Notes from Japan – Nicole Bindler

Dear friends and colleagues, Here is some writing about my visit to Japan. Please let me know if you would like to continue to receive performance announcements but don’t want to receive these writings. I’ve added subject headings for the various sections, so feel free to scroll down to the topics that interest you. Here’s a link to some video of Corrie Befort and I dancing outdoors: Here’s a link to her website with details about our upcoming performance in Tokyo: Please note the change in venue.

Best wishes, -Nicole


I’m here in Japan for two weeks to dance, rehearse and perform with Corrie Befort. This project was funded in part by a professional development grant from Dance Advance. I’m staying this week in Ebina, outside of Tokyo with Corrie. Next week I’ll be staying in Tokyo with another dancer friend of mine from Philly, Rebecca Lloyd Jones.

When I arrived on Sunday the 25th, after 20 hours of traveling, I stood transfixed in the Shinjuku train station, waiting for Corrie to pick me up. A man asked in English if I needed help and I said no. I must have looked a mess standing there in the center of the station, people streaming around me, suitcases and bags strewn at my feet, circles under my eyes, slack jawed, mesmerized by three women in pink bunny costumes dancing in a video ad on the side of a building, standing there as if in the midst of a petit mal seizure. I must have looked terrible, but I was actually very happy. I knew that Corrie would come. I called her cell from a pay phone. Of course, she had said take the “South Exit” and I had taken the “New South Exit”. Duh.

Corrie lives in an agricultural area, outside of Tokyo called Ebina. She lives on a quiet, pristine street in a very spacious house. Her husband is in the navy and is stationed in Japan. We went grocery shopping on the Army base. There were bowling alleys, bars, McDonalds, grocery stores and movie theaters. Many of these military families live in Japan, but they stayed in America. Corrie and her husband don’t live on base. She’s been studying Japanese intensively here for the past 3 yrs and has immersed herself in the Japanese dance community.


On Monday we went to an Aikido class on the army base, where Corrie has been practicing for a few months with a Japanese teacher. I had studied Aikido for one year, ten yrs ago and a lot came back to me; the rolls and terrible wrist twisting. One guy said I was a natural as he winced in pain from my terrible wrist twisting. I was taught how to bow, how to get up with my left foot first and go down with my right. We practiced rolls and pushing each other up and down and wrist twisting. One guy said, “Don’t look down, you’ve been looking down your whole life”, which was a condescending thing to say, especially since he had just been showing me how to place my feet *down* on the floor.


The Onsen are natural hot spring baths. We found one hidden in a garden of bamboo trees with wooded pathways, creeks and fire torches. An old man appeared at a sliding door and invited us in. He struck a drum several times as we took off our shoes. For real. We were led to a tea room with Western Classical music playing. It was ornately decorated with chandeliers, and smelled musty. Then we were directed to the hot spring baths where we washed at shower stalls, seated on these tiny stools. Then we boiled in the bath there for awhile. There is an interesting thing about slippers here. They give you slippers to wear indoors, but then there are different slippers to wear in the bathroom, so you’re always changing footwear and it’s always too small for me. Also many of the toilet seats are heated.


We’ve been rehearsing at Corrie’s community center, a very short bike ride from her house. The studio at the center has windows that open out to rice fields. In our first rehearsal, flocks of sparrows darted towards and away from us. As they flew towards us they expanded and then they contracted as they sped away, all in unison. We performed solos for one another as a way to become acquainted with each other’s movement. As we soloed dozens of birds danced behind us. We also practiced improvised text and movement and contact improvisation. At our 3rd rehearsal we were joined by Yuki Enomoto who will be performing with us next week. We directed each other in impromptu solo compositions. One person would dance, another direct and another watch. We did every configuration between us and learned a lot about our different directorial styles. Yuki directed me to find a place where I wanted to be and to make myself very comfortable, whereas I directed her to perform a previously choreographed phrase over and over while singing a song she could barely recall from childhood, to the point of exhaustion. I was very demanding, but her solo was stunning. Our most recently rehearsal was outdoors on a gorgeous day. You can see footage from that rehearsal here:


Kazuo Ohno’s studio is outside of Yokohama. We had to walk up steep hills and stairs to reach the studio. from the top we saw the twinkling lights of the city. Houses were packed very close to one another, but there were still tons of trees and gardens flourishing in the crevices. The studio was tiny, in a house at the top of the hill, filled with chairs, couches and knick knacks. I think there must be a living space somewhere in the house, because Yoshito Ohno seemed right at home.

