The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Tadayoshi Kako
Tadayoshi Kako
Born 1956 in Saitama Pref. Senior member of the Japanese Association for Conservation of Architectural Monuments (JACAM), architect 1st class. Currently director of the Architectural Management Office of Shoukouji, an Important Cultural Asset in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture.

The public-service organization, Japanese Association for Conservation of Architectural Monuments Founded in 1971. In 1976 it was designated as a select organization for the preservation of technology for “Building Restoration” and “Building Carpentry.” In addition to conducting restoration of buildings of National treasure and Important Cultural Asset status, the Association engages in surveys of historically important buildings, assessments of earthquake resistance of structures of cultural asset status, formulating plans for the preservation and use of such buildings and training of technicians to work in this field. The Association has also engaged in international cooperation projects such as planning the restoration of the World Heritage site Candi Prambanan (Prambanan Temple Compounds) in Indonesia following the Central Java Earthquake. As of April 2010 that Association has a staff of 97 people. Through restoration work, the Association transfers restoration technology for cultural assets to local construction companies and contractors.

Shibaigoya playhouses
Shibaigoya are playhouses for the performance of play that are built in the traditional Japanese style. Designated as Important Cultural Asset, the Old Konpira Kabuki Theater (common name: Kanamaruza) built in 1835 Kotohira-cho, Kagawa Prefecture is said to be the oldest extant playhouse built in the Edo-period style with the stage equipment of the period. Playhouses of this type have audience seating consisting of masu-seki (a flat central ground-floor area of chessboard-like square seating areas with grass “goza” matting on wooden flooring), takadoma (an area of seating surrounding the masu-seki area at a slightly higher level) and the more expensive 2nd-floor sajiki-seki. There are also stage devices including a hanamichi runway extending from the back of the audience area to the stage for actor entrances, an overhead scaffolding called a budodana (a gridiron made of bamboo) above the stage and extending out over the audience seating area which stagehands can climb out on to drop showers of paper “cherry blossom petals,” and a circular revolving stage. Construction of this type of Edo-period playhouse continued throughout the country into the Meiji Period.

These playhouses were not intended only as theaters for Kabuki performances but served as comprehensive culture centers for events such as music concerts and town meetings by political figures. However, the big changes in lifestyles and tastes in entertainment among the Japanese after World War II, brought a decline in business for traditional playhouses. As traditional storytelling, music and theater lost popularity, many playhouses converted their seating areas into rows of benches and were operated as movie theaters. But the period of commercial revival brought by movies soon ended with the emergence of television and many playhouses were closed down and eventually demolished or turned into warehouses.

Today, only about 30 playhouses remain. With the success of the “Konpira Kabuki” performances by popular Kabuki actors in 1985 at the Old Konpira Kabuki Theater, citizen movements to restore old playhouses and make them usable again as theaters for performances have begun around the country. Since then, the Yachiyoza built in Yamaga city, Kumamoto Prefecture in 1910 financed by a stock issuing by local merchants and the Korakukan built in the same year as an entertainment center for the mine workers of the town of Kosaka in Akita Prefecture have been designated as Important Cultural Assets. Other playhouses still in use today are the Uchikoza built in Uchiko-cho, Ehime Prefecture in 1916 by local leaders and the Kaho-gekijo restored in the Showa Period in the city of Izuka in Fukuoka Prefecture. These and other cities with old playhouses have joined to form the National Shibaigoya Conference (Zenkoku Shibaigoya Kaigi) to promote preservation and use of these buildings.

