[From January Issue 2015]
Tokyo Traditional Arts Program
Launched in 2008 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, “Tokyo Traditional Arts Program” is part of the Tokyo Culture Creation Project. In Tokyo there remain numerous performing arts traditions. The scheme aims to hand down these skills to future generations.
This year, three major events took place: Traditional Arts Performances, Traditional Performing Arts for Kids, and Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony 2014. The content of the programs is specifically chosen with an emphasis on making traditional performing arts welcoming and accessible. At Traditional Arts Performances, for example, a show called “Japanese Comedy Traditional and Contemporary” was held. Kyogen actors and comedians perform together and explore the differences and similarities between classic and modern comedies.
Traditional Performing Arts for Kids operates training programs. Children choose their favorite art from options such as Noh, Japanese dancing; shakuhachi (bamboo flute)and shamisen (Japanese guitar). They then receive lessons directly from top-notch artists. At the end of the program, they have a public show. MORI Ryuichiro, a public relations director of Tokyo Culture Creation Project says: “Learning traditional performing may feel awkward. But these programs offer seven months of intensive training so they can learn in a relaxed atmosphere.” So far, some 1,800 children have participated in these programs.
Mori says he wants students to get a sense of the value of Japanese culture through these programs; that nothing similar can be found in the rest of the world. “Practiced continuously for 600 years, the art of Noh is an aural tradition that has been handed down through imitation. Registered by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, it’s the world’s oldest performing art tradition still in existence. By experiencing such Japanese traditional performing arts, they will hopefully develop a sense of respect for Japanese culture.”
Mori says that one characteristic of Japanese traditional performing arts is that they are linked to ordinary people’s everyday lives. “In Japan, Noh stages can be found in the countryside, and kabuki is performed in some farming villages.” Nagauta (long epic songs), kouta (ballads) and the shamisen were popular accomplishments amongst the merchant classes in the Edo period. Bon odori dances held in summer throughout Japan are also a traditional performing art.
The Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to be held in six years, will be a great opportunity to promote traditional performing arts in Tokyo. “In the Olympics, the host city is expected to hold cultural and educational programs. We’re still deciding what we’re going to offer, but there will be many opportunities for people to immerse themselves in traditional arts. Rather than just watching professional performances, for a more direct experience, I want people from abroad to informally participate in bon dancing.”
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo