The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Hironori Naito
Hironori Naito
Head of the Minami Kawachi Banzai Ichiza theater company, Hironori Naito was born in Tochigi Prefecture in 1959. He began to pursue a profession in theater after seeing The Jokyo Gekijo production of Hebihime-sama (written and directed by Juro Kara). He entered Osaka University of Arts (theater dept.) in 1979, where he was taught by professor Satoshi Akihama (playwright and director) for four years. During that time he pursued the study of what he calls the “How to cheat with realism.” In 1980 he established the Minami Kawachi Banzai Ichiza theater company, directing a production of Juro Kara’s Hebihime-sama as the company’s inaugural play.
Acknowledged for the broad perspective he brings to his modern-style plays that survey the issues of contemporary life, Naito also writes and directs often for productions outside his own company. Among these, he has done the planning and directing of unique nationwide tour of the world-famous pianist Ikuyo Nakamichi.
In 2000 he won the Outstanding Director Award of the Yomiuri Theater Grand Prix. for the OMS production of Koko kara wa Toi Kuni (A Country Far from Here). In 2005 he directed a production of Chokyoshi (by Juro Kara) at Tokyo’s Theater Cocoon and the Hyogo Performing Arts Center. Since 2003 he has been pursuing theater activities ambitiously at the Ultra Market (Osaka Castle Hall, West Warehouse) since the closing of Ogimachi Museum Square, which had been his base of activities. Recent works include Hironori Naito’s Gekifu-roku Part 1 (first collection of Hironori Naito plays) and Aoki-san chi no Okusan (Wife of the Aoki Family).
Robin Hood - Rakuen no Boken
Robin Hood - Rakuen no Boken
Robin Hood—Rakuen no Boken (Robin Hood—Adventure in Paradise)
(as part of the Kazuo Itoga Memorial Performing Arts Festival)
Novemer 11, 2006 at Ritto Center for Fine Arts, Sakira
Written and directed by Hironori Naito (Minami Kawachi Banzai Ichiza)
© Shiga Prefectural Social Welfare Corp.
*Satoshi Akihama
Born in Iwate Pref. in 1934, Satoshi Akihama graduated from the Drama Dept. of Waseda University. While still a university student in 1956 he wrote the play Eiyutachi (Heroes). After graduation he worked for the Iwanami Film Studio for eight years. From 1962 to 1973 he participated in the theater company Gekidan Sanjuninkai, working on productions including Horanbaka (1960), Tomin Manzai (1965) and Shirake Obake (1967). In 1966 he won the Individual Award of the 1st Kinokuniya Awards. In 1969, he won the New Play award of the Kishida Drama Awards for Yojitachi no Ato no Matsuri (1968). From 1979 he assumed a teaching position in the Theater Arts Dept. of the Osaka University of Arts, and in 1994 he became the first director of the first prefectural theater company in Japan, the Hyogo Prefectural Piccolo Theater Company, where he continued to educate young theater people and direct plays. In 1998 the achievements of the Piccolo Theater Company were recognized when they received the Company Award of the Kinokuniya Awards and the Japan Arts Festival Prize for Excellence by Agency for Cultural Affairs.
After retirement in 2003 he continued to participate as an educational advisor in the Piccolo Theater School. He passed away in 2005.
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Hironori Naito talks about 30 years of theater projects with the mentally challenged 
On Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006, some 230 handicapped people (primarily mentally handicapped) had gathered to perform a production of Robin Hood—Rakuen no Boken (Robin Hood—Adventure in Paradise) as part of the Kazuo Itoga Memorial Performing Arts Festival at the Ritto Center for Fine Arts, Sakira in Shiga Prefecture. Some of the handicapped were accompanied by care-givers. The performance they had participated was the production of a “stage performance” program that had been held once every five years since 1979 at the Azami Momiji Ryo facility for the mentally challenged people in Shiga Prefecture and the program had gradually spread to other facilities throughout the prefecture. This would be the first stage production of its type to bring together eight groups of mentally challenged people from around the prefecture that had been working separately on percussion, chorus-rhythm, dance and acting parts.
The theater had been greatly modified, with all the seats removed from the front third of the theater to make a large area for wheelchairs, and a slope had been installed at the front of the stage to enable easy access onto the stage. The director had set a place for himself at the center of the front row of the wheelchair space to direct the play from. The handicapped performers in the play were seated up on the stage facing the audience in a stand-by position so that they could watch the play with the audience until it was their turn to stand up and act out their part or participate at times from the stand-by position.
Borrowing a story about a group of penguins that have forgotten what they were supposed to be looking for and end up going on an adventurous journey in a play that the mentally challenged players and audience could enjoy along with the normal audience, laughing, enjoying the games and in the end celebrating the joy of being alive. To find out how such a lively, enjoyable play could have been put together even though the eight performer groups had only performed together on the same stage for the first time at the previous day’s dress rehearsal, we talked with the play’s director, Hironori Naito.

