There are currently 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan, ranging from the pristine Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido’s north to Okinawa’s Ryukyu castles.
In 2006, UNESCO in Japan teamed up with the Asahi newspaper to combine the sites with the nation’s rich heritage of performing arts. Other corporate supporters got on board and the World Heritage Theater Project was formed.
To date, the project has presented 13 shows on purpose-built open-air stages at heritage sites. They’ve featured artists such as The Gospellers, Toko Furuuchi, Tokiko Kato and Naotaro Moriyama, as well as kyogen (traditional comic theater), rakugo (comic storytelling) and gagaku (court music).
Now, in a return visit to the tourist mecca of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, the project will stage shows for three nights at Futarasan Shrine and the lavishly magnificent Toshogu Shrine (of “three monkeys” fame), wherein are interred the remains of Japan’s first shogun.
On Sept. 17, actress Atsuko Asano will perform outdoor readings of Japanese myths in the precincts of Futarasan Shrine. On Sept. 18, famed kabuki actors Kamejiro Ichikawa and Ukon Onoe will perform the renowned, but physically exacting, renjishi dance in which one performer twirls a wig of long red hair, and the other a white wig, in front of Toshogu’s five-story pagoda. Then, on Sept. 19, acclaimed butoh master Akaji Maro will collaborate with cutting-edge musician Hiromitsu Agatsuma and play the tsugaru shamisen (a traditional three-stringed instrument), also in front of the pagoda.
In a recent interview, Maro — who has created a new program, titled “Kekkaitan” (“A Story of a Boundary between Life and Death”), for this occasion — said: “I feel a special magnetic force around the Nikko area. This time, I will just dedicate my body to the various gods of Toshogu and try to stand on the open-air stage and, with great presence of mind, express a phantasmal world between life and death through my body.”
The 14th World Heritage Theater” runs Sept. 17-19 at Futarasan Shrine (Sept. 17) and Toshogu Shrine (Sept. 18-19) in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. Tickets cost ¥3,000-¥10,000. For more information, call SAP at (03) 5226-8537 or visit www.sekaiisangekijyou.com