Arts and Culture
This paper explores aspects of the politics of Japanese culture through the performance of kabuki in Europe for European audiences.
First I look at the historical background to kabuki’s role in cultural diplomacy, noting that from the Meiji period (1868-1912) kabuki began to be identified and promoted as a representatively Japanese, classical performing art form. At this time of Japan’s “reopening” to relations with the west, those intellectuals who were active in both politics and international relations and reform of the arts cultivated an interest in kabuki, which they now saw as entertainment fit for the most important people in society, and to be showcased to foreign dignitaries, like opera or ballet in the west.
I argue that, while kabuki has consistently played a significant part in the official presentation of Japanese culture in Europe since the Meiji period, there has recently been renewed attention to its global impact. My main focus is on the kabuki tours to France, Spain and Russia in 2018, which in each case formed part of a wider programme of cultural events celebrating relations between Japan and the host country. For each tour, I examine the plays chosen for performance, the activities undertaken to introduce local audiences to kabuki, and the adaptations made to perform kabuki effectively in the local environment. Finally, I attempt to assess the reception of kabuki in Europe, how this affects perceptions of Japanese culture and how the performances discussed reflect the potential for innovation in kabuki and international theatre.