Glossary of Japanese Modern & Contemporary Theatre

angura Literally an abbreviation of “underground”, this was a loose theatre movement in the 1960s and 1970s, led by Shūji Terayama, Jūrō Kara, Makoto Satō and Tadashi Suzuki, and part of Japan’s vibrant general counterculture movement at the time. Angura reacted against the formal realism of Shingeki to create wild, anarchic productions in theatres, tents and outdoors. It explored primitive and provocative themes, and was associated with avant-garde contemporary cinema as well as groundbreaking art and graphic design. Its main practitioners later went on to create and be involved with Japan’s first performing arts festivals and public and corporate performing arts centres in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ankoku Butoh / Butoh A new form of Japanese dance that evolved in the 1950s and 1960s, and continues today. Its name literally means “dance of utter darkness” and enjoys popularity overseas.

Arts Council Tokyo Part of Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, this major Tokyo public subsidy body grew out of the dubiously named Tokyo Culture Creation Project and funds many of the major arts events in the city.

Bunkamura A large cultural facility opened in 1989 by the Tokyu Group (the rival of the Seibu Saison Group), its two theatre spaces regularly host major commercial productions, touring international musicals and dance works, as well as Kabuki.

Concerned Theatre Japan A journal about angura founded by David G Goodman, the scholar who did more than any other to introduce angura theatre to western audiences during its peak and in subsequent years.

Contemporary Colloquial Theatre A theatre style established by Oriza Hirata in the 1990s with dialogue based on vernacular Japanese. It contrasted with the more stylised forms of shōgekijō until then and has been influential on many artists who emerged during the 1990s and 2000s.

Dance New Air Originally Dance Biennale Tokyo (launched in 2002), this biennially organised festival takes place in central Tokyo.

Festival/Tokyo The premier performing arts event in Japan, funded by Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Toshima City (a ward in the north-west of Tokyo). It replaced the previous annual Tokyo International Arts Festival in 2009 (which was itself a rebranding of a biannual festival first held in 1988). F/T has introduced many major European artists to Japanese audiences, developed work by local artists such as Akira Takayama, and also launched a pioneering programme for emerging artists across Asia to present their work.

Ikebukuro District in north-west Tokyo and part of Toshima City. It includes the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Theater Green and the Owlspot Theatre.

The Japan Foundation Organisation supporting the promotion of Japanese arts and culture overseas. It subsidises tours and productions in foreign territories through grants, as well as publishing a range of educational materials and media.

Kanagawa Arts Theatre (KAAT) Major public theatre in Yokohama which opened in 2011, with musical director Amon Miyamoto as its first artistic director. Part of a flowering of theatre in Yokohama, including the Zou-no-Hana space (operated by Spiral), the relocation of TPAM from Tokyo to Yokohama, and Steep Slope Studio.

Kinosaki International Arts Center Artist-in-residency centre in Toyooka City, Hyogo Prefecture, which opened in 2014.

Kishida Kunio Drama Award Japan’s most prestigious playwriting prize, named after the famous dramatist from the pre-war period.

Kyoto Experiment (KEX) An annual performing arts festival based in Kyoto, launched in 2010. It takes place every autumn, based in ROHM Theatre Kyoto.

New National Theatre, Tokyo (NNTT) Japan’s first national performing arts centre, located in Hatsudai, on the edge of Shinjuku. Opening in 1997, it has three theatre spaces and stages drama, opera, ballet and dance. It additionally runs various training and educational programmes. It is next to the Tokyo Opera City complex, which also includes an art museum and more.

Parco Theatre Medium-sized theatre that opened in 1973 (originally called the Seibu Theater) as part of Shibuya Parco department store, which helped establish Shibuya as a new centre for fashion and consumerism in Tokyo. Parco was founded by the influential Saison Group (Seibu Saison Group), which also owns Muji, Loft, and other specialty stores. Though a commercial theatre, it has always been forward-thinking and early on commissioned the likes of Shūji Terayama. Today it continues to pick leading fringe directors and writers to create mainstream commercial work with star casts.

