“Thoughts on Early Spring, 2021,” as Told by NOMURA Man, a Living National Treasure
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought cultural arts activities to a standstill just like all other industries, what will the road to recovery be like for performing arts activities? NOMURA Man is chairman of the Japan Council of Performers Rights & Performing Arts Organizations and a Living National Treasure. He spoke to us about his “current thoughts” from a variety of perspectives.
NOMURA Man, Noh Actor / Chairman of the Japan Council of Performers Rights & Performing Arts Organizations
Blank for Several Months.
Last year, the sudden emergence of COVID-19 caused an unprecedented situation around the world. The performing arts field was forced to quickly halt its activities, and my schedule for 2020 also became blank for several months.
The opening ceremony for Traditional Performing Arts for Kids at the National Noh Theatre—an event that is part of the Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL program and has been held each year since 2008—was cancelled. This program is a wonderful thing that allows children, on whom the future of Japan depends, to learn about traditional performing arts that are Japanese treasures.
Shimai (Noh dance) (Photo: SUGAWARA Kota)
Shimai (Noh dance) (Photo: SUGAWARA Kota)
Sokyoku (koto music) (Photo: MUTO Naomi)
Is Apparent During the Opening Ceremony.
During my opening ceremony messages, I always tell the children that in order to have stage presence, they need to firmly exercise their nerves in places they can’t see themselves, such as the soles of their feet and their backs. These are important factors for stage presence. When I tell them that, the children immediately correct their posture and sit up straight while they repeat what they have been told. The children do this every year. That’s so wonderful. It’s a moment in which I can feel the children’s abundant sensitivity.
Chairman NOMURA Man (Photo: MUTO Naomi)
Unavoidable Emergency Situations
Not only with Traditional Performing Arts for Kids but also with Noh, rehearsals would originally begin by projecting one’s voice as a matter of course. However, we’re now told not to shout or spray droplets, and we have to wear masks. But Noh is usually performed with Noh masks. Depending on how you think about it, breathing with a surgical mask is similar to wearing a Noh mask. This emergency situation may be unavoidable, but surely it is important to try new styles and discover new discipline and training techniques in the process of enhancing our art. In other words, the need to wear a mask can sometimes be made into something positive.
Shamisen (Photo: MUTO Naomi)
Japanese dance (Photo: MUTO Naomi)
Kotsuzumi (Photo: MUTO Naomi)
for New Ideas
We are surrounded by folklore and tradition. I have learned things from my father, and he learned them from my grandfather. My grandfather experienced the Meiji Restoration, and my father experienced the Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II.
Speaking of the Meiji Restoration, it saw the downfall of samurai rule and the rise of a new establishment. Prior to that time, Noh was always performed on ceremonial occasions for the Shogunate. Noh and kyogen had the backing of the samurai until the Edo period. That’s how the Noh and kyogen performers used to make their living. Once that was no longer possible, they faced the question of how their art could survive. One of the three major schools of kyogen that had survived up to the Edo period ended up dying out. Presumably, it couldn’t adapt to the changing world. Or perhaps it wasn’t able to find new styles or find its footing. The Meiji Restoration really had a powerful impact.
When We Strengthen Our Abilities.
I didn’t experience the Great Kanto Earthquake, but I was an elementary student in grade six when World War II began, and my junior and senior high school years were all about the war. There were no performances during that crisis, so my father had free time to help me practice hard. Looking back, it’s in difficult times of crisis that we discover new things, gain strength, and strengthen our abilities. Then, once the war was over, we steadfastly applied the abilities we had strengthened to the issue of how to keep traditional performing arts fresh and how to make a clean start.
After the war, Kamigata—the Kansai region, in other words—had a lot of momentum, and there were many wonderful people working in the classical performing arts. Specifically, I think the presence of TAKECHI Tetsuji was significant. For example, he used young kabuki actors to perform classical kabuki, which gained attention under the name “Takechi Kabuki.” He provided a lot of the energy that revived traditional performing arts after the war. The COVID-19 situation isn’t under control yet, but when it is, I want to be in the position to support young people who can take action with the same energy, even though I’m too old to take a leading role myself.
Pleasure and Enjoyment.
OOKA Makoto, who had a column in the Asahi Shimbun called “Oriori no Uta: Poems for All Seasons,” said that when he went abroad and saw Japanese culture through fresh eyes, he found that Japanese culture was shaped by patience, endurance, and perseverance. The same is probably true for our performances. We only find pleasure and enjoyment after we have persevered; in Japanese culture, enjoyment doesn’t come for free.
