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Ahead of the Osaka Expo, Playhouses are adding English and anime tie-ins to the schedule

Courtesy of Shochiku Co.
Foreigners experience a sword fight during a workshop on how to enjoy kabuki at the Osaka Shochikuza Theater.

OSAKA — With the Osaka-Kansai Expo set to open in a year, there is a growing push to attract foreign visitors to theaters and make traditional performing arts more accessible.

Some theaters and production groups have already begun organizing performances with English commentary and subtitles, as well as showing projects that build on the popularity of anime.

Kabuki workshop for foreigners

From January 22 to 28, the Osaka Shochikuza Theater in the Dotonbori area of ​​Osaka hosted its first kabuki performance intended for visitors to Japan, entitled “Night Kabuki in Osaka Dotonbori.” The brochure was in English and the event included a workshop on how to enjoy kabuki, as well as a performance of the comic kabuki dance ‘Ayatsuri Sanbaso’.

Kabuki actor Kataoka Senju served as guide and there was also an English interpreter. Some from the audience were invited on stage to witness a sword fight and learn how to perform a mie, where the actor strikes and holds a pose to express strong emotion.

Videos of kabuki actors were shown, including an onnagata actor playing female roles and donning signature kabuki makeup. Demonstrations of the revolving stage and the stage lift were also given. Finally, Kataoka Senjiro entertained the audience by dancing ‘Ayatsuri Sanbaso’.

A kabuki promotion team called Kabuki Kohotai, made up of international students living in the Kansai region, interviewed the artists and shared their experiences on social media.

Shochiku Co., which runs the theater, also embraces anime, a staple of Japanese pop culture.

In January and February, Shochiku held a joint exhibition with the popular anime series “Macross” at Minamiza Theater in Kyoto. The exhibition arose from the fact that the main character in ‘Macross Frontier’ comes from a prestigious kabuki family. Characters from the series were drawn by the character designers in kabuki costumes and displayed on panels especially for this event.

Panels of characters from “Macross Delta,” each dressed as dancer Hanako, a popular kabuki heroine, were placed on stage with scenery including a temple bell for the kabuki dance “Kyoganoko Musume Dojoji.” Visitors enjoyed taking commemorative photos with the characters.

Live performances and chats were also held during the event period. Commemorative items sold well, the organizer said.

Bunraku with anime wallpapers


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Courtesy of National Theater/photo by Tomoko Ogawa
A production of “Sonezaki Shinju” (“Love Suicides at Sonezaki”). This production combines traditional bunraku puppet theater with anime backdrops.

Osaka’s National Bunraku Theater held its first backstage tour for foreigners on February 7 and 8. Forty-five people, aided by English interpreters, took part in the tour and saw unique stage mechanisms, props and dressing rooms.

In addition, an information desk for foreigners was set up in the lobby and English announcements and audio guides were introduced. Visitors also received a questionnaire in English.

The Japan Arts Council, which manages the theater, has produced a special version of “Sonezaki Shinju” (“Love Suicides at Sonezaki”), combining a bunraku puppet theater-style performance with anime backgrounds for the first time. Kazuo Oga, art director for Studio Ghibli’s ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Princess Mononoke’, was responsible for the visual art.

The municipality hopes to perform the version abroad with anime backgrounds in the future. The intention is also to show the version to more visitors to Japan, who are expected to increase in number during the Expo.

“I hope that foreigners interested in Japanese anime culture will also find bunraku attractive,” said Hiroko Kirikae, director of the council.

Noh with English subtitles


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Courtesy of Yamamoto Noh Theater
A tour and workshop for foreigners at the Yamamoto Noh Theater

Another theater in Osaka, the Yamamoto Noh Theater, organized an event late last year for newcomers showcasing traditional performing arts from Osaka and the surrounding region. The event included noh and bunraku performances with an English-speaking presenter and English subtitles, and a rakugo performance in English. A tour of the Noh theater for foreigners last fall was also well attended, according to the theater office.

In preparation for the Expo, the theater plans to host similar events for foreigners once a month starting this fiscal year.

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