Watch the documentary of Melvin, our traveller #001 here.
Melvin Coppalle - Traveller #001
Theme of the travel:
Butoh dance and Japanese culture
1. Deepen understanding of butoh
2. Have a butoh performance in Japan
Born in Normandy, grew up in Bretagne, France. He grew up being familiar with Japanese culture since childhood and has practiced Aikido and Kung Fu for 10 years. Since meeting butoh in his student years, he was influenced by Tatsumi Hijikata, Carlotta Ikeda, Akaji Maro, Ushio Amagatsu and other butoh dancers. Incorporating components from martial arts, kabuki, Indian Kathakali, and Mohinniattam dance and hip-hop, his unique performance became gradually known among the Rennes citizens. He is leading the Izanami Compaigne in Rennes since 2016.
"I was attracted by Japanese culture before I started walking. Maybe in another life I could be Japanese, because I really have a special feeling towards the culture"
We had our first contact with Melvin about 3 weeks upon his arrival to establish good communication and trust for designing his life-changing travel. Some of his important requests were: Noting his vegetarian diet, making the trip an un-touristic one, and visiting places important for his butoh (kabuki theater, temples and shrines, make-up shops, etc.). As a result, we designed a trip that can contrast different sides of Japan in urban Tokyo and the countryside Akita prefecture.
Day 0: A first encounter with Japan
After a 12-hour-long flight, Melvin arrived at Narita airport in the morning. We left the schedule empty and took enough time to rest at an Airbnb in Shibamata, a traditional outskirt of downtown Tokyo. Melvin being energetic enough, we went out to walk in Asakusa to visit the temple, then going to Shibuya to meet the chaotic buildings and the urban crowd.
“I want to dance here on this intersection in Shibuya, and I want to feel the buildings and all the people inside me. I'm very small. I want to feel that with my dance. “
Day 1：A butoh tour in Tokyo
After taking a good rest and a glimpse of the Japanese capital, the first day was dedicated for a tour learning all about butoh dance. A conversation with the butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata’s assistant at Keio University Art center, a butoh dance workshop with a legendary butoh dancer Yoshito Ohno in Yokohama, watching a kabuki performance at Kabukiza theater, wander around Shinjuku kabukicho which is famous for the underground Japanese sub-culture, etc. Seems like a little bit too much input for a day, but why not if it is a trip you have wished for your whole life?
“The Japanese dancers started moving their body immediately as the music began. For my butoh, I have to wait. Wait until my body gets gradually filled with emotions, and then it can finally move.”
Day 2：Meet the countryside in Akita
A 4-hour rapid train ride brought Melvin into a land of snow and silence. Akita, the most rapidly aging and depopulating countryside in Japan, happened to also be the birthplace of the butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, thus a Mecca for butoh dancers. Visiting the Kamaitachi art museum in Tashiro village, Melvin deepened his understanding of Hijikata and his butoh dance. At the traditional farm-inn where Melvin will spend the next 1 week, he was welcomed by a full plate of local dishes, as well as the hospitality of the local people he met for the first time.
“When I arrived at Tashiro, I immediately felt the difference between Tokyo and Akita. Maybe it's easier to feel comfortable in Tokyo, but in fact, I feel more comfortable here... because I really feel the meaning of being here.”
Day 3：Meet the “sensei”
Waking up with an unusual big breakfast for Melvin (which is normal for this village), he joined the butoh workshop by Ms. Saga Kobayashi, a student of Hijikata. Carefully observing her movements and listening to each words of her, Melvin’s attitude seemed to be accepted by the teacher. After the lesson, Melvin visited a local buddhist temple where he had a chance to learn the tea ceremony, zen meditation, and the life of the people living there.
“Because in Japan everything is different, I have all to learn now. And for me, understanding the Japanese rules means understanding a little bit about myself.”
Day 4：Showing the French butoh
This morning, Melvin lead the butoh workshop to show how he teaches butoh dance in France. The methods being different, the Japanese participants and Ms. Kobayashi seemed to enjoy the comparison of the different styles. In the afternoon, Melvin went to learn the “Nishimonai bon dance”, a local festive mourning dance that has been inherited for more than 700 years.
“This is a sort of dance that you shouldn’t actually just ‘experience’ for one day. You should keep practicing and practicing every day, and you learn with your body little by little.”