Zenkoku Shibaigoya Kaigi website (Japanese only):
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
The unique appeal of old playhouses   Links to Edo Period theater culture  
The unique appeal of old playhouses   Links to Edo Period theater culture  
Before the advent of modern theater facilities, the common venue for performing plays in Japan was a traditional wooden building with a stage known as a shibaigoya, or “playhouse.” The oldest extant example of the traditional shibaigoya playhouse is the Old Konpira Kabuki Theater (Kyu Konpira Ooshibai) (built 1835) in Kotohira-cho, Kagawa Prefecture. This is a theater complete with the stage mechanisms used in Kabuki performances in the Edo Period (1608 – 1867). Many similar shibaigoya playhouses were built during the ensuing Meiji (1868 – 1912) and Taisho (1912 – 1926) periods that served not only as theater houses but also as popular venues for a variety of different types of events and performances where people gathered. With the changing times, however, most of these playhouses were eventually torn down. Others survived by being converted to warehouses or undergoing renovations as the buildings aged, leaving about 30 of these traditional playhouses extant today around the country. Of these, five are designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government. Kako Tadayoshi of the Japanese Association for Conservation of Architectural Monuments (JACAM), a public-interest organization specializing in the restoration of buildings of National Treasure or Important Cultural Property status, has headed the projects to restore two of the most important traditional playhouses, the Yachiyoza and the Old Konpira Kabuki Theater. We spoke with Mr. Kako about the world-leading wooden building restoration technology applied in these projects and the appeal of the old playhouses.
(Interviewer: Kazumi Narabe, journalist)

Origins of the shibaigoya playhouses

You have conducted two major restoration projects in recent years, one being the 1996 – 2001 restoration of the 100-year-old Yachiyoza playhouse in Kumamoto prefecture (built 1910) and the other being the 2002 – 04 restoration of the Old Konpira Kabuki Theater (common name: Kanamaruza) that was moved from its original location and refurbished in 1975. When we speak of traditional Japanese theaters, many foreigners who have visited Japan might envision the Kabukiza in Tokyo’s East Ginza district. In fact, the Kabukiza is a ferroconcrete structure built in 1951 to replace the Kabukiza that burned down in the large-scale incendiary bombing of Tokyo near the end of WWII. Now, the current Kabukiza has been closed down for reconstruction as of April 30th and, unfortunately, by the time this interview appears on our website that building will no longer be seen by the public.
 Later in the interview we would like to ask you to tell us in detail about the restoration of playhouses, but to begin with I would like to ask you tell us something about the origins of Japanese shibaigoya playhouses. If my understanding is correct, the Japanese word shibai, meaning the place where a play or other type of performances are held, derives from the fact that people sat on the grass (shiba) on the grounds of temples to watch performances of religious dances. In other words, is it correct to assume that the roots of traditional Japanese theater lie in outdoor performances?

Yes, that is correct. And then it evolved. First with a roof being built over the stage and then with the more expensive seating area being covered with a thatch woven of straw or reeds. Though you might think of such thatch as something full of holes that would let the rain through, it is actually rather effective at keeping out the rain because the water flows along the straw or reeds to the outer edges of the thatch. Even when the roofing eventually covered the entire seating area, at first it was only a covering of thin wooden shingles. From the records we have today, it appears that the shibaigoya playhouses of the Genroku era (1688 – 1704) had their main pillars replaced every year. That means that they were little more than make-shift shacks with no foundation. It wasn’t until the Kyoho era (1716 – 35) that you had real architectural structures with tile roofs. I believe it was around the 9th year of Kyoho (1724) that the first of these structures appeared.

