The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Masayuki Nakamura
Masayuki Nakamura
Chief Producer of the Group for the Promotion of Cooperation of the Yokohama Municipal Arts Foundation; Assistant Director of the Yokohama Noh Theater.

Born 1959. After working in the private sector, Nakamura started working for the Yokohama Municipal Arts Foundation in 1991. He has been involved in the Yokohama Noh Theater since it opened. The publication of his book Issatsu de Wakaru Nihon no Dento Geino introducing Noh/Kyogen, Kabuki, Bunraku, Gagaku Kagura, traditional Japanese dance and variety entertainment is scheduled for the end of February 2009 from Tankosha Publishers with English translation.

Yokohama Noh Theater
The architecture of the stage in the Yokohama Noh Theater was originally built for the estate of the lord of Kaga-han (today’s Ishikawa Pref.), Maeda Nariyasu, in the Negishi district of Tokyo in 1875 and later moved to the estate of Matsudaira Yorinaga in the Somei district of Tokyo where it was used for Noh plays until 1965. It is the oldest existing stage in the Kanto region and 8th oldest in all of Japan. And it is the oldest stage in all of Japan that is still being used regularly for Noh performances. “It naturally has great value as a cultural asset and it is especially valuable because it is a stage that has gained additional value because of its constant use over such a long period, ” says Nakamura. It is now registered as a Tangible Cultural Asset of the City of Yokohama.

Location: 27-2 Momijigaoka, Nishi-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa 220-0044

Main Awards:
“Sakika” Award (2004)
“JAFRA Award” (Ministry of Internal Affairs Award) (2006) for innovative public sector facilities.
“Excellence Award of the Agency of Cultural Affairs Arts Festival” for the planning and staging of “Buke no Kyogen, Choshu no Kyogen” (Kyogen of the Samurai Class, Kyogen of the Townspeople)

Yokohama Noh Theater
Yokohama Noh Theater
Photo: Shigeru Takao
Sotoba Komachi as Hideyoshi Saw It“
(Nov. 2002)

Sotoba Komachi as Hideyoshi Saw It
Sotoba Komachi as Hideyoshi Saw It
Difference in costumes (above is the contemporary version costume and below is the Momoyama Period version)
Photo: Yoshiaki Kanda
Presenter Interview
As the Yokohama Noh Theater ventures into the uncharted field of traditional arts production, attention focuses on its planning expertise 
Opened in 1996 and managed by the Yokohama Municipal Arts Promotion Foundation, the Yokohama Noh Theater is known for its expertise in planning and ability to draw a large audience. In 2004 the Theater won the Noh world’s most prestigious award, the Saikasho, for ”demonstrating a new working model for a Noh theater for a new age.“ It is also the recipient of the JAFRA Award for innovation public-sector cultural facilities and the Excellence Award of the Agency of Cultural Affairs Arts Festival for the planning and staging of ”Buke no Kyogen, Choshu no Kyogen“ (Kyogen of the Samurai Class, Kyogen of the Townspeople). In the Noh world, where the concept of producing is virtually non-existent, the Yokohama Noh Theater has taken a new approach to producing works as a public Noh theater, and with its catch phrase of ”A Noh Theater that is accessible and easy to enter,“ it has succeeded in attracting new audience. In recent years it has also ventured out to produce collaborative programs with traditional artists of other Asian countries and active overseas exchange programs. To learn about these innovative activities, we spoke with Masayuki Nakamura the producer in charge of planning at the Yokohama Noh Theater since its opening.
(Interviewed by Kazumi Narabe)

Could we begin by asking about the conditions the Yokohama Noh Theater opened under and what sort of management policies were adopted initially.
    At the time of our opening there were seven Noh theaters in the Tokyo area holding performances on a regular basis, including the National Noh Theater, the Kanze Noh Theater and the Hosho Noh Theater. As a newcomer in this competitive market, we thought about what could distinguish us as a Noh theater with a truly Yokohama uniqueness and character. As a city we don’t have the long tradition of performing and watching Noh plays like Kyoto and Kanazawa. So, we decided to try to become a Noh theater that would be more open to the general public. We thought that we could develop an audience by actively teaching people about the essence of Noh and Kyogen and finding a market in new areas by proposing new ways of enjoying Noh/Kyogen. Our catch phase for this new approach was ”A Noh Theater that is accessible and easy to enter.“
    The origins of Noh as a performing art go back to late in Japan’s Kamakura Period (1185-1333) and early in the ensuing Muromachi Period (1336-1573), which makes it the oldest continuing form of performing art in the world today. The framework of Noh as we know it today dates back about 600 years to the father and son playwrights Kanami and Zeami, and during the Edo Period (1603-1867) it was supported and thus preserved by the Edo Bakufu government in the form known as Shikigaku that was performed as a kind of ritual for the samurai class. Under this system, Noh performers were able to pursue their art as subsidized artists. In other words, it was not an art that depended on attracting an audience among the common people.
    After the change in government with the Meiji Restoration and on through the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Noh artists made their living by taking on many apprentices and students under a hereditary family-lead school system. In this environment, most of the audience for Noh/Kyogen was the apprentices and students studying the traditional Noh vocal [narrative songs] and dance arts from the Noh masters. This made Noh/Kyogen a rather closed world that was difficult to enter for people from the general public who otherwise might want to go and see Noh performances. That is why we at the Yokohama Noh Theater decided to develop audience by ”marketing“ to a wider range of people, including people who wanted to see Noh/Kyogen as a performing art, people who wanted to learn about the Noh art for their personal education and people interested in the artistic aspects of Noh.