Day 5：Sharing sake with the locals
Melvin seemed to be a little bit worn off from too much activities, so we changed the schedule and made a half-day off for the morning instead of a workshop. After spending time with Ms.Kobayashi chatting and resting, Melvin gained enough energy to experience the indigo dying workshop at a traditional kimono shop in the afternoon. Then we went to a local pub, which turned out to be a perfect place to learn another aspect of a “Japan with drinks” and to have interaction with the locals.
“I learned how to serve sake, and I think it's more than a sake. It's about sharing, it's about trying to share a part of your life with someone you may not know, you may not even see again.“
Day 6：Dancing in the snow
Melvin and Ms. Kobayashi spent the day preparing for their butoh performance on the next day, having discussions and keep practicing movements. During the lunch break, Melvin learned from a master how to cook the most famous local cuisine in Tashiro village: the Nishimonai soba noodle. Then the two dancers said that they want to dance butoh on the snow, so we started looking for a good place, set the lights and the cameras, and eventually had an epic stage on the snow.
Day 7: Being accepted
On the final day, Melvin and Ms. Kobayashi shared a butoh stage at the 61st Tatsumi Hijikata Anniversary Event held in Akita city. First being suspicious towards the strange foreign butoh dancer, at the end of the performance, the audience welcomed Melvin’s energetic butoh with applause. After the performance, Melvin gave a farewell to Ms. Kobayashi, promising her that he will one day come back again.
“I cannot say for sure if my butoh has changed or not. But if I myself have changed, of course, my butoh changes too, of course. Because my butoh is nothing but an extension of myself.”
It has been about 2 months since Melvin left Japan for France, where he is currently working on his master thesis. Asking how things have changed since then, Melvin shared us an interesting development. He said that he does not insist on the butoh dance anymore, but eventually realized that the question was about “who I am” rather than “what is butoh”. He will keep seeking for his own dance expression, he says, and will find a way to come back to Japan to start a life there. It seemed that for him, this trip was not a dream coming true but just an introduction for his new story.
Meet the mastery of Soba noodle
313-4 Minami Nishimonai, Ugo
Feel like home with Natto Ramen
11:00~14:00/Closed on Tuesday/¥700~
114-1 Fumoto, Tashiro, Ugo
Enter the winter Satoyama Kitchen
61 Fumoto, Tashiro, Ugo
Taste the wonder of fermentation
Open on Weekdays/1h/2~6/￥1500
Ugo Beer Brewery
109 Honcho, Nishimonai, Ugo
Meditate with Buddhist cuisine
25 Komoride, Naka Sendo, Ugo
Experience the sake serving culture
17:30~23:00/Closed on Monday
2-6 Kami Kawahara, Nishimonai, Ugo
Meet Hijikata at the Kamaitachi Museum of Art
Closed during Winter (Dec~Apr)/Weekends only/10:00~16:30/¥300/Reservation available for 5~
67-3 Fumoto, Tashiro, Ugo
Face the eternity of the time with Zazen
25 Komoride, Naka Sendo, Ugo
Feel the dance of the dead with Nishimonai Bon Dance
All year except July August/2h/1~10/¥3000
Ugo Tourism Association
200 Nakano, Nishimonai, Ugo
Taste all the fun of winter in Tashiro
Place depending on snow condition
Find the beauty of coincidence with Indigo dying
All year except August/3h/3~5/￥3000
Akagawa Kimono Shop
44 Honcho, Nishimonai, Ugo
Roadside Station Ugo
24/7 open parking space, bathrooms, shower room, nursery room, rest area, free wifi
Tourist information center 9:00~17:00
Facilities: farmers market, diner, cafe, gelato shop
200 Nakano, Nishimonai, Ugo
All year/¥10000~15000 per person
max. 7 ppl
52 Sendatsuzawa, Iizawa, Ugo
All year/Closed on Wed & Thu
¥5000 Breakfast +¥1500 Dinner +¥2000
max. 5 ppl
Cafe closed on Thu & Fri (entirely closed during winter)
140 Amasawa, Tashiro, Ugo
Farm Inn Rira
￥4500 Breakfast +¥1000 Dinner +¥1500
max. 4 ppl
60 Fukushima, Ashida, Ugo
Gorinzaka Onsen Toshito Land
￥8,640~ (2 meals)
Log house ￥12000
max. 112 ppl (including annex)
43-4 Gorinzaka Shita, Ashida, Ugo
max. 5 ppl
61 Fumoto, Tashiro, Ugo