Precog Leading production company responsible the success domestically and internationally of many of the 2000s theatre and dance artists such as Toshiki Okada (chelfitsch).

Saison Foundation Established by the Saison Group’s Seiji Tsutsumi, the foundation offers grants to Japanese theatre and dance artists, as well as running residency programs and operating the Morishita Studio space in east Tokyo.

Setagaya Public Theatre Setagaya City public theatre in west Tokyo’s Sangenchaya (Sangenjaya), a district between Shibuya, Nakameguro and Shimokitazawa. Founded in 1997 in the bizarrely named Carrot Tower, it has a medium-sized main theatre and a small studio space, Theatre Tram.

shigaigeki “City theatre”, a type of site-specific outdoor semi-street theatre practised by Shuji Terayama’s Tenjō Sajiki in the 1970s.

Shimokitazawa District west of Shinjuku and Shibuya in central Tokyo with many fringe theatres, as well as a strong counterculture and alternative scene. There are also arts and counterculture districts along the major stations further west of Shinjuku along the JR Chuo Line, such as Koenji and Nakano.

Shingeki The “new theatre” movement in Japanese modern drama that imitated the realism then popular in Europe. After initially concentrating on translated plays in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a second wave in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s saw the creation of new theatre spaces (Tsukiji Shogekijō, 1924) and companies (Bungakuza, Haiyuza). While unfashionable today, many of the major troupes still exist.

Shizuoka Performing Arts Center (SPAC) An important regional theatre, opening in 1997 under artistic director Tadashi Suzuki. At the time, it was the first publicly funded theatre facility with its own resident company and production staff. Despite its relative distance from major cities like Tokyo, it invites major overseas artists every season. It is now run by Satoshi Miyagi.

Shōgekijō The “small theatre” movement which developed in the 1970’s and 1980s out of the angura movement. In many ways, it can be considered “Japan’s fringe theatre scene” and in this sense angura was its second incarnation, after Shingeki (which flowered with the founding of the Tsukiji “small theatre”). The later shōgekijō was led by troupes with highly individual styles, often comedic and upbeat, such as Hideki Noda, Kōhei Tsuka, Shōji Kokami, and more. Today the word is often used to mean small-scale performing arts not produced in the commercial or public theatre sectors.

Spiral Wacoal Art Center An early example of private corporate support for the arts, Spiral was one of many “multi-purpose” halls built in the 1980s and 1990s around Japan. It is located in Aoyama in central Tokyo, designed by Fumihiko Maki with a geometric facade and spacious atrium space. The centre is funded by Wacoal Corporation, an apparel maker. It also runs Zou-no-Hana in Yokohama. Spiral was initially programmed by Makoto Satō (before he went on to run Za-Koenji in west Tokyo).

Suzuki Method The method of acting practised by Tadashi Suzuki, the influential angura artist who founded Japan’s first international theatre festival.

Toga A theatre festival in the village of Toga in Toyama Prefecture founded by Tadashi Suzuki. The debut festival in 1982 was the first international theatre festival in Japan in an era before subsidy was widely available. Suzuki established his SCOT (Suzuki Company of Toga) troupe there and also an influential prize for young directors. Suzuki later went on to to be the first artistic director of SPAC in Shizuoka.

Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre Tokyo’s largest public theatre complex, formerly known as Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. It opened in 1990 as part of a wave of new public cultural facilities around Japan and in 2012 re-opened under an artistic director, Hideki Noda, for the first time. It has four performance spaces and hosts opera, concerts, visiting international productions, festivals, and more.

Tokyo Performing Arts Market (TPAM) An international industry networking event with many satellite events and mini festivals intended to showcase domestic and overseas talent to prospective programmers. It is now held in Yokohama.

Waseda University One of Tokyo’s three main private universities, it has long been associated with Japanese theatre. Many of the artists involved with angura came from Waseda, as did later artists in subsequent decades. The college has a theatre museum (Enpaku) and archive.

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