Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Without Theater, there is No City of Culture
AKINO Yuki / Professor, Waseda University

February 5, 2024
Although it is seen as a key to economic growth, the way it stands now is like catching fish and putting them in a bucket with the bottom falling out. We're talking about the theater industry.

This fiscal year, the government of Japan allocated a new budget of about 10 billion yen to comprehensive support for performing arts. The aim is to "promote prosperity in the country through the economic stimulus generated by investment in culture and the arts." The 2025 deadline to achieve the target of 18 trillion yen for cultural GDP (economic value of the culture and arts industry) is fast approaching. The theaters also have a positive effect on the after-hours economy.

However, there is an increasing shortage of theaters in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The National Theatre of Japan and the National Engei Hall closed last year, and no date has been set for their reopening. According to the Japan Council of Performers Rights & Performing Arts Organizations, about 20 theaters, both large and small, will be closed by 2026. Theaters with a capacity of 2,000 seats will be in significantly short supply from 2024. A large number of Japan's cultural facilities in Japan are aging at the same time and need to be renovated as they mushroomed in the 1970s and 1980s riding the wave of the 100th anniversaries of the prefectural governments and the bubble economy. The economic damage will not be small. In 2016, the nationwide renovation and closure of multiple halls caused the market to shrink by about 6.2 billion yen compared to the previous year.

The loss of performance venues adversely affects the transfer of skills and the chance for personal development and deprives the public of the chance to appreciate them. In the sixty years since the war, Tokyo has become,on a par with New York City, an international performing arts city that invites the world's highest-quality performers. As a result, the public has cultivated a discerning taste for the performing arts. However, many theaters that have been used for the world's best invitational programs and large-scale performances by domestic groups will soon be renovated or closed in succession. Currently, there is an increasingly serious shortage of manpower in the construction industry throughout Japan. In these conditions, theaters tend to be considered unnecessary. But have we properly grasped the value of what we have gained during this time?

Seen globally, cultural policy now focuses on “ecosystems”. The ecosystem concept is an attempt to comprehend the overall picture of the industry, going beyond individual and group performances and including the effects on related industries and nearby cities. For example, take the Japanese ballet world. Fascinated by live performances, children put on ballet shoes and began to dance. Japan has become a country known for its large number of ballet studios. As the base comprising ballet studios widened, the level of performance reached higher peaks. One industry that currently has an extremely large number of people from Japan in the highest positions in the industry is undoubtedly ballet. Just as the Germans love judo and the French love Japanese lifestyle and anime, the Japanese, as world citizens, also love what they consider to be excellent. As spectators and performers, they have contributed to the advancement of art and culture shared by humankind. There are theaters, classrooms, performers and spectators, and professionals involved in the production areas such as music, video, art, lighting, costumes, publishing, and advertising. The trust thus garnered in the performing arts ecosystem is the foundation of mutual invitations and exchanges in a tough global market. These are the assets of a mature nation that have been weaved together over time. Theaters are just one part of this ecosystem. However, without theater, the next 100 years will be bleak.

Dots are connected to form lines, which then form a surface. Everyone involved exerts his best daily and his action affects the economy. The cumulation of these individual contributions becomes the culture of cities and countries. It would be pointless if only the glamorous surface of all the arduous work were skimmed to parade a city as an international culture center.

If we look at other countries, Germany has a comprehensive picture of the allocation of public facilities in its infrastructure atlas. Public-private collaboration is essential for theater construction and operation today, but coordination across siloed interests to avoid industry stagnation is a fundamental function of public policy. We don't need any extraordinary plans for the next century. Stopping the leakage from under our feet should be the first order of business.

Yuki Akino is a professor at Waseda University and specializes in cultural policy. She serves as a committee member for research projects commissioned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the Cabinet Secretariat, etc. This is a reposting of the article that appeared in the morning edition of Mainichi Shimbun on January 4. 2024.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

秋野 有紀 / 早稲田大学教授

2024年 2月 5日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Without Theater, there is No City of Culture