|

Theater’s collection of historical documents endangered

Chunichi Shimbun

The Misonoza theater, long a fixture in Naka Ward, Nagoya, will be closed down at the end of March. Highly regarded as a symbol of the art world in Nagoya, its basement houses the only library for live theater in the Chubu region.

The library contains a wealth of material on classical theater such as kabuki and bunraku.

However, it will be closed along with the main hall despite its popularity with theater aficionados, and experts are worried that the materials will be scattered and ultimately lost as a result.

The library started out as an archive and was opened to the public in 1973. Two years later, a lending service was established in which members of Misonoza could check out books from among its 29,000-volume collection.

It has been operating on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with an average of four to five people using it per day. The number usually increases to more than 20 when a kabuki show is being performed in the theater.

The library accumulated its rich database drawing on more than 118 years of theater productions in Misonoza. Numerous actors have visited the library to pore over the old show programs and scripts found in its collection.

Other material includes a program for the opening production at Misonoza on May 17, 1897, special makeup worn by kabuki actors traced on Japanese paper, and a recording of “gidayu,” a type of recitation for bunraku puppet theater that combines music, narrative and sound effects.

Actor Ichikawa Ennosuke III, who is well known for producing “Yamato Takeru,” the first so-called super kabuki combining traditional movement with modern technology, is a frequent visitor.

“Every time I needed to prepare for my production, I was able to do in-depth research (in the Misonoza library), right down to the smallest details until I was satisfied. I had not been able to do this anywhere else. It is indeed a treasure house for doing research on theater and drama,” Ichikawa noted in a eulogy for Eiichi Hasegawa, the founder of the library and a former chairman of Misonoza.

Discussions are being held to rebuild the theater, but the tenants have been asked to vacate the building by the end of March.

“The library is popular among the public, but we can’t let it remain when we’ve asked all the other tenants to leave,” a Misonoza official said.

The biggest worry is protecting the books and other documents.

“We want to ensure that the valuable materials, such as rare books, kabuki program leaflets, and papers of kabuki makeup, are kept safe. They are important assets of this region and we would like the local government to help with their preservation and exhibition,” the official said.

The Nagoya City Cultural Promotion Agency visited the facility last January, but a city official said: “We cannot store these materials. There are some leaflets from the Edo Period, but most of the items in the library are relatively new, dating from the Showa Era, so they do not qualify as items for museums.”

No one knows yet where all the material will end up.

“Kabuki is a world heritage. The Misonoza library contains a first-class collection of materials on Japanese arts, including ‘naniwabushi,’ a genre of traditional ballads. It serves as a pillar that supports the culture of Nagoya,” said Bunkichi Yasuda, a professor of early modern theatrical arts at Nanzan University in Nagoya. “They are valuable because the catalogues can be viewed in their entirety and I’m worried that they will be separated and lost.”

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 12.