Theatre awards here do not have the same profile as, say, the Olivier or Evening Standard Awards (even though they are likewise often sponsored by a newspaper), and nowhere like the status of the Tony Awards.
One factor is that the plays have of course closed long ago and it doesn’t make any difference to its commercial prospects in the short term. They do, however, have influence on the reputation of the writer-director (and the nominated are usually writer-directors) and can lead to them getting better funding and resources.
Arguably the most respected is the Kishida Award and it was was announced a few months ago. I expected the winner to be Yakiniku Dragon‘s Wishing Chong, as it won the Kinokuniya Theatre Award and the Asahi Grand Prix. But in fact the winners were Yukiko Motoya and Ryuta Horai.(Personally, I thought Yakiniku Dragon was over-long and over-rated. A fine play but a melodramatic family drama that broke no new ground.)
Among last year’s productions, Shunkin won awards for Eri Fukatsu from Kinokuniya and Ishinha‘s Yukichi Matsumoto also pipped an Asahi Artist Award for his ambitious projects.
Other major theatre awards in Japan include the Yomiuri, as well as the Odashima Yushi Award for drama translation (this year won by Robert Allan Ackerman‘s translator/literary manager) that started this year. However, it was recently announced that the Asahi Performing Arts Awards would be suspended.
The Spring edition of Theatre Arts includes an interesting vote from theatre people on the best productions of 2008. Comparing it with the main theatre awards, the results are not particularly surprising, with Yakiniku Dragon coming out on top.
See here for a Japan Times interview with Wishing Chong.