Sharing Japan’s Quintessential Stage Performances Online to Every Corner of the World
The Japan Foundation streams outstanding performances online for audiences around the world looking for an opportunity to experience Japanese performing arts. More than 90 productions have been presented in total, including those produced by the Japan Foundation.
As the COVID-19 pandemic restricted international travel, it also significantly curtailed cultural exchange activities. Nevertheless, there have been other ways to connect. Since the early stage of the pandemic in 2020, the Japan Foundation (JF) has accelerated its online activities – such as the “JF Japanese e-Learning Minato”, a Japanese language learning platform and a project JF has long been focused on – and has been building up their many online businesses since. Their portal known as the “JF digital collection” was created as content accumulated for archival viewing. Anyone can use a search engine to navigate through the site by category and language and enjoy whatever content they choose.
Among JF’s online content, the “STAGE BEYOND BORDERS – Selection of Japanese Performances”(SBB), which launched in 2021, is the most viewed. Contemporary theater, dance performance and traditional performing arts can be streamed online free-of-charge under this large-scale project. Besides distributing productions of some of Japan’s outstanding stage performances, special interviews are also available to view. Subtitles are provided in multiple languages on all productions with any dialog. Many productions shot exclusively by JF for this project are included in the video library.
Our Desire to Deliver Content around the World Irrespective of Borders
We aspired to deliver the fascinating stage arts of Japan all over the world – especially because of the difficulty of organizing international tours due to the pandemic. We came to the conclusion that online streaming was the best short-term answer to accomplishing our goal and pursued the advantages this format offers. When organizing performances internationally, in most cases, they were held in major cities with a limited number of performances. After performing in one city, it would be years until a performance might be held again in the same city, and furthermore, options to perform in regional towns and cities were limited.
If streamed online, JF’s performance videos will be easily accessed regardless of location or time. In order to deliver to the widest audience free of charge, YouTube – which allows for over five multilingual subtitle created by JF as options – was chosen as our platform. The deciding factor was being able to link to other social media networks and ensure easy access for people all over the globe.
SBB started online streaming in 2021 and as of May 2022, it has accumulated some ten million views in 111 countries and regions. Streamed productions of 2.5D Musical “Touken Ranbu: The Musical “HIGEKIRI HIZAMARU DUO PERFORMANCE 2020 ～SOGA～,” as well as “Traditional Performing Arts Series” such as “Kyomai: Classical Elegance” and “RAKUGO: Creating Worlds from Nothing,” have proved very popular across a wide audience.
“Touken Ranbu,” “Billows of Pale Pink,” “TWO – in transit Hara Museum,” “COSMOS” and “Red Demon” are among the online productions held in collaboration with Emergency Performing Arts Archive + Digital Theatre (EPAD) , which was launched in response to the pandemic. They work to lower hurdles for theatrical video distribution by supporting the handling of rights and to improve the revenue structure of performing arts organizations. Collaboration with EPAD proved to be an immense aid in providing a rich and varied content.
Enthusiastic Voices from the World for “Touken Ranbu” and “Kyomai”
The “Traditional Performing Arts Series” was produced by JF, showcasing diverse art forms such as Noh, Kyogen, Bunraku and Kabuki. The series has gained in popularity thanks to the commentary by performers to help new audiences and people who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture understand the contents better.
Kyomai is also part of the Traditional Performing Art Series, and is a special dance performance in Nihonbuyo – or Japanese traditional dance – that has been passed down through the generations for over 200 years, mainly in Kyoto. INOUE Yasuko, one of the performers in the production and successor of the Inoue School of Kyomai, says, “Unlike regular Nihonbuyo, there are not many moves in Kyomai, so it may seem simplistic. As a result, we were concerned about whether the audience would be able to feel the “live” atmosphere through the screen. However, there is an advantage in being able to see the performance from a different perspective than usual.”
As if to reaffirm Ms. Inoue’s story, a comment was posted on Kyomai from an overseas audience member saying, “I could see that parts of the floorboard were worn out while watching. I believe that it is the result of many people dancing in that spot in tabi (traditional cleft-toe socks). It must be extremely challenging to pass down such traditions through the generations.”
Despite the lack of explanations in the subtitles, Ms. Inoue was astonished that overseas audiences were watching intently and in detail. “The training facility seen in the video is a place we all cherish deeply,” says Ms. Inoue. “I am delighted to know that people are focusing on such details. Also, it was lovely to hear comments saying not only was it beautiful visually, but also spiritually.”
Productions other than the series made by JF have also been carefully selected to appeal to a wide audience, with subtitles positioned so that they can easily be seen. Every production has received numerous comments from all over the world, of which the following are just a sample.
“Touken Ranbu”: “I am a Touken Ranbu Musical fan who is studying Japanese overseas. I bought the online streaming video, have the DVD and have seen the performance repeatedly. But today, having seen the subtitles in my native language, I finally understood the meaning of the lines 100%. I am so, so, so, so happy! Once I understood the meaning, I can pick up difficult vocabularies. It is a great way to study Japanese and I was able to deepen my understanding of Japan’s history and culture. Thank you.” (Original text in Japanese)
“Rakugo”: “This is lovely! I’ve always wanted to enjoy Rakugo –but the language barrier stopped me from being able to understand. I’m so glad I got to experience one here AND learn about how it all started. I suppose in the world of where stand-up comedy that feels like a fast paced comedy, it’s refreshing to see a longer, relaxing story form of comedy like Rakugo.” (Original text in English)
Many productions are being added one after another on SBB. The demand for online content, accelerated by the pandemic, will not cease. However, experiencing art such as stage, musical and dance performances live in theaters remains extremely enchanting. JF will continue to share both the feel of live art experience that can only be experienced on site and online art experiences that are more easily accessible and can be viewed at will around the world.
“Shunkan,” “Antigone,” “The Cherry Orchard,” Expanding the Circle of Excitement beyond Language Barriers