Performing arts is a form of entertainment that can contain elements of music, dance, and drama, among others. It is a performative expression of art and is often closely related to, and part of, the culture of a region or an ethnic group. In Japan, the performing arts industry is a steady contributor to the country’s cultural GDP. In terms of revenue, contemporary performances dominate the performing arts industry, with musicals, dance, and modern (theater) dramas leading the way. However, the strong presence of tradition in Japanese society and its cultural manifestations resulted in the perpetuation of traditional performing arts that were introduced several centuries ago, such as kabuki, noh, and kyogen, among others. This divide in contemporary versus traditional performances is especially pronounced in the theater segment.
While the performing arts industry generates revenue by itself, other important sources that enable the perpetuation of performing arts in Japan include governmental funding, for example via subsidies from the Japan Arts Council, as well as donations from the private sector.
Traditional performing arts
Traditional performing arts in Japan have a long history. The oldest types of traditional theater that survived to this day and are still regularly performed are noh and its comical counterpart kyogen. They were introduced in the 14th century. Other major classical Japanese theater forms include kabuki and bunraku, both of which were influenced by nogaku (a generic term that covers noh and kyogen) and were developed in the 17th century. The importance of these cultural traditions has been recognized internationally, with UNESCO adding all three of them to the list of Japanese intangible cultural heritage items in 2008. Deemed to be particularly important to preserve for posterity, nogaku, kabuki, and bunraku were the first Japanese cultural assets that were added to the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. In terms of donations and subsidies, projects involving kabuki and bunraku received most of the funding that was dedicated to traditional performing arts in recent years. Kabuki and bunraku also recorded the highest attendance figures among all traditional performing art genres.
New National Theater Tokyo
In recent years, the number of theaters and concert halls recorded in Japan amounted to more than two thousand facilities. Among those, only a handful are designated as national theaters, one of which is the New National Theater Tokyo. National theaters host performances of contemporary and traditional performing arts at the highest national level. Consequently, the New National Theater Tokyo is regarded as one of the sacred spots of traditional performing arts, drawing in large audiences, and generating revenue worth billions of Japanese yen. The New National Theater Tokyo is an incorporated foundation that is not solely geared towards profit but also bears an emblematic role in the entire performing arts industry as a spot of cultural ambassadorship. Similar to the rest of the performing arts industry, the New National Theater Tokyo suffered losses after the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, as performances were canceled and revenue from entry fees stagnated or disappeared altogether.
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