Performers feeling squeeze as venues shutter, renovate in run-up to 2020

Kyodo

Many established theaters, concert halls and stadiums in the metropolitan area have closed, are due to close or will undergo renovations in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, causing a serious shortage of venues for performing artists.

“This situation must be dealt with, or we may fall behind as a cultural city,” said Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe at a news conference, pledging to consider building temporary facilities while allowing the capital’s properties to be used.

The National Stadium has been demolished to make way for a new one, while Yokohama Arena and Saitama Super Arena have both closed for several months for renovation this month, prompting entertainment industry officials to dub the dearth of performance space the “2016 problem.”

In November, 10 organizations, including musical and ballet groups and the Japan Council of Performers Rights & Performing Arts Organizations (Geidankyo) called for government measures, saying they are facing a critical situation.

“We want the central government to take the matter seriously,” said Man Nomura, a kyogen (comic theater) actor who heads Geidankyo, in urging the government to ease rules for using public facilities instead.

While many facilities in the metropolitan area, built during the period of rapid postwar economic growth in the 1970s through the bubble economy in the 1980s, require renovations, others have closed down entirely due to aging and financial difficulties.

Geidankyo said about 20 theaters have closed since 2004, including Shinjuku Koma Theater and Tokyo Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, a loss of over 20,000 seats.

In 2015, famed ballet theater U-Port Hall also closed down.

“(The Olympics event) is also a festival of art and culture. Many talented artists are on the rise, and it is problematic for them to lose stages on which to perform,” said Yukari Saito, art director of the Tokyo Ballet.

Music industry officials are also taking the 2016 problem seriously.

“As using stadiums with a capacity of 10,000 is not an option, there will be cases where we would have to book smaller spaces with a capacity of 5,000 for two days. This may fill up smaller venues and affect artists who perform there,” said Ichiro Yamaguchi of the rock band Sakanaction.

The issue is likely to have a ripple effect on performances in rural areas.

For artists, profits from performances in the metropolitan area, which attract larger audiences and on which they spend less for transportation, usually offset the high transportation costs of rural shows.

“A lack of shows in (the) Kanto region makes it difficult to perform elsewhere,” Yamaguchi said.

However, some artists see the situation differently.

“In a way, it’s interesting. This could be a chance to seek … new places to play music,” said Masafumi Goto of the rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation, while admitting that booking problems may be inevitable.

Though CD sales have declined over the years, more and more people are going to live performances. According to research conducted by the All Japan Concert & Live Entertainment Promoters Conference, about 42.6 million people went to over 27,000 concerts in 2014, with both figures marking a record high.

“A lack of performance venues is a critical condition for the industry,” said Yuko Sasai, a senior researcher at Pia Soken who is well-versed in the entertainment industry.

“Even after 2016, many more facilities will need to be renovated. Long-term policies, such as tax benefits that encourage construction of cultural facilities, (will) be necessary to overcome this situation,” she said.