Concerned Theatre Japan: A pioneering English-language magazine about 1970’s Japanese theatre

Today students of Japanese post-war and contemporary theatre are fortunate to have numerous resources at their disposal. While much more needs to be done — and I hope this blog has also made its own humble but useful contribution — before griping over any lack of translations and articles, we should first consider the pitiful state the lonely theatre scholar found himself or herself in were they so foolish enough as to attempt a study of Japanese performing arts several decades ago.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, while the angura movement boomed and troupes such as Tenjō Sajiki toured the globe, almost nothing substantial was available in print, with one notable exception. Edited by David G. Goodman, Concerned Theatre Japan was pioneering magazine that was practically the only resource in English about angura theatre until Goodman himself and others began publishing play anthologies and other scholarly books from the 1980’s onwards, leading up to the flurry of texts we have seen in recent years.

In those dark days before the Internet and when little was bilingual (let alone comprehensible), there were only the nebulous wafts of various reputations and the tours of certain people like Terayama, Jūrō Kara and Tadashi Suzuki who had the savvy to take their work overseas. But Theatre Center 68/69, later transformed into Theatre Center 68/71 and then Black Tent Theatre, co-ordinated the publication of Japan’s first and so far only English-language print magazine about Japanese theatre.

concerned theatre japan magazine david g goodman makoto satoh black tent theatre

There were nine issues of CTJ between 1969 and 1973, with almost all the translations done by Goodman. Its first issue appeared in October 1969, priced $1 or ¥200, with two sardonic epigraphs on the cover:

A well-known British playwright was asked at the London airport why he was going to Japan. “As a representative of Western Culture,” he replied.

Upon hearing that an English-language Japanese theatre magazine was in the works, an eminent professor of drama in America noted, “I’ve always wanted to know more about Noh and Kabuki.”

CTJ is now fully available online as downloadable PDFs and still makes for compelling reading. Its title is deliberately politicized. As Goodman recalls, “‘Concerned’ signaled our engagement with the politics of our time. CTJ was published in the context of the worldwide youth revolt of 1968, and identified with the New Left and the anti-Vietnam War movement. It was a response to ‘modernization theory’ and the instrumentalization of area studies as the handmaiden of ‘American imperialism’. Theoretically, it was postmodern, postcolonial, and ‘avant-garde’.”

The magazine was the sister publication of a Japanese-language title, Dōjidai Engeki (Contemporary Theatre), formed part of the Theatre Center 68/71’s principles — education and dissemination, along with a theatre space. Its mobile theatre would turn out to be the most iconic. Looking through CTJ you will spot advertising; this was one of the meagre avenues of funding. The troupes during the counterculture period received no subsidies, relying on the members contributing their income from outside jobs. The efforts that went into producing the magazine’s average of 160 pages were done gratis.

Of course, some of the tone feels dated and undeniably “Sixties”. Take this example from page 4 of the introductory issue.

In constructing our theatre we will destroy Theatre. We will create an entire world unrecognizable as a theatre, a world of lament and cachinnation, a world of foray and response, a world of sexual freedom and political assassination, and a world of actors and acted upon stand belly to belly together.

It sets out its mission in grandiose terms — “disenfranchised citizens”, “the walls will speak”, “theatre overflows Theatre and pours like a tidal wave into the streets”. It is earnest but straightforward.

Obviously, we feel we have something important to say and some interesting ways to say it; the but the question which really concerns is whether our plans can be realized if we continue to work on the same assumptions and with the same dramatic techniques that produced the very modernity we are trying to transcend. The answer we feel is a resounding “No!”

The aim of the magazine, as it sets out in its opening pages is to “allow you to participate in Center 68/69 and in Japanese theatre” in order “to transcend the limitations inherent in the hegemony established by European drama and to replace it with a new universality”. This is a purpose that should still be applicable to Japanese theatre artists today.

Content included influential essays by Tamotsu Hirosue, whose ideas about Japanese aesthetic being grotesque were important to angura, which sought to offer a new alternative to the cynical mindset 1960’s Japan with a vision of a proto-modern liberated world. Other contributions carried included work by the late Genpei Akasegawa and commentary on the “coup” by Yukio Mishima, as well as regular translations of whole playtexts — possibly the first angura plays to be published in English — by the likes of Jūrō Kara, Minoru Betsuyaku and Makoto Satoh.

CTJ was groundbreaking and invaluable in so many ways — it even claims to have published the first full manga in English — but even Goodman admits that it was not fully accepted as a part of the troupe’s core activities. It was ultimately “only” a sister publication by a fellow traveller, so to speak, a foreigner with a link to the company. Its modest print run of 500 copies winged its way around the globe but more often than not to libraries, probably to be buried straight in the stacks only for the discerning inquirer. A valuable resource, yes, but not a living magazine worthy of the vivacity and verve in the counterculture movement it was reflecting. Eventually economics solved the problem and made publishing further issues in the wake of the Oil Shock an impossibility. Theatre Center 68/71 also evolved and Satoh went on to more comfortable climes, holding some of the earliest positions of artistic director in Japan, first at private sector venues such as Spiral Hall in the 1980’s, followed by stints at the helm of public spaces (Setagaya Public Theatre, ZA-KOENJI, which he still runs).

Goodman had come to Japan during a heady time, the summer of 1968, and he was first interested in photography — like so, so many foreigners living in Japan today. But he was pulled into the theatre scene and thus started his relationship with Theatre Center 68/71. He married Kazuko Fujimoto, an actress involved in the angura scene, and while he has continued to contribute books and articles on angura, his later career focused on other areas, including studies of Jewish identity in Japan.

It would be too much to say that CTJ became a model for later publications per se. It was very much a product of its time. Of the publications that have come since, most notably and accessibly in recent years is the Japan Foundation’s Performing Arts Network Japan website, though it is a very different platform — a broad, neutral archival project far removed from Goodman’s journal that was small, yet so fierce in its politics, bold in its design, and brave in its editing.

Read Concerned Theatre Japan online:
https://www.cjspubs.lsa.umich.edu/electronic/michclassics/online/books/concerned.php

Further reading:
Japanese Theatre and the International Stage, edited Stanca Scholz-Cionca and Samuel L. Leiter (Brill) (2001)
David G. Goodman, Japanese Drama and Culture in the 1960s: The Return of the Gods (M.E. Sharpe) (1988)

2 responses to “Concerned Theatre Japan: A pioneering English-language magazine about 1970’s Japanese theatre

  1. Reblogged this on theworldforacountry and commented:
    Thanks, And thanks, and ever thanks for making Concerned Theatre Japan digitally available!
    I was one of those ‘lonely theatre scholars’ (albeit second generation, researching Japanese avantgarde theater with a Monbusho scholarship from 1980-1982) and have cherished the copies of Concerned Theatre Japan ever since David Goodman was kind enough to present me with a full set way back when!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Political Comics: Japan Radicalism and New Left Protest Movements Told Through Manga | Throw Out Your Books

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