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Waseda University Student Theater and City of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture

Hidehiko Murase
Curator, Minokamo City Museum

The Cultural Exchange Agreement Between City of Minokamo and Waseda University

City of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, is the hometown of Shoyo Tsubouchi and Sokichi Tsuda, who both taught at Waseda University, and the city continues to honor these two figures through a variety of activities. In order to further develop these activities, in 2007 we concluded a cultural exchange agreement between City of Minokamo and Waseda University, and under this agreement we have been able to hold a variety of cultural events. The first step was to hold student theatrical performances by the students of Waseda University, a project that started in 2008 and will be held for the sixth time this year. Apart from that, we have held joint exhibitions, including “The Shoyo and Waseda Literature Exhibition” (2009), “The Memorial Exhibition on the 50th Anniversary of Sokichi Tsuda’s Death” (2011), and “Depicting the Life of the Times: Ippei Okamoto” (2013), etc. Also, by holding a travelling exhibition across venues in Waseda and Minokamo, we had the opportunity to have the exhibits seen by a large number of people.

The 2007 City of Minokamo/Waseda University Cultural Exchange Agreement Signing Ceremony

We have also gone on deepening our cooperative relationship through the Shoyo Tsubouchi’s Prize. The award, which was established in 1994 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Minokamo’s municipal organization, was first awarded to Nakamura Utaemon VI. After that it was awarded ten times before being temporarily suspended, and as of the 11th time in 2006, it was decided that it would be awarded every two years. At Waseda University, to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the university’s foundation in 2007, the Waseda University Shoyo Tsubouchi’s Prize was established; in the first year the Prize was awarded to Haruki Murakami, and an honorable mention was given to Mieko Kawakami. Since then both prizes have been awarded biennially. As Shoyo’s work is so profound, we pick up on different aspects in making our selection. To give the awards, Minokamo selects awardees from the theater world while Waseda University selects those who contribute to the arts as a whole. There has also been human resource exchange, with for instance professors from Waseda University lecturing in Minokamo, and the Minokamo Recitation Club making presentations at Waseda University.

Student Theatrical Performance

Upon the implementation of the cultural exchange agreement, the issue of how to deepen exchange was discussed. The proposals of holding a travelling exhibition and the biennial Shoyo’s Prize developed well. The holding of student theatrical performances was also proposed, along with the idea that the performances should be held outdoors. Student theater troupes from Waseda University would lodge at Minokamo Culture Forest/Minokamo City Museum and perform outside. This was an extremely interesting and charming idea.

Literary Society Theater Training School: the inaugural class members

Minokamo’s connection with student theater stems from 1999’s 14th National Arts Festival, which took place in Gifu Prefecture, when a High-School Theater Festival was held. This carried on Shoyo Tsubouchi’s desire to encourage young people to enter the theatrical world. In the Meiji and Taisho eras Shoyo presided over the Literary Society, and attempted to improve theater by recruiting novice actors from among Waseda students and from the general public. The Literary Society that Shoyo presided over went on to foster performers who were to play an active part in the theater world.

With the experience gained through the National Arts Festival, City of Minokamo thought that their citizens should see student theatrical productions. This desire could be realized through the cultural exchange agreement. Having a theater amateur in charge at the early stage, we naively thought that it would not be so difficult. However, when we actually set about planning we found that, when producing an outdoor play, none of the usual facilities of the theater were available: there was no stage, lighting, sound equipment, seating, ceiling or power source. All we had was the desire to show live student performance to the people of Minokamo. There was nothing that could be called a theater set; everything was handmade.

Research has been done on how to produce theater so as to make the stage space appear large, and so as to give it depth. However, in our case, at the beginning we were grappling to solve some different problems: how to display a wide un-partitioned space, how to create a sense of distance from the audience, and how much we could express with a limited amount of lighting.

Theater Youth: Taking on Challenges

When directing on stage, the weather of the scene can also be established: sunny, rainy, cloudy or snowy. However, the performance in Minokamo is outdoors. No matter how much you pray, rain cannot be transformed into sunshine. Until now there has been no production where the weather has always been favorable. Being outside, we also need to contest with heat and insects, like mosquitos and centipedes.

In the 2009 performance of “Sangetsuki” and Post-Performance Discussion, there was heavy rain, and we were forced to cancel the outdoor performance. In the original outdoors production, the figures of tigers were to be seen running around outside, but the play ended up being performed indoors. Nevertheless the actors playing tigers ran out in the pouring rain, and the performance, making good use of indoor and outdoor space, was a powerful one. It was a moment where something new was created out of adversity.

