The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
An Overview
Jun. 9, 2010
Public Theaters and Concert Halls  
Public Theaters and Concert Halls  

Developments in Public Theaters and Concert Halls

There are approximately 3,300 public theaters and concert halls in Japan at present (source: 2007 Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities). Almost all of these have been built since the late 1980s. There was an unprecedented rush of construction in the 1990s, in particular, when approximately 1,000 halls opened during a ten-year period. This took place in a context of both government support for public works projects and three developments.

The first was a climate favoring the creation of full-scale cultural facilities as symbols of the prosperity attained through Japan’s advanced economic growth. Purpose-built concert halls sprang up all over Japan, starting with the Nakaniida Bach Hall in Kami-machi, Miyagi Prefecture, which opened in 1981 and attracted much comment as Japan’s first classical music concert hall under municipal management. This development coincided with the civic halls (auditoriums used mainly for assemblies that also functioned as stages for performing arts) created throughout Japan after World War II becoming for rebuilding.

The second development, which came in the 1980s, was the reappraisal of music, theater, film, and other contemporary arts events as symbols of youth and urban culture. Towns that had suffered from the outflow of population to the cities improved their cultural facilities as part of town development programs intended to make the towns more attractive to young people and audiences from the cities. Added impetus came in the form of arts events such as the Toga Festival held in a depopulated village, the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto with renowned orchestra conductor Ozawa Seiji in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and the Earth Celebration held on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, by the internationally acclaimed taiko drum group Kodô.

The third was the regional redevelopment throughout Japan on the momentum of the so-called “bubble” economy. A variety of facilities both large and small opened both as symbols to project a community image and as tourism and leisure facilities to attract visitors to the location. This happened partly due to provisions in the Building Standards Law that relaxed regulations governing high-quality projects in redevelopment districts including public spaces.

It should be noted that creative activity in Japan had previously been supported almost exclusively by the private sector. These public theaters and concert halls came about entirely through construction of facilities intended primarily as capital investment, and most of them were operated as rental spaces. Events actually organized by such facilities oriented mainly toward large-audience entertainment, with performers invited from Tokyo.

In the 1990s, the deterioration of fiscal conditions led to calls for administrative reform in the government. This resulted in severe public criticism of the low utilization of such facilities, the low attendance at events intended for large audiences, and government policies that prioritized on tangibles (architectural structures) over intangibles (operation, projects, etc.).

Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities was established to revitalize public cultural facilities in regional communities. It provides fiscal support for cultural events and also practical training for managers of cultural facilities. The Agency for Cultural Affairs extended support for creative activities by establishing the Japan Arts Fund in 1990 (with 65.3 billion yen from both government and private sectors) and in 1996 the Arts Plan 21 (revised in 2001 as the Creative Plan of Culture and the Arts) which supported leading art organizations by assisting municipalities in their promotion of culture and arts, and public theaters and halls as the centers of such activities.

Meanwhile, some local governments implemented their own cultural policies with a focus on creative activity. These included Art Tower Mito (opened in 1990), the first facility of its kind in Japan to appoint an artistic director and designate one percent of its budget for culture, and the Itami Ai Hall (opened in 1988), which appointed a producer from the private sector and has fostered young artists.

In terms of facilities, the opening in 1992 of the Aichi Arts Center, which has a large concert hall equipped with multipurpose stage mechanisms and can even accommodate full-scale operas, was the first of many large-scale facilities suited to full-fledged productions in the performing arts. Others include the Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater, the Biwako Hall, and the New National Theatre, Tokyo. The late 1990s brought a new class of facilities for creative activities, such as the Kanazawa Citizen’s Art Center, which is a rehearsal facility open 24 hours, and the Kyoto Art Center, which uses former school buildings as practice facilities and a theater.

The cultural facilities throughout the country, improved almost to the point of excess, also served as focal points for lectures on arts management and symposiums featuring noted experts. There was active debate with participation by artists, government, and the public concerning the role of arts and cultural activities in society. Within this context, attention was suddenly focused on the new mission of cultural facilities as bases for regional development to serve the needs of their communities.

At present, local community centers throughout Japan such as the Koidegô Cultural Hall in Niigata Prefecture and Nanjo City Culture Center Sugar Hall in Okinawa are actively pursuing programs in cooperation with local municipalities under the slogan of “community development through the culture and arts.” The major trend among these public theaters and halls today is a focus on new non-spectator activities such as volunteer activities, performances with public participation, workshops, and outreach programs. Children-oriented programs are particularly emphasized, with many youth orchestras being formed.

In recent years, the concept of “creative city” has attempted to utilize creativity in culture and arts as a new attraction for a municipality. Yokohama, Kanazawa, Niigata, and Sapporo have started comprehensive cultural programs, with Yokohama in particular attracting attention with its new ideas, including allowing art NPOs to use many historic buildings as cultural facilities.
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