Kabuki mecca's days numbered

by Reiji Yoshida

The Kabukiza Theatre, a Tokyo landmark and the mecca of the traditional performance art, will soon vanish to be replaced by a new office-theater complex despite pleas from architects to preserve the building.

Shochiku Co. announced this week it will end kabuki performances at the current building in Ginza in April 2010.

“Sayonara shows” will be held from next January to April 2010, after which kabuki will continue at the Enbujo theater in Shinbashi during the construction period, which has not yet been decided.

Other details of the reconstruction project will be announced in January, the company said.

Kabuki-za Theatre boasts a history of nearly 120 years, as the original wooden structure was built on the same site in 1889. Since then, the theater has been the center of the kabuki world.

The current structure was last rebuilt in 1950, based on the design of the previous building erected in 1924.

The theater has precious historic value because the 1924 design dates from a time when Japanese architects were trying to establish a new traditional-style architecture based on noncombustible building materials, according to the Architectural Institute of Japan.

The institute, which has 35,000 members, submitted a petition in 2005 calling for the theater’s preservation.

“(The Japanese design) has succeeded in widely handing down the tradition and culture of kabuki . . . to citizens (of later generations) in the ever-modernizing urban scenery of Ginza,” the institute said in the petition.

The government has also designated the building as a “Registered Tangible Cultural Property” of the nation, although such classification does not prohibit dismantling or remodeling.

Shochiku decided to rebuild the theater because the structure is aging, said Ippei Noma, who is in charge of the project.

Noma said no details of the new building have been decided yet, but he indicated the company will try to maintain the atmosphere of the current structure in the new theater.

“The atmosphere of the current design has been supported by many people. We’d like to give consideration to their opinion,” he said.

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