In 2012, from the scene of Kenjaku Suikei

In terms of lighting equipment, the quantity available at Minokamo City Museum is limited: the maximum voltage is 5kw. With one light using 500w, we can use a total of just ten lights. There is also the risk that if all these lights are used the circuit breaker will trip and there will be a power cut. Students in charge of lighting have to work alongside that risk. Also, during a one-week stay, the carefully positioned lighting equipment has to be removed every night. This is to protect the equipment from rain, which could fall at any time. As a result, it is very difficult to accurately illuminate the play on the actual performance night; one could almost say that it’s a performance without a rehearsal. Having said that, thanks to the experience gained and technique learned up to now, the lighting is now at a high standard.

Another challenge of Minokamo performances is the community life at the Culture Forest lodgings. It is an intense time for the ten to fifteen participants who share the same sleeping and living space for one week. As there’s no television or Internet access, it’s like life on a desert island. I have heard that there are sometimes students who can’t stand these conditions, but on the contrary I think that this place is deeply engraved in all the students’ hearts as one where they could sit under a sky filled with stars and talk late into the night about the performance and about their futures.

Also, along with their differing roles as actors/actresses, directors, sound and lighting staff and so on, in order to put on a public performance everyone involved also needs to take care of their regular life, including eating meals, washing laundry and getting to bed. Depending on their role, each person’s everyday rhythm differs, and they need to consider others when taking their meals and going to bed. Without even noticing, physical and mental strength is expended. Recently, a division of labor system has been devised, and dedicated student staff members prepare meals, clean and do laundry. Getting meals ready for everyone, the volume of laundry, the piled up futons: this is no easy feat. The Japanese saying “to eat rice from the same cooking pot” (as in, to live under the same roof) seems to apply here. It is just one week, but in the course of living together, experiencing joy and pain, going through conflict and encouraging each other, the group forms a deep bond. When you get in close contact with all the students, there are times when you can witness the moment where students break out of their shells.

This must be such a challenging project for the students. They perform not on their home-ground stage, but in the totally unknown, novel location that is the wide-open space of the outdoors. They use the entire space as a theater, and roam without bounds through the lush forest and across the wide lawn area, attempting a bold performance where the audience are also performers. Perhaps this is something only students can do. Releasing energy without inhibition, they perform until they drop. Every year the citizens of Minokamo can witness the quintessence of student theater.

The Sixth Cultural Exchange Project between City of Minokamo and Waseda University: Student Theatrical Performances

The Perestroika Flyer, 2013

Shin Theater Company: Perestroika

September 7th (Sat) and 8th (Sun), 2013
18:30 (doors open at 18:00)
Minokamo Culture Forest/Minokamo City Museum, Lawn Area (in the case of rain the performance will be held in the Entrance Hall)
Admission free, No reservation needed, All free seating
※There are many insects, so we recommend wearing long sleeves and taking other such measures to prevent bites.
To find out more visit the Waseda Culture website.
Minokamo Culture Forest/Minokamo City Museum and Cultural Planning Section in the Cultural Affairs Division, Waseda University
With the cooperation of the Association for Honoring Shoyo Tsubouchi

Venus has risen; soon evening will fall here too. On the boundary between summer and fall, when the evening cicada cries, Alice, who had been waiting for her sister, is drawn into the forest by the funeral procession: into the fall. Her sister, turning to summer at the fall lighthouse, starts to walk away from the sea. One sister moving toward the past, the other toward the future; they will at some point pass each other and change over. A fairytale of books and time about Alice, the eternal girl.

Shin Theater Company
A theatrical society belonging to Waseda University. We conduct staff activities and rehearsals centered on our theatrical performances, which are held three times a year.

Minokamo Culture Forest/Minokamo City Museum
3299-1 Kamihachiya, Hachiya-cho, City of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, 505-0004, Japan
Telephone: 0574-28-1110 (Closed Mondays)
Email: museum●forest.minokamo.gifu.jp
※Please replace ● with @ when sending an e-mail.

Record of Performances Held To Date

First (2008) Life Life / Theater Company “Coquettish”
A Play /Shin Theater Company
Second (2009) “Sangetsuki” and Post-Performance Discussion /Shin Theater Company
Third (2010) Hyakken /Shin Theater Company
Fourth (2011) Forest of the Funeral Procession /Shin Theater Company
Fifth (2012) Kenjaku Suikei /Shin Theater Company

Hidehiko Murase
Curator, Minokamo City Museum

Has worked for the Minokamo Board of Education since April 1990. Secretariat for the Associations for Honoring Shoyo Tsubouchi and Sokichi Tsuda (presently handing over to a successor), and is involved with preparation work for museum construction. Presently working at the Minokamo City Museum, which was opened in 2000.