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Special Three-Way Discussion Session Mayor Yukio Takano, Manzo Nomura, Umeya Nakamura

Further Progress for Toshima and Culture in 2017!

As it addresses the keynote concept of a “theater city where the community is one big stage and everyone’s a star” envisioned as an innovative approach to community creation, Toshima City will scale new heights of cultural development in 2017. With the arrival of this new year of heightened hope and promise, we invited two figures pivotal in supporting aspects of Japanese traditional culture—Kyogen actor Manzo Nomura and classical Japanese dance principal Umeya Nakamura—to Minami-Ikebukuro Park to engage in an free-thinking discussion with Toshima City Mayor Yukio Takano.

左から高野之夫豊島区長、野村万蔵さん、中村梅彌さん

Sustaining Tradition While Daring to Change

Takano: In Toshima City, we are taking steady steps forward in the quest to attain our International City of Arts and Culture vision. Last year, the International City of Arts and Culture Toshima discussion group, chaired by former Japanese Government Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Seiichi Kondo, submitted a report on the tactics for achieving this vision. I am confident that Toshima City is making solid progress in terms of community creation and will emerge as a driving force in Japanese culture. Today I would like to hear what the two of you think—notably, from your respective positions as successors to leading schools of traditional performing arts with long legacies within the overall sphere of Japan’s cultural realm.

中村梅彌氏Nakamura: I was born and raised in the world of Kabuki theater. In recent years, I have noticed growing numbers of younger people attending our performances. It is my honest impression, however, that a considerable number of such admirers simply come to bask in the presence of their favorite actors. In my estimation, a major factor behind the enduring affection for these and other traditional performing arts lies in shared sentiments stemming from the everyday lifestyles of Japanese people present in those disciplines. For example, a specific movement or posture within dancing can represent pouring sake into a cup or other actions. It is unfortunate, therefore, to view performances without grasping such minute details. An understanding of these areas will contribute to a deeper knowledge of aspects of Japanese culture from ancient times, and it may also be useful in modern life. With the one key objective of fostering greater familiarity in these areas, I devote considerable time and effort to organizing workshops and other learning opportunities.

野村万蔵氏
Nomura: In my case, I am now in the position of having succeeded to one school of Kyogen acting, generally regarded as a long-standing and integral form of Japanese culture, while likewise shouldering the responsibilities of passing the art form on to the next generation. In that capacity, I am particularly thankful to those who conveyed their knowledge of this theatrical tradition to me and supported me in my mission, raising my motivation to further hone my own skills.

The more strongly I embrace such a mindset, however, the more difficult I find it to break free from established tradition. This creates conflict with a key aspect of these dynamics. Namely, that without fomenting change in the status quo, you run the risk of being left behind as the times move on. I have a gut sensation of the need to rise to the challenge on both fronts—that is, of pursuing and succeeding at the exceptional aspects of the classics, while likewise devising change and breakthroughs as need—effectively upgrading the genre in line with the current era. The key lies in not simply carrying on traditions free of change, but rather for the artists of each era to confront the issues of their craft, evolving, affirming and sometimes denying selected aspects of tradition while acceding to and growing hand in hand with the times.

Setting Our Sights on the Year 2020

Nakamura: I also sense a clear need for concerted efforts to earn acceptance from today’s audiences. Returning to my previous mention of choreographic touches, when it comes to the action of, for example, pulling a ro—an old-type oar of a boat—the truth is that even I have never engaged in rowing a boat using a ro or even observed that activity to any extensive degree. As such, teaching such movements to the Japanese people of today, who tend to be even more unaware in that regard, can be similar to instructing people from other countries.

Nomura: At the same time, though, I believe that such inscrutable characteristics may actually prove to be an advantage. Many foreigners, for instance, find Japanese animation and other contemporary art to be stylish or cool even without a full understanding of the background or details. I feel many young Japanese people also identify with traditional art forms in vague yet upbeat perspectives.

Takano: Clearly, there is history behind all culture, with new aspects destined to evolve on such existing legacies. As one example, I would point to the Daidengaku Ikebukuro Emaki dance event directed by Mr. Nomura in Toshima last November. In that production, the interaction staged between ritual music and dancing and contemporary costume play was a big crowd-pleaser. I see how such inventive new undertakings can pave the way to the infusion of new cultural facets in traditional performing arts, and was deeply inspired by the groundbreaking nature of that approach.

大田楽いけぶくろ絵巻奏上

Nomura: That Daidengaku ritual dance routine was the brainchild of my late older brother—the eighth-generation Manzo Nomura. Both of us were natives of Toshima City, and I’m sure that my brother would be delighted by that first-ever performance of Daigengaku in Ikebukuro last year.

