Mapping Contortion in Japan-- Part One, A History

Circus News

Mapping Contortion in Japan– Part One, A History

I recently published my anthropological research study The Art of Contortionism: An Introduction to and Analysis of Chinese Contortionism in a Historical, Political and Social Context aiming to position the art of contortion in scholarly literature, exploring its history and development, and to open up this valuable field for future discussion and research. With this article, I would like to tie in on my previous work in East Asia and explore the development of contortionism in Japan through an anthropological lens by taking historical and social aspects into account.
Image C: Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Walter Dillingham, 1940 (11504) Title: Seki Sanjürö II as Echigo Jishi from 1813, Artist: Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769 – 1825) In order to map the development of contortion in Japan, it is imperative to encompass historical events that might have influenced the development of contortion practices in Japan. Events to consider are the beginning of the China-Japan relations in the 8th century which sparked the first recorded encounter with circus arts, the moment Japan opened up to the world again after more than 200 years of isolation (1639-1853), enabling an artistic exchange between Japan an...
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Mariam Ala Rashi

Mariam Ala-Rashi is a cultural anthropologist for dance and performance studies with an M.A. from the University of Roehampton in London, UK. As a professional dancer and dance instructor, she has worked internationally and won numerous awards in Europe and Asia. In 2011, she was accepted to the Beijing International Art School and studied contortion full-time for more than 4 years, and continued her contortion studies at the Mongolian National Circus for another 2 years. Simultaneously, she worked as author and researcher carrying out fieldwork in East Asia, focusing on dance and circus arts. Her recent publication is "The Art of Contortionism. An Introduction to and Analysis of Chinese Contortionism in a Historical, Political and Social Context." She currently lives in Japan to continue her anthropological research in dance and performance studies.