The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
An Overview
Latest Trends by Genre: Shôgekijô (Small Theater) Movement
Latest Trends by Genre: Shôgekijô (Small Theater) Movement
Major Theater Awards in Japan
Yomiuri Theater Awards
These awards honor outstanding stage works and performances irrespective of genre, covering classical theater such as Kabuki and Nô as well as musicals, commercial theater, shingeki, shôgekijô and so forth. Categories include the Grand Prize, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Supporting Staff, the Sugimura Haruko Prize, the Judges’ Prize, and Best Play. Sponsored by Yomiuri Newspapers Group, 2007 was the 15th year of the awards.

Kinokuniya Theater Awards
These awards are sponsored by the Kinokuniya Company of bookstore fame which owns two theaters, the Kinokuniya Hall and the Kinokuniya Southern Theater, in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Two prizes are given, for Collective and Personal Achievements. 2007 was the 42nd year of the awards.

Awards Sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs
_Art Encouragement Prizes
Inaugurated in 1950, the Art Encouragement Prize and the Art Encouragement Prize for New Artists are awarded by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to individuals for outstanding and groundbreaking achievements in the ten fields of theater, film, music, dance, literature, art, broadcasting, popular entertainment, advancement for the arts, and criticism.
_Original Stage Work Prize
Since 1978 this prize has been awarded to outstanding original works for the stage in all genres in order to foster the production of creative stage works. Currently, in the field of music there are two categories, one covering orchestral, choral, and opera, and the other covering traditional Japanese music, while in the field of theater, there is one category of contemporary drama.
_National Arts Festival Awards
2007 saw the 62nd year of these awards, which are presented to participating works and performances in the categories of drama, music, dance and entertainment, and to three further categories of television, radio, and recording. In each category, outstanding works and performances are awarded a Grand Prize, Excellence Award, and New Artist Award, among others.

Kishida Drama Award
This award commemorating the playwright Kishida Kunio (1890–1954) is given to up-and-coming playwrights. Acknowledged as a gateway to success, it is often dubbed the Akutagawa Prize of the theater world. It was established in 1955 as the Shingeki Drama Award, which became the Shingeki Kishida Drama Award in 1961 and then the Kishida Drama Award in 1979. January 2008 saw the 52nd award, which is sponsored by the Hakusuisha publishing company.

Tsuruya Nanboku Drama Award
This prize is awarded to the best new Japanese play staged during the year. Sponsored by the Kôbun Scheherazade Foundation, 2008 was its eleventh year.

Japan Playwrights Association’s Outstanding New Playwright Award
Aimed at discovering new talent to be the driving force of the theater in the future, this award is given for an outstanding drama by a new playwright. It is open to aspiring playwrights throughout Japan, and works are subjected to two stages in the selection process before being put before the final judging panel. Each year, all finalists are included in a Best New Playwrights Collection published by Bronze Shinsha publishers. Established in 1995, the award is sponsored by the Japan Playwrights Association.

Teatro New Playwrights Award
Anyone may send in an entry to this drama award, which aims to discover talented new playwrights. Sponsored by Teatro Magazine, published by the Chamomile publishing company, it entered its 17th year in 2006.

OMS Drama Award
A drama award started in 1994 as part of the celebrations commemorating the tenth anniversary of the theater ôgimachi Museum Square (OMS, which opened in 1985 and closed in 2003). It is open to all playwrights resident or mainly active in the Kansai region, which includes the cities of Kyoto and Osaka, and the prefectures of Shiga, Hyôgô, Nara, and Wakayama, and is awarded for a work written and staged during the previous year. Sponsored by Osaka Gas.

Yuasa Yoshiko Translation Prize
This prize was established in 1994 to commemorate the work of the Russian literature scholar Yuasa Yoshiko (1896–1990), and is awarded to the theater company and translator/scriptwriter for an outstanding translation and performance of a foreign drama. Prizewinners also receive the Yuasa Yoshiko Memorial Theater Translation Scholarship.

Nissay Backstage Awards
These awards honor outstanding achievements in the performing arts and promotion of culture in the categories of stage sets, sound, lighting, costume, and so forth. 2007 saw the 13th year of the award, with 34 people commended. In addition to prize money, the award provides an annuity for life. It is sponsored by the Nissay Culture Foundation.

Lighting Designers and Engineers Association of Japan Awards
A rare occasion for the work of lighting designers and engineers to be honored. Awards are given in the categories of theater and television, and include the Grand Prize (awarded in conjunction with the Encouragement Prize of the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), as well as awards for Excellence, Best New Talent, Encouragement, Endeavors, and Skills, among others. The awards do not just cover plays and TV programs, but also reward development of techniques, improvements to equipment, lighting design in venues, and so forth. Sponsored by the Lighting Designers and Engineers Association of Japan.

Itô Kisaku Awards
These awards are named after the first president of the sponsoring Japan Association of Theater Designers and Technicians. In addition to the Grand Prize given to the Play with the Best Design (set, costume, and make-up), there is an Award for Best New Talent, an Encouragement Award, and a Special Award.
One trend in the new generation that must be noted is the rise of regional theater. Inoue Hidenori and Makino Nozomi both started in the 1980s before moving to Tokyo, but the trend became much more pronounced in the late 1990s. Until then the Shôgekijô scene had been overwhelmingly concentrated in Tokyo, but a series of new playwrights emerged in Osaka and Kyoto, and had a fresh impact on the local scene.