COVID-19 has required a different kind of perseverance than earthquakes and wars, and we have had to ask not only the performers but also the audience on the viewing side to endure it. When, after we have endured and persevered, we get it under control and a new dawn breaks, I strongly, strongly hope that the traditional performing arts blossom and flourish.
Today, young artists in various genres are applying their wisdom to new challenges. Their video performances are also amazing. However, we need to focus on how to create live stages as living stages and what the stage needs to be like.
To be honest, if I go up on stage under circumstances where we’re told “no loud voices allowed,” the performance feels half-baked, and my heart isn’t really in it.
When I stand on stage, the surging excitement of the audience is something I can really feel. Right now, we’re trying to perform with fewer people in the audience. However, I believe the most important thing is for the performers and the audience to become one, and that in stage arts, each individual performance should be a unique creation in which the performers and audience respond to each other. Until the COVID-19 situation is under control, we need to somehow be patient with the current restrictions.
In the midst of this situation, the government last year passed a second supplemental budget of as much as 56 billion yen for the recovery of culture and the arts. A politician also said, “The fine arts and performing arts are not just for entertainment but are a necessary part of our lives to enhance our humanity.” This is a major development in the history of cultural policy. I want the public—in other words, the world at large—to understand that the fine arts and performing arts are not just for entertainment but are elements for cultivating human beings. I want to rekindle the fire of culture and the performing arts.
to Make the Stage Arts Flourish.
New things are being tried, such as performing in a way that prevents the spread of disease, but would that mean doing Noh by replacing the old with the new?
When the war ended, all of us—in Noh, kyogen, and even kabuki—were lined up together at the starting line. That was our starting point. The same thing will probably be necessary this time as well. It will be important to gain a better understanding of the culture and the arts that are needed by society in order for people who are working at the front line to be able to lead those around them and to draw in the general public.
Another important thing is to have teamwork between seniors, people in their prime, and young people. We need young people who are flamboyant and charming to be at the forefront, with the elderly performers as the backbone. We need to be sure a framework like that is in place, and even before the end of pandemic, we have to invigorate the body in the midst of these hardships so that we continue to grow and fulfill our potential. This task might produce what in some sense is a dilemma, like stepping on the brake and the gas pedal at the same time. Nevertheless, I want traditional performing arts to be full of energy and theater arts to flourish.
The Traditional Performing Arts for Kids performance is scheduled for March. I will watch intently as the children do their best. I truly hope to see a performance that gives me hope for a bright future for the performing arts.
2019 performance – Rengin (Noh with group reciting) – (Photo: SUGAWARA Kota)
2019 performance – Kyogen – (Photo: SUGAWARA Kota)
2019 performance – Sokyoku (koto music) – (Photo: MUTO Naomi)
Coverage and editing: HIGASHI Mitsuko
Profile: NOMURA Man
Noh actor of the Izumi school. He was born in Tokyo, the eldest son of the late NOMURA Manzo the sixth (a human national treasure). He studied under his father. His stage debut was at the age of four. In 1993, he took on his father’s name, becoming Manzo the seventh. In 2000, he began using the name Man the first. He is still active on numerous stages. He has received individual recognition as a Holder of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, Noh Category, Individual Certification (Living National Treasure). He is a member of the Japan Art Academy and has been awarded the Order of Culture.
Furthermore, not content to be just a performer, he is an advisor to the Nohgaku Performers’ Association and has served as chairman of the Japan Council of Performers Rights & Performing Arts Organizations (Geidankyo) since 1999.
Geidankyo is a public interest incorporated association whose full members are organizations in all performing arts fields, including actors, singers, musicians, dancers, entertainers, directors, staff members, and producers. At present, it has 68 member organizations. Geidankyo established the Center for Performers’ Rights Administration (CPRA) in order to carry out collective management operations related to performers’ rights, and it contributes to the broad promotion and development of Japanese culture through performing arts promotion projects, such as operating Geino-Kadensha, which was established in a closed school building.
Nomura also collaborates with the Federation of Diet Members for Promotion of Culture and Arts, a nonpartisan group consisting of Japanese legislators, as chairman of the Arts and Culture Forum, an organization established in 2003 that is comprised of 22 culture and arts-related organizations. In addition to his efforts toward the enactment of the Basic Act on Culture and the Arts, he is leading a movement to create a “Ministry of Culture and Arts” that would make Japan a culture and arts-intensive nation.
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