In our contemporary society in which globalization and technological innovation prevail, the incoming flood of information has lead to the diversification and fluidity of our sense of value, and the decline of local culture unique to specific regions. Traditional art forms that have been developed by particular ethnic groups are now considered just one of countless subdivisions of entertainment, or, because of their substance or weight, are considered to have a higher threshold for appreciation and are therefore pushed to the side. The collapse of existing value systems and the dissolution of local communities have contributed to this trend, creating a widening gap between people and traditional art forms. Are traditional art forms that have evolved and changed over centuries or longer and endured in people’s hearts – now a thing of the past?
Enter Yuichi Kinoshita. He has managed to capture the allure of kabuki in the context of contemporary theater – apart from the long lineage of kabuki performances that have been handed down from generation to generation. He is a rising star who has championed the beauty of the traditional art form through the creation of new work. At first glance, his eponymous company, Kinoshita Kabuki, seems to wield a unique style that does not look like kabuki. In fact, his performance style gives new form to the substance and weight of kabuki that he has immersed himself in, and it has captured the hearts of audiences. With already a decade of performances under its belt, Kinoshita Kabuki does not merely dazzle us, but makes us aware of the power of tradition that is its foundation. It makes us aware of the enormity of the existence of tradition.
Of course the attempt to revive traditional art forms in a contemporary context is nothing new, nor especially unique to Japan. In Southeast Asia, which is considered a treasure chest of traditional art forms, many ethnic tribes with different histories and from different places have developed a variety of different cultures. Because the traditional arts have such deep roots, their approach towards those traditions are varied: some have preserved distinct art forms while others have developed forms that transcend the framework of tribes and have grown to a national scale. Indeed their scope and intensities are varied. Likewise in Japan, there is no lack of talent and leadership in the efforts to investigate our living traditional arts, and to present the findings through performance. By sharing the knowledge accumulated by all those artists, by collaborating in these investigations together, perhaps we are able to think about the shape of art suited for our respective communities, and to rediscover the power of tradition. When we are able to find the meaning of our existence in traditional arts again, it will no doubt enrich our lives and give us sustenance for our lives into the future.
The Japan Foundation Asia Center
The Japan Foundation is Japan’s principal independent administrative institution dedicated to carrying out cultural exchange initiatives throughout the world.
The Asia Center, established in April 2014, is a division within the Foundation that conducts and supports collaborative initiatives with its Asian primarily ASEAN counterparts. Through interacting and working together in Japanese-language education, arts and culture, sports, and grassroots and intellectual exchange, the Asia Center pursues to develop the sense of kinship and coexistence as neighboring inhabitants of Asia.