Major roles in this were played by the ôgimachi Museum Square (closed in 2003), a theater that served as a base for Shôgekijô in Osaka, and the Itami Ai Hall, a public theater established by Itami City in Hyôgo Prefecture. Both of these theaters concentrated on supporting young artists, and the OMS Drama Award was established in 1994 to encourage the new playwrights. Winners of this award include Matsuda Masataka, Suzue Toshirô, Iwasaki Masahiro, and Tsuchida Hideo. Matsuda and Suzue went on almost immediately to win the Kishida Drama Award, which is a gateway to success for Japanese playwrights. The newly active regional theater relied on the use of many public theaters throughout Japan. Hasegawa Kôji of the Hirosaki Theater Company (Aomori Prefecture) and Tomari Atsushi of Tobu Gekijô in Kitakyushu City are among the new talent based outside of Tokyo who have nevertheless achieved nationwide recognition.

Two other trends in the Shôgekijô scene include a rise in popularity of workshops and the practice of holding open auditions. The workshop boom occurred largely because new needs emerged that Japanese society had not previously experienced. As a result, education programs have started at theaters throughout Japan, and stage performance skills are used in children’s education. Shôgekijô directors have been given an outlet of their skills other than performance, which represents an enormous change that will no doubt influence the future of theater.

Shôgekijô started holding open auditions because the fall in real estate prices due to the collapse of Japan’s economic “bubble” resulted in glut of vacant buildings and other unused facilities in city centers. There are many small companies renting spaces in Japanese cities to providing a base for amateur theatrical activity. It will be very interesting to see how the Shôgekijô movement will reflect these changes ten years down the line.

The Latest Topics

Okada Toshiki and Miura Daisuke, the respective 2004 and 2005 winners of the Kishida Drama Award, made a sensational entrance on the Shôgekijô scene. Following the expanded boundaries of the violence-and-fantasy works of fifth-generation dramatist top-runner Nagatsuka Keishi of Asagaya Spiders, Okada and Miura came onto the scene with “reality” as their keyword. They have been acclaimed for the way they use dramatic expression based on the “physiological sensibilities” of today’s youth. Okada’s company, Chelfitsch, uses a “super-real Japanese” reflecting both the language and gestures of young people, while Miura’s Potudô-ru company has gone to extreme lengths to bring out realistic reactions in its actors by performing sexual acts on stage. The works of these two dramatists are testimonies to the energy of the Shôgekijô movement. Although no dramatist was considered deserving of the Kishida Drama Award in 2006, Motoya Yukiko was commended for her overly self-conscious protagonists who torment others.

In keeping with these writers representative of the younger generation, so-called social-oriented and mass-oriented writers are being inspired to ever greater creativity. Sakate Yoji, director of the theatre company Rinkôgun, has presented works that probe the social problems of socially reclusive youth and activities of the Self-Defense Force with a journalistic touch, including elements of experimental theater from other countries. Nagai Ai has written comedies that portray the changes in post-war values and criticize the lives of the common folk. Chong Wishing, a popular screenwriter, has written about his experiences as a minority, a third-generation Korean born and raised in Japan, in plays that are tough and comical. Aoki Go has used his work to highlight marginalized members of society. There is Nakashima Atsuhiko, who portrays the human warmth of the Shôwa Era (1926–89) that is lost in modern society, and Inoue Hisashi, a Japanese favorite who has written extensively on post-war themes. While each of these dramatists, all of different generations, are all distinctive, the one thing they have in common is their focus on Japanese society.

In other fields, the activities of artistic directors at public theaters are attracting attention. Ninagawa Yukio (Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater) began an off-shoot theater company for senior citizens called Gold Theater. Kyôgen artist Nomura Mansai (Setagaya Public Theatre) has been working on a “total theater” project combining both traditional and modern stage performances, Kushida Kazuyoshi (Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre) staged two “new Kabuki” works, “Cocoon Kabuki” and “Heisei Nakamuraza” with Kabuki actor Nakamura Kanzaburô. Miyagi Satoshi has taken over from Suzuki Tadashi in the post of artistic director at the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center.

Works by Japanese playwrights are also being translated and produced overseas. Warai no Daigaku, a major work of Mitani Koki, has been translated and adopted into English production as The Last Laugh, and the English version of Noda Hideki’s THE BEE , staged in London and Tokyo, won almost all the major theater awards in Japan in 2007. Matsuda Masataka’s Umi to Higasa (The Sea and the Parasol) was presented in Seoul and Shanghai in Korean and Chinese respectively. Readings of modern Japanese plays are taking place in various countries.

Sources: Pia (from 1972 to 1990), Nihon geki zenshi by Kawatatake Shigetoshi, Teikoku-gekijô kaijô by Mine Takashi, and Nihon no gendai engeki by Senda Akihiko.
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