I must admit that dancing with people dressed up as animated or comic strip characters was a first for me. I was devoted to making that a success, however, to demonstrate how such a time-honored traditional Japanese performing art is capable of encompassing and fusing the characteristics of the community where it is performed with new qualities. As we found out, the inclusion of so-called costume play did not undermine the traditional aspects of the singing and dancing. Rather, it powered the routine to greater and different heights. While in many ways last fall’s production was a struggle to break new ground, I am determined to steadily build on that start in our annual performances leading up to 2020. In that sense, one of my dreams is to block off Green Boulevard in Ikebukuro and fill the street with Daidengaku dancers!

区長Takano: By 2020, construction will be completed on the new eight-theater complex at the site of our former city offices, while the new community center building will feature a tatami-mat floor practice and rehearsal area. We also envision the hall being built there as a venue for Kabuki performances, with the practice area to be largely open to Toshima citizens and others striving to cultivate people engaging in traditional performing arts. I certainly look forward to the wisdom and support of professionals like both of you in this push.

Nakamura: Ikebukuro Station is a major hub where various train lines connect. The convenient access it offers must be very attractive and helpful for people who rather hesitate to go to Kabukiza Theater in Ginza because it is distant. Based on that, I feel confident that the completion of the new facilities will provide a draw for many fans living outside of Toshima City as well. Having a tatami-mat practice area will also allow us to put on classical Japanese dance workshops. I look forward to lending kimono, folding fans and other implements to persons who don’t own such items to help them experience this traditional art form.

Making Toshima a Community to Take Great Pride In

高野区長Takano: A few years ago, we were shocked when a private sector institute pointed out that Toshima faced the threat of disappearing as a city. Determined to use that warning as an opportunity to bounce back, we embarked on a quest of renewed community development, making steady progress in that direction. Among those efforts, we have envisioned the potential for appealing to the world about what Toshima can offer as an international city of arts and culture. I want to steady transform Toshima into a community we can all take great pride in, and intend to treat 2017 as the true kickoff year in that effort.

Nakamura: I also want to firmly support the mission to win such acceptance for Toshima. My younger brother, the eighth-generation Shikan Nakamura, will be giving performances to commemorate his succession to that family name through December of this year. I hope that many people who have never seen a Kabuki performance before will use that opportunity to do so. It also would be nice if Toshima City could help provide such occasions.

Nomura: Compared to when I was a child, Toshima City has truly undergone what I view as a dramatic sea change, moving in a positive direction. There is far more energy in the community today, and I am delighted with the progress. I attribute this upswing to your policies, Mayor Takano, as well as your strategic focus on culture as the core of community creation. As a citizen of Toshima, I am also determined to do whatever I can to contribute to these initiatives, while occasionally also organizing flashy events, such as the Daidengaku performance last year, to draw keen attention to Toshima City as a vibrant community. I hope I can continue to stage such productions every year, furnishing a stage for citizens to gather to blow off steam, forget their worries and in general have a good time.

Takano: I’m truly energized by the valuable information we’ve shared here today. Our city will carry on the push for creative fusion between the profundity of classical performing arts and the energetic wave of new cultural endeavors, with hopes that everyone visiting Japan in 2020 will feel inspired to visit Toshima! Dreaming big, I will continue to concentrate on culture as a major focus in advancing a vision of community creation worthy of serving as a great example of this country. With that thought in mind, I thank you both for taking the precious time from your busy schedules to join me for this session.

Personal Profiles

Ninth-Generation Manzo Nomura

Actor in the Izumi school of Kyogen. Ninth-generation head of the Manzo Nomura family and leader of the Kyogen performing group Yorozu Kyogen. Besides the classical approach, he also devotes powerful energies to performing modern Kyogen (a fusion of traditional Kyogen and contemporary skit-based comedy routines); Daidengaku performances as modern-day renditions of the dengaku ritual singing and dancing from the Middle Ages; and other cultural and artistic pursuits. He is recognized as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset holder, and also shines as a supporter of numerous cultural initiatives in Toshima City (Toshima Noh Play Society , Kyogen workshops for children and other activities, etc.).

Second-Generation Umeya Nakamura

Eighth-generation head of the Nakamura School of classical Japanese dance. She assumed that position in March 2012, in keeping with the wishes of her late father, the seventh-generation Shikan Nakamura (and former head of the Nakamura School). Currently engaged in a broad range of efforts to expand knowledge of this genre of dance, including Kabuki theater dance workshops open to the general public. Recipient of the Japan Art Academy Prize in 2015. She serves as a member of the International City of Arts and Culture Toshima discussion group.