(Interviewer: Norio Koyama)

About how many care-givers and doctors from the facilities were there helping the handicapped performers during this production?
It is not easy to give a clear number. There are some of the more severely handicapped who needed two care-givers. Generally speaking there were about one directing assistant (care-giver) for every five handicapped players on stage while the play is in progress. There were also seven or eight stagehands doing the set-changing work. They help with the script prompting and follow-up on the actors’ movements and manning the wings to make sure that nothing dangerous happens. They are needed to bring out and remove the props and do the set changes.
All of the stage assistants and staff who worked with us this time have jobs of their own and were working with us purely on a volunteer basis. So I made it a point to move into the facility’s dorm ten days before the performance, but there were some who couldn’t join us until just before the performance.

How did the theater activities at the Azami Momiji Ryo facility begin originally, and how did you become involved?
I have heard that it began when my teacher at Osaka University of Arts, professor Satoshi Akihama, was still working at Iwanami Film Studio and visited the “Biwako Gakuen” facility for children with severe physical and mental handicaps in Shiga Prefecture in order to gather scenario material for the documentary movie Yoake Mae no Kodomotachi (Children Before Dawn) that was set in the facility. The Shiga connection may have come from the fact that Akihama’s wife was from a family that ran a nursery school in the prefecture.
When that facility was moved to its present location, they asked professor Akiyama if it wouldn’t be possible to have the patients do theater. The first play was then staged in 1979. That was before I entered university, so don’t really know anything about that period. Still, I was told that a professor Masato Tanaka who taught child psychology at Kyoto University interviewed the facility’s children before and after the play and found that in some of the more notable cases there were children so severely underdeveloped mentally that when asked to draw a person they drew a figure with the arms and legs coming directly out of the head. But after the play they drew a proper figure with a head and trunk with the arms and legs coming out of the trunk. This verified what a dramatic effect involvement in a play could have on a person’s development and what a valuable experience it could be. After that they began doing small plays at times like Christmas and the Dolls Festival with professor Akihama giving them advice. Then they began doing larger plays once every five years with professor Akiyama directing them.
It was the second of those plays that I went to help with for the first time. It was in 1984 when I graduated from university and professor Akihama asked me to give him a hand. After that I participate in those plays once every five years.
During that time the number of students taught by professor Akihama at Takarazuka Kita High School and Osaka University of Arts and those he instructed in the Piccolo Theater Company had grown and more people from among these former students began volunteering to help out with the plays, participating in the rehearsals for several days and sometimes working all night to build the sets.
As volunteer they didn’t get paid but they could stay in the facility’s dormitory and eat together with the patients in the cafeteria. People in theater are usually poor and they knew that if they came there to help out they could at least eat better than usual (laughs).
For this year’s performance I came to the dormitory on the 8th of November. There were fifteen or sixteen of us who were there from that time until the performance on the 19th. The other volunteers came to help when they could. The schedule involved rehearsals from 1:30 in the afternoon, and when the rehearsals were over we would work late into the night building the sets. Then the next morning we would have our staff meetings and from 7:00 in the evening we would do our operating rehearsals.

In short, there have been five different productions of these big performances over the years. Is that correct?
That would be correct. Some of the patients who were in their 30s when we started out are now in their 60s or 70s and some of them have become a little unstable on their feet. When we did the last play five years ago we were saying that it would be the last one because it was getting just too physically demanding for many of the patients. But after the play was over they started to talk about doing another, saying how much they wanted to do it again. So we ended up doing it again this year.
Socially speaking, during this time things like the passing of bills to support the handicapped in becoming self-supporting have led to budget cuts for facilities for the handicapped, and the former Governor of Shiga prefecture, who supported our activities, has been replaced. As a result the environment for these kinds of activities for the handicapped is actually worsening. Shiga Prefecture has been called a paradise for the handicapped because it carries on the traditions of Mr. Itoga, the pioneer of welfare services for the handicapped who established the country’s first facilities for the handicapped in Shiga just after World War II. But, in fact, from what I see that situation is very tough today for people working to provide welfare for the handicapped.
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