[From May Issue 2010]

Musicians who perform in public near train stations and artists who draw portraits tend to attract passersby. While some artists sell poems written on pieces of thick paper that they arrange on the ground, it is the street musicians who are most popular, usually surrounded by many fans, especially young people.

But eventually the police come to admonish them because performing in public, or selling things on the street, are prohibited in principle as they violate Japan’s Road Traffic Laws. As a result, few officially approved public performances ever take place.

The “Heaven Artist” program, started in 2002 by Tokyo Governor ISHIHARA Shintaro, is a Metropolitan government-approved plan that supports street performers, or so-called daidou geinin. The program allows those who pass an audition to perform in public or near commercial facilities, mainly in and around Tokyo.

Successful artists are permitted to perform at 49 facilities and 66 spots, including the Tomin Hiroba (Citizen’s Plaza) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Marunouchi, and Ueno Park. But, while annual auditions do attract some 300 applicants, the screening process is so rigid that only about 20 get approved.

Popular marimba duo Natsu & Kayo have been performing, mostly in Ueno Park, since 2006 as part of the Heaven Artist program. Both, professional marimba players who graduated from prestigious music colleges, captivate their spectators by playing classical pieces such as Vittorio MONTI’s Czardas and Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART’s Turkish March.

“Because the Metropolitan government has given us a place to perform, we can play music with peace of mind,” says the duo, adding that the appeal of a street performance is that they feel closer to their audience than when they play in a concert hall. Typically, 4 to 8 different street performances are held one after another, each lasting about 15 minutes. Selling items such as CDs is prohibited, so the performers’ source of income comes from nagesen (money thrown by spectators/donations). The performers often invite people watching from afar to get closer, but shy Japanese people tend to stay back.

TOMMY, the 2004 World Yo-Yo Champion, enjoys stunning his audiences with a variety of impressive tricks. While regularly appearing in Muscle Musical, a musical variety show where the performers use their physical abilities, TOMMY also performs, street shows saying that “it’s the place where I can express myself freely,” emphatically adding, “I find enjoyment and good times there. I love the close feeling with the audience and the live atmosphere. This thing I do is not just my job, but my existence itself.”

Marimba duo Natsu&Kayo
YoYo Paformer TOMMY

Text: MUKAI Natsuko

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