KYOTO – At 6 p.m. on one weekday in August an enthusiastic audience had almost filled Gion Corner, a theater of some 200 seats at the center of the Gion traditional entertainment district in the city of Kyoto.
Occupying most of the seats were visitors from overseas, who applauded vigorously every time a performance ended and pointed their cameras and smartphones at the stage. Nighttime sightseeing in Kyoto is catching on with foreign tourists, as locals are working to satisfy visitors’ hopes of enjoying traditional culture even after sunset.
At the theater, seven traditional performing arts — including kyōmai (Kyoto-style dancing), gagaku (court music) and kyōgen (comic plays) — are presented in turn in a program that lasts about an hour. The program is staged twice each evening, starting at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., with tickets for each performance priced at ¥3,150 ($28) for an adult. The annual number of visitors to the theater topped 80,000 in fiscal 2017, the highest since its establishment in 1962, and foreign visitors accounted for some 70 percent of the total.
Yaelle Chabot, an 18-year-old from France, said she came to the theater to enjoy a range of Japanese performances all at once.
Rie Sato of the Kyoto Traditional Musical Art Foundation, which runs the theater, said the show is popular among foreigners since it can be enjoyed casually as an introduction to Japanese traditional performing arts, even without the ability to understand Japanese.
The Minamiza Theater, managed by major entertainment company Shochiku Co., also plans to hold performances at night, on a trial basis, from next year.
“Preserving tradition is our priority,” said Takashi Fujita, manager at the Kyoto theater, which has a history of some 400 years. “Building on that, we’ll take on new challenges such as night performances.”
The growth in nighttime tourism is also expected to help ease the increasingly serious problem of daytime congestion in Kyoto, which is a highly popular destination for both Japanese and foreign tourists.
In a city visited by more than 50 million people each year, local residents sometimes cannot get on a bus.
In collaboration with online restaurant booking service provider Gurunavi Inc., the Kyoto Municipal Government opened a website showcasing local services that offer hands-on experiences of Japanese traditional tea ceremonies and dances into the evening.
“Enriching nighttime tourism is a measure to expand consumption and ease daytime congestion,” a Kyoto official said. “We want to work with the private sector and better meet demand from foreign visitors.”