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A History of Japanese Theatre (Cambridge University Press), out now

A History of Japanese Theatre is newly published by Cambridge University Press, edited by Jonah Salz of Ryukoku University.

In a sense, it can be seen as a companion to The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Drama, which was published in 2014 and brings together a truly comprehensive range of work from this century and the last.

history of japanese theatre cambridge university press

This latest collection will put the drama included in the Columbia volume in a broader context. Here is how the publisher bills it:

Japan boasts one of the world’s oldest, most vibrant and most influential performance traditions. This accessible and complete history provides a comprehensive overview of Japanese theatre and its continuing global influence. Written by eminent international scholars, it spans the full range of dance-theatre genres over the past fifteen hundred years, including Noh theatre, Bunraku puppet theatre, Kabuki theatre, Shingeki modern theatre, Rakugo storytelling, vanguard Butoh dance and media experimentation. The first part addresses traditional genres, their historical trajectories and performance conventions. Part II covers the spectrum of new genres since Meiji (1868–), and Parts III to VI provide discussions of playwriting, architecture, Shakespeare, and interculturalism, situating Japanese elements within their global theatrical context. Beautifully illustrated with photographs and prints, this history features interviews with key modern directors, an overview of historical scholarship in English and Japanese, and a timeline. A further reading list covers a range of multimedia resources to encourage further explorations.

Naturally, clocking in at nearly 600 pages, this ambitious book charts the full spectrum of the performing arts in Japan, from court and folk performance to the musicals, vaudeville, and plays of today. Readers interested in classic theatre will be well served with sections on Noh, Kyōgen, Kabuki and Bunraku, though the editor has also paid attention to popular theatre, modern drama such as Shingeki, and street theatre like Kamishibai.

The volume includes articles on 1960s theatre, Butoh, contemporary theatre and post-3.11 theatre, which are the areas with which this blog is most concerned. Though I have yet to read the these myself, the list of contributors is something of an impressive who’s who of the field, with essays by Kyoko Iwaki, Bruce Baird, M. Cody Poulton, J. Thomas Rimer, Mari Boyd and Mika Eglinton.

There are also sections on theatre architecture and institutions as well as theatre criticism and scholarship, intercultural theatre, and training.

The editor, Jonah Salz, is an academic and director. He established Noho Theatre Group in the early 1980s, staging performances with Noh and Kyōgen actors to interpret texts by Shakespeare, Yeats and Beckett. He is also one of the founders of Traditional Theater Traning, a summer intensive course at Kyoto Arts Center that introduces the traditional arts of Noh, Kyogen and Nihonbuyō.