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Japan keeps culture alive during pandemic

We take a look at how Japan presents traditional theatrical performances known as Kabuki to audiences during the pandemic. Then we take a walk in an open-air backyard fest specially adapted for COVID times.

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Japan keeps culture alive during pandemic
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29 Mayıs 2023 - 0:00
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The entertainment industry has been adversely affected by the pandemic. Theaters saw their box office profits plummet overnight, as nearby venues sought to stop the spread of the virus. But the show must go on. Access to culture cannot be stopped. For this reason, some artists sought new ways to continue their performances.

Traditional Kabuki

In Japan, Kabuki is a popular all-male theatrical form that brings together the best of Japanese music, dance, drama, and costumes. Its history goes back over 400 years. It even became part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

Tokyo’s lively Ginza district features the famous Kabukiza theatre. It has recently reopened with new measures to keep the public safe where people come to enjoy the Kabuki performances.

But its traditional back form has recently been reworked in a contemporary way by one of its best-known actors, Matsumoto Koshiro. The closing of the theater prompted him to fulfill his long-held desire to create a new type of online kabuki performance. The result is what he calls “Zoom-Kabuki” or “Dream Kabuki”.

One of Japan’s most famous Kabuki actors

In a world first, the actor and director managed to publish 11 acts of “Chu-shin-gura”, one of the most important plays of Kabuki, in online installments in June 2020. To give audiences one of the most authentic and sensory experiences, Matsumoto Koshiro was sometimes able to mix pre-recorded and live performances to play different roles on screen at the same time. The result is just like being in the theatre.

“Our wish is to continue Zoom Kabuki forever”

Matsumoto Koshiro
Kabuki actor

Matsumoto Koshiro also produced a comedy called Yaji Kita. It is based on a popular 19th-century travel literature series. It was pre-recorded and shown in December.

We met with Matsumoto Koshiro to get his views on how the pandemic is affecting the art form. He says theaters have been closed for a long time and he feels strongly that Kabuki may disappear. However, according to Matsumoto Koshiro, “internet publishing is a contemporary solution.” “As Kabuki actors are on stage about 10 months a year, it also provides a way for actors to stay in shape, as they can maintain their artistic skills by continuing to appear on stage, including in their physical condition.”

The online performances have delighted the Kabuki players, and Matsumoto Koshiro thinks that “even if the scene reopens normally in the future, it will be our intention to continue Zoom Kabuki forever.”

A back festival from the outside

500 kilometers from bustling Tokyo, Nara prefecture is home to dozens of World Heritage sites. Its main city was the capital of Japan in the 8th century. An area of ​​extraordinary beauty, therefore, naturally provided the perfect backdrop for a new type of backyard festivity created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nature itself is actually the back piece.”

In Autumn 2020, visitors had the opportunity to explore an open-air pop-up gallery called ‘Mind Trail’, which is spread over three different areas in Nara prefecture. The small town of Yoshino in the Kii Mountains had a variety of contemporary art that you could enjoy with confidence and at your own pace.

Since the track is 5-8 kilometers long, some of the visitors came for sports and nature as well as the back. Saito Seiichi, Rhizomatiks Architecture Director and producer of Mind Trail, says people are realizing that “nature itself is actually the back piece.”

The name of his special work for the festival is ‘Axis’. He describes it as “redefining the axis of the village and also the axis of the shrine”.

It was a unique platform for featured artists on Mindtrail to reconnect with the public and express their feelings about the pandemic.

They say Arka has healing power. At a time of great need, Japan is supporting its culture industry with unorthodox thinking.

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