ホーム > Arts and Culture > Discussing Arts and Culture > Special Interview Series: Vol. 2 Saburo Maeda

Main content starts here.

Special Interview Series: Vol. 2 Saburo Maeda

We asked Mr. Saburo Maeda, the chief producer of the International City of Arts and Culture Toshima vision, about the specific uses of arts and culture in building up Toshima City, as well as his thoughts about the Toshima community. Just how does Mr. Maeda—a major force behind a steady stream of various theatrical productions, concerts and other popular events—define the theme of “international city of arts and culture”?

Moving With Greater Speed Than Imagined

It has been two years since you were appointed the chief producer of the International City of Arts and Culture Toshima vision. What are your impressions of the progress made on that initiative so far?

I believe we are moving forward with ample speed.I would add, however, that at first, as numerous different ideas were discussed, there were reactions about difficulties that existed due to certain laws or regulations, the way things have been done in the past and so forth. One of my key duties is to find ways to surmount such issues. With regard to this city vision, both the objectives and the destinations are clearly defined.To reach those goals, it is vital for the administration, residents and private sector to all move forward with devotion, purpose and speed.

Special Ambassadors Can Transform the City

Residents are participating in this effort as “special ambassadors.” What are your expectations on that front?

To date, many of these ambassadors have yet to truly grasp what they need to do. The administrative side is also striving to increase the numbers of these “cheerleaders.” Clearly, the International City of Arts and Culture Toshima vision is not something that can be promoted as a part of cultural policy alone. It must be viewed as a gateway for working out effective urban policy for the Toshima City community as a whole.

Honestly speaking, Toshima City is a district with few distinguishing characteristics, rendering it difficult to envision the specific types of measures required. If we can develop a firmer grasp of what Toshima City’s characteristics are, I’m confident that more people will gather and live here, bringing improvements in the city and other advances. If we can get a broader understanding of how arts and culture serve as a starting point in that direction, our ambassadors will be more effective in their roles. That is why I want to foster a greater grasp of how arts and culture comprise a vital portal for effective future community creation.

The thinking behind this vision of arts and culture is to mobilize cultural supports to make our lives more enriched and fulfilling. Once the ambassadors fully grasp this concept, they can better explain our goals to the residents of Toshima. In this way, ambassadors will convey various types of information, with the resulting feedback from the outside used to upgrade and innovate to create more effective policy stances. In their work, it is important for administrators to accurately determine how best to advance planning in the direction

With only eleven producers assigned to this project, our capabilities are limited. As the number of ambassadors rises to a thousand or even two thousand people, however, that collective intelligence-gathering power—along with cultural and artistic perspectives grounded in everyday life—will comprise an increasingly precious asset. While ambassadors serve as cheerleaders, they can also issue pointed demands and candid advice. In that sense, it is critical for both the administration and we producers to cultivate solid working relationships with our ambassadors.

Creating Modern-Day Meccas

In the area of spatial strategies, have there been any conflicts between the producers and the city?

No, not to my understanding. Eleven individuals were selected from different fields as producers. My strengths are in music and theater, with others coming from the digital sector, animation and numerous other backgrounds. 前田氏写真

With Ikebukuro and Mejiro inhabited by large numbers of students and other younger residents, we believe there is great promise for modern arts and culture to flourish there. The Tokiwa-so Apartments, for example, are a mecca in a certain sense. If skillfully promoted, we feel that Ikebukuro or even Toshima City as a whole can also become modern-day meccas. Urban policies must emerge as the driving force in that vision, encouraging people and information to gather here and spearheading efforts to raise the quality of the city itself. In my view, if Toshima City—which is currently a “subculture mecca”—can be effectively fused with traditional Japanese culture, it should be able to attain new heights of interest and drawing power.

Examining such trends, it seems that the power of you producers in engineering new breakthroughs is creating a good outcome at the moment.

That may be true, but I would also point out that the main work of producers is to simply submit initial proposals. We don’t follow up with any particular checks on the progress thereafter. When specific plans or events are organized, however, I believe there will be occasions when the global leadership and recognition of producers can be put to effective use.

With that being the case, it is better to monitor how Toshima City is incorporating the proposals that we offer into its policies. Another responsibility on the administrative side is to put actual infrastructure into place. Although the private sector cannot take the lead in infrastructure planning, it does handle the work of building the contents based on such improvements. It is essential to clearly split the roles in that process and effectively use private sector resources, thereby attracting people and money to the community and setting the stage for cultural expansion. In that regard, the decision to build theaters at this particular phase is welcome news, and I feel confident that the ambassadors and other residents will take pride in their city for demonstrating such initiative.

Attracting Inbound Traffic With Information

What is the significance of giving the vision an international focus?

My own take on “international” is not limited to the “inbound” front. The most important thing for Toshima City, Ikebukuro and other community units is to transmit international messages, which if done effectively can naturally boost inbound tourist traffic. If asked what types of messages we need to convey at this particular time, I would answer “arts and culture.” What Toshima City needs to do now, in other words, is communicate the culture of contemporary Japan to the outside world. If that is done in an effective way, people all over the world with an interest in such matters will decide to come to Japan. The areas they visit will become meccas as such, with people coming to express themselves at those sites. As that comes to pass, genuine mutual globalization will come. I believe it is a mistake, therefore, to think only in terms of how to host such inbound traffic and what services to provide them. It is far more vital to offer contents of interest to attract people from overseas, and I think it is best to consign such tasks to the private sector.

Transforming Weakness into Strength

Finally, we’d like to ask about the source of your strong feelings about Toshima City.

I was born and raised in Toshima, and I am particularly fond of the Ikebukuro district. I love the folksy local color, and I also have many friends there from my own generation. With Ikebukuro and Toshima City as a whole comprising a large urban area, there are also considerable problems and weaknesses.

What many people fail to understand, however, is that taking effective action in dealing with and overcoming weaknesses can transform them into strengths. The key here is to determine how to effectively cultivate such limited strengths and features, while analyzing the merits and demerits of Ikebukuro and other Toshima districts. If we succeed in doing things that other regions cannot, people will come here. In that respect, efforts to focus only on positive aspects will not help the project. In my estimation, the key thrust of community creation should consist of defining the characteristics of the town, refining them, and supporting the discovery of aspects clearly absent in other districts.

A City Where You Can See the Sky

Has today’s Ikebukuro changed from the past?

It certainly has. One major milestone was the completion of the Sunshine 60 building in 1978, which attracted a large flow of people from the train station. The key issue for Ikebukuro today is how to draw people outside of the station complex.

Along with that, from the standpoint of providing greater visual access in the city to the skies, deciding what kind of park should be created is a vital issue. In New York, the local government and citizens take advantage of Central Park as a venue for concerts and other events. I’d like to see relationships like that in Toshima too, and I’m hoping that the recently completed Minami-Ikebukuro Park will function as such a space. Producers can be expected to change in response to the times, and if creative linkages can be engineered I think we will benefit from many interesting developments ahead.

Saburo Maeda—Personal Profile

Previous posts included manager of Sunshine Theatre and executive manager of Meijiza Co., Ltd., before undertaking theatrical productions as a producer at Kyodo Tokyo Inc. Currently, as president of Kyodo Factory Inc., he teams up with public theaters to support civic theatrical activities. Also serves as director of Kyodo Tokyo and councilor at the Toshima Future Culture Foundation.