Traditional arts in Kansai
Issues for the 21st Century and the Arts' International Significance
Professor, Division of Studies on Cultural Expressions, Graduate School of Letters, Osaka Universit
Each of the last seven or eight years has begun for me by attending a one-man performance of rakugo by KATSURA Beicho (whose 60th and final solo performance was given in 2002, ending a tradition that dates back to 1971) at Sankei Hall in Osaka on January 2, followed by special Noh performances at the Otsuki Nohgakudo Theater (also in Osaka) on January 3. As I also end the year by going to an all-star performance at the Minamiza in Kyoto, this time of year is filled with theater going and appreciation of the traditional performing arts. My specialty being Noh research, one might consider this activity to be quite ordinary. Nevertheless, it is only by virtue of living in the Kansai region that I am able to have such exposure to high-quality traditional performing arts, including Noh, kyogen, kabuki, and rakugo, at this and other times of the year. （Photo: Kawamura Nogakudo）
In light of this, the traditional Japanese performing arts that we so take for granted occupy quite a unique place among the arts in world history. I don't know how these arts became so stratified or why they are able to coexist so well, but the reason that the classical arts can still remain alive and vibrant even when new forms emerge is because they have something that the new performing arts lack. That something can never be replaced. In fact, whenever I watch kabuki or a contemporary drama, I realize there are certain things that can only be expressed in Noh, and other things, in contrast, that Noh drama simply cannot express. Yet within the traditional Japanese performing arts are contained many lessons from which modern people have much to learn.
This was the topic addressed recently in a talk by playwright YAMAZAKI Masakazu. YAMAZAKI called for efforts to generate a wider understanding of the traditional performing arts outside the hallowed inner circles of their dedicated audiences. I couldn't agree more. But surely people have been doing this all along? Noh could not have survived for 700 years and kabuki for 400 years if it were not for the efforts of their performers to gain the public's understanding amid the changing social environment from generation to generation. Tradition has nothing to do with conservatism or immutability. The real meaning of tradition lies in active adaptation to the times and giving people what its unique expression alone can provide. Perhaps what is required today of the traditional performing arts is a more conscious response to this challenge.