'New' Kyoto theater promises a mighty arts boost

by Mika Eglinton

Special To The Japan Times

More than half a century since it opened in 1960 as one of Japan’s first multipurpose cultural centers, and almost exactly four years after its doors last closed, the Kyoto Kaikan will be reborn transformed on Jan. 10 as the ROHM Theatre Kyoto.

Sited against a backdrop of Kyoto’s scenic Okazaki Park and Heian Shrine, the building designed by Kunio Maekawa (1905-86) has long been — together with his 1961 Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Ueno Park — among Japan’s foremost examples of postwar modernist architecture.

Despite that, by the time of its closure the 2,000-seat hall not only failed to meet earthquake-safety standards, but its facilities for performers, creators and audiences had become woefully inadequate.

Fortunately, a July 2013 deal between the city authority and Kyoto-based ROHM Semiconductor Co. saved the building from possible demolition by granting the firm known for its arts sponsorship 50 years’ name rights in exchange for ¥5.25 billion (then around $52 million) toward the estimated ¥9.67 billion cost of extensive redevelopment (which actually just topped ¥11 billion).

So when the doors reopen in a few weeks’ time on Hisao Koyama’s redesign aimed at “superimposing values suitable for each new era while maintaining the values of the past,” ROHM Theatre Kyoto will boast not one but three versatile performance spaces — a 2,000-seat Main Hall, a 700-seat South Hall and a 200-seat North Hall suited for small-scale productions or rehearsals.

To celebrate the renewal, a series of events is planned spanning traditional performing arts such as noh, Japanese dance and yose storytelling, as well as opera, ballet, a classical music concert and a big band festival.

Then, from March 5, ROHM Theatre Kyoto will host the acclaimed Kyoto Experiment annual international theater festival, bringing together people from around the world for a monthlong exploration of contemporary performance.

Clearly, this major new facility in western Honshu is destined to be a key focus for collaboration and exchange in the creation and dissemination of art and culture both across Japan and far beyond.

For more details, call 075-746-3355 or visit