York), a dance company firmly rooted in the tradition of Japanese butoh while carrying it into the twenty-first century. With her all-female dance company, Vangeline’s socially conscious performances tie together butoh and activism. Vangeline is the founder of the New York Butoh Institute Festival, which elevates the visibility of women in butoh, and the festival Queer Butoh. She pioneered the award-winning, 15-year running program The Dream a Dream Project, which brings butoh dance to incarcerated men and women at correctional facilities across New York State. Her choreographed work has been performed in Chile, Hong Kong, Germany, Denmark, France, the UK, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

This event is supported by TORCH.  

torch logo shaved bottom