Jo-Ha-Kyu & Story (Updated: 02/21/18)

“Every phenomenon in the universe develops itself through a certain progression. Even the cry of a bird and the noise of an insect follow this progression. It is called Jo-Ha-Kyu.” – Motokiyo Zeami (AD 1363 – 1443)¹

The soul of butoh is not really about form alone, but individual essence or story, especially if pulled from the subconscious (subbody). Essentially, the Japanese words Jo-Ha-Kyu involve the three major parts of a story–beginning/opening (thesis), middle/development (antithesis), and end/climax (synthesis).¹ For instance, in Tatsumi Hijikata’s Bugs Crawl, we begin with the simple awareness of the situation and a single bug (Jo), then bugs gradually infiltrate (Ha) till there is nothing left but bugs (Kyu), then there is a resurrection (Kyu/New Jo). Sometimes the line between Kyu and a New Jo may be difficult to see. Catharsis, for instance, may be viewed as the climax, but also a new beginning.

Jo is often small due to serving as a trigger, while Ha is quite often very involved, and Kyu also small. Small, however, does not mean less intense, just an initiation or wrap-up. Because of this, it is not unheard of to hear of Jo-Ha-Ha-Ha-…Kyu.

There can be a Jo-Ha-Kyu within the entire span of a piece or there can be a Jo-Ha-Kyu within one qualia, one among several Jo-Ha-Kyus. There can be a Jo-Ha-Kyu in the throwing of a rock. All shadow work especially contains the Jo-Ha-Kyu, and the Kyu is sustainability/catharsis/healing.

For clarity’s sake, let’s take Joseph Campbell’s story circle (The Hero’s Journey) as fit into Dan Harmon’s categories as an example, and identify the Jo-Ha-Kyu.²

  1. You (a character is in a zone of comfort) (Jo)
  2. Need (but they want something) (Jo)
  3. Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation) (Ha)
  4. Search (adapt to it) (Ha)
  5. Find (find what they wanted) (Ha/Kyu)
  6. Take (pay its price) (Kyu)
  7. Return (and go back to where they started) (Kyu/New Jo)
  8. Change (now capable of change) (New Jo)

(As you can see, sometimes the placements of the Jo, Ha, and Kyus are up for interpretation. Not to mention there are meta-Jo-Ha-Kyus within each Jo, Ha, or Kyu.)

Exercise 1: Throwing Jo-Ha-Kyus

As a Jumping Wild exercise, one person throws out various Jo-Ha-Kyus one at a time (first Jo, then Ha, then Kyu). Examples: question, thesis, conclusion / inadequate, adequate, too much / sensation, action, result / birth, life, death.

Exercise 2: Throwing Jo-Ha-Kyu Variations

This is a reduced/deterritorialized Jo-Ha-Kyu Jumping Wild exercise. One person can edit/remix the concept of Jo-Ha-Kyu and one at a time throw either Jo, Ha, or Kyu, but the order may shift. If for instance we throw a Jo followed by another Jo, then the story or scenery is constantly shifting and being felt. Or somebody may call out Jo then Ha, then decide Jo → Ha → Jo then Jo → Ha → Kyu → Jo followed by Jo → Kyu.


Momiyose is a form of Jo-Ha-Kyu where the Kyu is a condensed culmination of the Jo and Ha. For instance, if it takes a minute or two to open and feel the Jo scenery/qualia, and another 8 to travel the journey of changes (Ha-Ha-Ha), then perhaps one chooses a 1 minute climax merging together (whether linearly or not), everything that occurred within the Jo and Ha.³

Several encounters of near-death experiences have the life review or life flashing before one’s eyes. This is very much like a Momiyose Kyu.


¹ Oida, Yoshi, and Lorna Marshall. The Invisible Actor. London: Methuen, 1997. Print.
² Harmon, Dan. Story Structure 104: The Juicy Details. Channel 101 Wiki.
³ Lee, Rhizome. The Butoh: Dedication to Tatsumi Hijikata. 2018. Page. 277.