In your business and its ”marketing“ you always combine the four elements of performances, seminars, workshops/classroom type study and exhibitions. Also, as an outgrowth of your lectures and exhibitions, you have also dedicated efforts to media such as publishing. While keeping mainly Noh and Kyogen performances the central pillar of your business, how do you put together your programs?
    At the Yokohama Noh Theater we pursue a three-pronged approach involving ”special performance“ aimed at pleasing seasoned Noh/Kyogen fans, ”themed performances“ with a strong thematic focus and ”new-audience focused performances“ targeting people who are new to Noh/Kyogen. In these ways we take a free-handed approach to planning the programs, and I believe that this approach probably makes Yokohama Noh Theater the only Noh theater that is constantly producing its own Noh and Kyogen productions. In order for Noh and Kyogen to survive as arts, they have to be constantly refined, and they have to be brought to the public in new forms and in new ways. To do that, we have come up with productions that approach Noh/Kyogen in new ways, such as our ”Sotoba Komachi as Hideyoshi Saw It“ and our series ”Waki and Shite“ (Support [Noh] Actors and Lead Actors) and our ”Rediscovering Kyogen“ series.
    Also, among our ”new-audience focused performances“ we have introduced socially relevant productions such as our ”Barrier-free Noh“ that is easily accessible to the disabled as well as well as people without disabilities, ”Brunch Noh“ timed for the free time period for mothers raising children and our ”Evening Noh“ that working people can attend after working hours. With these productions we have been able to attract new audience by offering performances that better fit the needs and lifestyles of different members of society.

One of the main features that differentiates the Yokohama Noh Theater is surely this capability for innovative planning. Traditionally there has been no concept of ”producing“ plays in the Noh and Kyogen world. It was the actors who decided who they would perform with and what play they would do, and the performances would be at their own affiliated Noh theaters. In that kind of Noh world the Yokohama Noh Theater is certainly unique. Would you tell us about how you develop the concepts behind your unique productions at the Yokohama Noh Theater? In particular, your 2002 production ”Sotoba Komachi as Hideyoshi Saw It“ was very interesting as an attempt to faithfully reproduced the costumes, musical accompaniment, the [narrative] recitation and the dance all as they had been 400 years ago.
    Basically, I believe, it is a process of creating a production concept by finding a perspective that will be interesting from the standpoint of the general public, and the ideas come from quite academic and artistic origins. We are always thinking about how to fuse the general audience’s perspective with the academic and artistic perspectives.
    The concept for ”Sotoba Komachi as Hideyoshi Saw It“ came from reading an essay by the renowned Noh researcher Akira Omote (Hosei University Emeritus Professor). From his research, Omote found that in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1603) at performance of the same Noh plays only took 60% of the time of today’s performances, and we wondered if we couldn’t try to duplicate that kind of performance to see if it was possible and what it would be like.
    Noh reached it present form in the middle of the Edo Period, and has stayed basically unchanged for the 300 years since. If possible we would have liked to trace Noh back to the time of Zeami, but the lack of reference materials from that time makes any attempts to define what it was like in that age mostly speculation. We knew that we could trace its forms back to the Momoyama Period with some accuracy, however. There are about 2,000 plays in the Noh repertoire and some 220 to 230 of those are performed today. But we can only find reference to about three of these being performed in the Momoyama Period, and Momoyama Period is one of them.
    Sotoba Komachi is what is known as one of the ”heavy Noh plays.“ By the way, the categorizing of Noh plays into heavy and ”light“ ones is a concept that emerged in the Edo Period after Noh became a ”ritualized“ theatric form. We thought that if we could re-produce the Sotoba Komachi of 400 years ago and compare it to the way it is performed today, we could get an idea of what Noh was like before it became ritualized and was performed more freely as a performing art.
    To re-produce the play as it was performed 400 years ago with as much authenticity as possible we enlisted the cooperation of Waseda University prof. Mikio Takemoto in the field of Japanese literature, the Head of the Intangible Cultural Properties Section of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, Izumi Takakuwa in the field of music, and shite (main character) performer Nobuyuki Yamamoto. Also, we asked for the assistance of assistant prof. Kiyoe Sakamoto of Tamagawa University regarding re-creating the intonation of Kyoto dialect in the Momoyama Period.
    For the costumes, Akira Yamaguchi, director of the Yamaguchi Noh Costume Research Institute, referred to scroll paintings in the collection of Kasuga Shrine in the city of Seki in Gifu Pref. to recreate the costumes. In order to use the same kind of silk for the costumes as used in the Momoyama Period, they began by raising the silk worms in making the thread in the old way, and for the gold leaf and embroidery, old methods from the Edo Period were used.
    When it came down to the actual performances we performed the play twice, first in the contemporary style and then in the re-created Momoyama form. The contemporary performance was about one hour and 40 minutes [as usually performed today] and the Momoyama reproduction was performed in just over 50 minutes [according to the 60% calculation]. When we actually did the Momoyama version in that time, it turned out to have a very nice tempo and a clear sense of dramatic development that was very enjoyable to watch. People often say that watching Noh makes them sleepy, but the reactions we got from the audience after watching the Momoyama version performance were things like, ”I didn’t get sleepy“ or ”It was [more] interesting.“
    In all we spent one year in the research and a total of two years for the production of that play. The rehearsals began with explaining to the performers about the intent and the differences the performance would involve. Then some parts were rehearsed separately and finally there were three or four full rehearsals with the entire cast and crew.
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