Although there are a number of theories, it seems that no one knows for certain when the first playhouses with what you might call sound architectural structures were built.
I believe it was the famous Edo Period magistrate Ookaechizen (Ooka Tadasuke) who first caused playhouses become solid architectural structures as a fire-prevention measure. At the time, fire fighting was actually a matter of strategic demolition of houses to prevent the spread of a fire through the town. As a rule, tile roofs were prohibited in Edo Period towns because falling tiles could injure fire fighters when they were breaking down houses to prevent the spread of a fire. But, Ookaechizen was devoted to fire prevention and, in addition to organizing civilian fire-fighting squads, he also promoted the use of tile roofs as less flammable than wood-shingle roofs.
 At first, the theaters had what was known as an “oyster-shell roof.” As a simple form of fireproofing, the wooden-shingle roofs were covered with a layer of mud, and to keep the dried mud from washing away in the rain, a layer of oyster shells was added on top of the mud across the entire roof. Because of the size of theater roofs, theater owners were first told to make them oyster-shell roofs. Later, Ookaechizen told the theater owners to put tile roofs on their buildings.
 When that happened, the managers of the three biggest Kabuki theaters in Edo (old Tokyo) decided to ask for permission to expand the audience seating area in their theaters, which was forbidden at the time without government approval. To put tile roofs on their theaters was an expensive proposition from the theater managers’ perspective. It required that they first strengthen the foundation and pillars to support the weight of a tile roof. So, they decided to take advantage of this edict to tile their roofs and use it as a reason to expand their seating capacity in order to raise the capital necessary for the construction. I believe that is what led to the rapid change to architecturally sound theaters in this period. And, that is why I say that the real start of Japanese theater architecture began in the 9th year of the Kyoho era thanks to the reform efforts of Ookaechizen.

Can we assume that this change to architecturally sound theaters also enabled the development of the hanamichi (stage entrance bridge), the rotating stage platform and other unique stage devices that came to be used in Kabuki?
With the make-shift playhouses used until that time, which had to be re-constructed every year, there was no way that they could develop sophisticated stage devices. It wasn’t until the Horeki Period (1751 – 64) in the latter half of the 18th century and the advent of structurally sound theaters that there was a rapid development in stage devices. I suspect that it was the shift to tile roofs that influenced this change more than anything. Since this is an area that has not been dealt with academically, as yet, I intend to write on this subject eventually.
 But, Kabuki was born and raised in make-shift playhouses where the common people could enjoy theater, so even after the theaters became architecturally sound structures, they retained a rustic informality much different from the Baroque theaters of Europe built in castles. It wasn’t until the theater reform movement of the Meiji Period that theaters were designed and built as impressive works of architecture.

The “cultural enlightenment” policy of the Meiji period (generally to modernize the country after Western standards) extended to the world of Kabuki as well. There was a rethinking of the tendency toward highly romantic, fanciful plots in Kabuki plays and Kabuki artists like Kanjuro Ichikawa IX and others created to historical plays that were truer to historical fact and theater owners like Kanya Morita XII build the first theater employing Western style architecture in 1878.
The Kabukiza built in 1889 also had a Western style exterior. However, after the Imperial Theater opening in 1911 as the country’s first full-fledged Western style theater, the people in Kabuki realized that they had to differentiate themselves and avoid copying the Western trends, and that is when they began to return to Japanese style theater building. The first manifestation of that was the so-called “Momoyama style.” This had nothing at all to do with the actual [architectural] style of the Momoyama Period (latter half of the 16th century) but was actually an attempt to achieve an impression of Edo Period shrine and temple architecture. However, because the aim was to recreate the image of glorious elegance associated with Momoyama art, they called it “Momoyama style.” The representative building of this style is the Kabukiza in Ginza that is being torn down from the end of April this year (2010).

So, you are saying that when they decided to return to Japanese style architecture they chose the shrine and temple architecture as the best of Japanese traditional architecture?
At the time, there was an outstanding architectural design department for shrine and temple buildings in the Ministry of the Interior. Under the state sponsorship of Shinto religion adopted after the Meiji Restoration, the Ministry of the Interior not only provided funds for the reconstruction of high-ranking shrines around the country but also provided the architectural planning and design. The Ministry’s design department was dedicated to designing and constructing the finest shrine and temple architecture possible drawing on the very best elements of the 1,500-year history of Japanese architecture. In contrast, the Ministry of Education dedicated itself to the preservation and maintenance of existing cultural assets as they are. From the standpoint of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of the Interior was creating buildings that had never actually existed in the history of Japanese architecture. From the perspective of Ministry of the Interior design department, however, the Ministry of Education would be considered lacking in design capability; in other words, they weren’t artists (laughs). The Ministry of the Interior was dissolved after WWII, but you will still find architectural designers in architectural offices specializing in shrine and temple design whose training derives from the prewar Ministry of the Interior.
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