Yoshito Ohno’s class was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. An Italian dancer who’s been studying with him for years offered to translate for me. He began by asking us to walk slowly. We walked as he played Western classical music for approx 90 seconds. Then he lectured for 5 minutes on the importance of every moment and how it is a gift to be alive. We walked again for 90 seconds. He made postural adjustments with little fans. Then he gave us all artificial roses and discussed the similarity between us and the rose. He touched the crown of my head and said this is the head of the rose and my feet are the roots. He had us run with the roses, asked us to let go of our ego, to disappear and be the rose, have the rose initiated our running. Then he cut a sheet of paper with a box cutter and asked us to cut the space. He said that if we lift our chins we won’t have the power to cut the space. It seemed like an Alexander lesson on LSD.

Then he gave us sheet of gauze and asked us to dance with the gauze and to let the light fabric teach us about delicacy. He said all this was very serious, of the utmost importance, that when we get old we won’t be able to dance unless we understand this lesson of delicacy. He talked about other dancers who possess(ed) this delicacy: Martha Graham, Pina Baush, his father, Kazuo Ohno. He had us dance to some ambient music, and then some more classical. At one point he thought we were being irreverent and careless, so he told us to dance for all the children in the world who can’t sleep.

Dance for all the children in the world who can’t sleep.

In other circumstances, I would have laughed because it sounded so heavy handed, but I was exhausted from standing for 2 hrs, listening to him lecture and the ambient music, My nervous system was totally fried. My dance had very little movement. I mostly just stood there with gauze in my hands, crying. After class we had tea and snacks, chatted and laughed like normal people.

At my second class with Ohno, people were already practicing their slow walking when we arrived. He had us dance with just our hands, then walk backwards, then dance just with our backs, then walk around while threading a needle, then push against the wall, then push against the air as if the wall was there. He talked about Buddhist philosophy, existence and nonexistence. I hardly understood a thing. He played Amazing Grace over and over and I cried while walking slowly. Again we had tea and snacks. Yoshito Ohno had a wonderful sweet presence with his students. He exuded warmth and affection. I told him his class was very meaningful to me, though I didn’t really understand a lot of it. He said I taught him as well and he gave me a fake rose and a piece of gauze to practice with. I will practice, though I don’t even know what I’m doing when I’m dancing Butoh.

General Impressions

Here is where I list all the strange things I’ve seen so far:

At 5 o’clock there’s a song that plays from huge speakers to let people know it’s time to go home from work.

The neighbors warn Corrie not to hang up her clothes on Yellow Dust Day, when yellow dust blows in from China and dirties her clothes.

The Japanese are so economic with their design. Corrie’s pantry is in the floor. The sink water feeds into the toilet. They leave their bath water for days, reusing it over and over (showering beforehand)

The technology here is astounding. The rail system is extensive and efficient. Everything talks to you, the escalator, the bathtub. And the bath plays a song that chimes throughout the house when it’s full. In some places there are fake flushing sounds at the toilets for modesty.

Everyone is so polite and organized. People line up for the train. Corrie lost a bag of new clothes on the train and retrieved it at lost and found. Not one stole it.

Many people wear masks because of the pollution and/or because they’re sick.

Everything really is smaller here, I keep hitting my head on the handles on the trains. I haven’t seen a single homeless person.

When I up I check my email and correspond with people who are going to bed. It’s yesterday in America. When I go to sleep I check my email and they’re waking up.

Flashing lights everywhere.

There is a second hand store called “hard-off”, and an Americana shop specializing in super detailed beach boy station wagons called “rod sports”.

“bottled water” in a can



We rode a train through the foggy Konagawa mountains – absolutely stunning. We went to Odawara to see the ocean. There were massive concrete dumbbells lining the beach to protect the highway and city from typhoons. The sand was black and there were flying fish. The day was cold and overcast but the water was warm.

The main street of Odawara was lined with colorful translucent balls, strung from building to building
and hyper cheerful folk music played from speakers. I couldn’t decide if this was whimsical or creepy.

The next day we rode our bikes along the Sagami river and visited some temples. It’s fall here and there were red and yellow leaves falling continuously around it.

More next week!

Nicole Bindler, BA, CMT
Choreographer, Bodyworker, Educator.
(215) 389-0211

DVDs available:
“Rosemary, That’s for Remembrance” (2006)
Dance for the camera by Nicole Bindler
and Loren Groenendaal.
$10, to order, please reply to this email.

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