Mitsui Memorial Museum
It is our great pleasure that this special exhibition The Traditional Performing Arts of Japan is to be held at the Mitsui Memorial Museum on the year of the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre, thanks to the cooperation of the Museum and so many others involved.
The National Theatre opened in 1966 overlooking the verdant surrounds of the Imperial Palace’s Hanzomon area as a national center of Japan's traditional performing arts. Owing to the support of many people, the theater is a vibrant venue, holding various performances of traditional performing arts, training successor artists, and conducting related research and material collection. During the intervening decades more venues have opened, including the National Engei Hall, the National Noh Theatre, the National Bunraku Theatre, and the National Theatre Okinawa, along with the New National Theatre, Tokyo, which was opened as a site for the promotion and popularization of modern performing arts. Further, with the establishment of the Japan Arts Fund, our organization was renamed as the Japan Arts Council, reinforcing our mission as a central site for the promotion and dissemination of cultural and artistic activities.
Japan’s traditional performing arts consist of a wide range of genres, including Gagaku, Nohgaku, Bunraku, Kabuki, Engei, traditional performing arts of Okinawa, and other regional folk performing arts of various areas. We believe that Japan is unique in that the performing arts of our ancestors have not been lost in the face of the appearance of new ones, but they rather coexist, influencing each other. It is my great hope that this exhibition will provide visitors with an understanding of the relation and unique features of these different performing art genres, and renew their pride in the riches of the Japanese culture. We hope that this exhibition will further encourage visitors to attend live performances at the National Theatre and other various venues, and that this experience will help enrich their lives, by which we can be assured that we will have advanced one step further in fulfilling our mission to support and promote these art forms.
Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to our exhibition co-organizers, the Mitsui Memorial Museum, NHK and NHK Promotions, along with all those individuals and organizations who have lent their precious items for display, and to all those whose cooperation and support have contributed to the realization of this exhibition.
President, Japan Arts Council
It gives us a great honor to present the Special Exhibition The Traditional Performing Arts of Japan at the Mitsui Memorial Museum.
Japan is home to a true myriad of traditional performing arts. The Japan Arts Council was established in 1966 as a facility aimed at preserving and handing these on. This exhibition has organized Japanese traditional performing arts into six sections, namely Gagaku, Noh, Kabuki, Bunraku, Engei, Ryukyu and folk performing arts, and introduces these art forms and their historical and geographical points in common and differences, all viewed from diverse angles.
In addition to ukiyo-e prints, folding screens and other art and decorative artworks, this exhibition of approximately 100 works includes masks, instruments and costumes used in these performances. Indeed, the exhibition almost feels like an expanse where you can hear the music and see the figures dance, all resembling a splendid competition by the different performing art forms. For example, ukiyo-e prints of Kabuki performances give a vibrant feel of how Kabuki became the greatest entertainment form of the Edo period. Screens depicting Bugaku, Kabuki and Noh performances give us a glimpse of the history of these different theatrical events, how they were performed and what their audiences were like. Individual Bugaku, Noh and folk art masks are joined by their distinctive sounding instruments, along with the sumptuous Kabuki costumes and subtle expressions and movements of Bunraku dolls ? all revealing the singular, evanescent aspects of their respective art forms.
It is my great hope that this display will introduce its viewers to the richness and fascination of traditional performing arts, and provide an encounter with the fertile imaginations and sensibilities of the Japanese people.
Finally I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to all those who have lent their precious artworks and materials for display, to the Japan Arts Council for their wholehearted cooperation, and to all those who have provided their support and encouragement for the success of this exhibition.
Director, Mitsui Memorial Museum