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Asakusa Toyokan: Visit the Legendary Hall Where Beat Takeshi Got His Start!

Asakusa Toyokan is a theater in Tokyo's Asakusa area. It has produced many stars including Beat Takeshi (Kitano Takeshi), Kiyoshi Atsumi, and Kinichi Hagimoto.  We introduce the history of the theater, its present-day interior, and the best way to enjoy a performance here!
2022.05.06

Toyokan: The Legendary Theater Featured in the Movie “Asakusa Kid”

Asakusa Toyokan: Visit the Legendary Hall Where Beat Takeshi Got His Start!

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan (Toyokan) is a legendary theater that has produced popular entertainers throughout the years.

The site was originally a striptease theater called France-za, which opened in 1951 in Asakusa's Roku Ward.

Later on, short comic skits took the stage between burlesque shows and gained popularity. In 1959, the Toyokan was newly built for comedy performances.

The reconstruction of the building also added an elevator—an unusual feature at the time. The elevator boy hired back then was none other than Beat Takeshi (Takeshi Kitano).

The 2021 movie "Asakusa Kid" (starring Yuya Yagira), which depicts Takeshi's formative years, features the France-za, as Toyokan was called back in those days.

In the following years, the theater experienced several closures. In 2000, it got a fresh new start as the Toyokan, becoming the only theater in Tokyo to showcase manzai (stand-up comedy performed by a duo) and comedy skit performances.

In the same building you'll find the Asakusa Engei Hall, a vaudeville house offering performances of rakugo, the traditional Japanese art of storytelling. Here, Japan's comic storytelling performances are held 365 days a year.

Toyokan's Famous Graduates

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

Hanging on the theater wall are photos of famous entertainers who performed at the Toyokan

Over its long history, the Toyokan has produced plenty of big stars. Well-known names today are Kiyoshi Atsumi, who played Tora-san in the series "Otoko wa Tsuraiyo" ("It's Tough Being a Man"). Then, of course, there's Beat Takeshi, a famous star during the France-za era. Finally, there's Kinichi Hagimoto, who served as the moderator during the All Japan Costume Grand Prix.

Other star entertainers include Isamu Nagato and Toru Yuri.

Why the Name "France-za"?

Some people have asked why a hall in Tokyo's Asakusa district was named France-za.

The person responsible for the hall's name was writer Kafu Nagai. During his 20s, he visited Europe and America, and in particular, fell in love with France.

He himself was a regular theatergoer, and when asked to suggest a name for the new hall, he immediately answered "France-za." Everyone involved hoped the hall would become a world-class entertainment theater with that name.

Even today, the name France-za remains on the theater's billboard.

Inside the Toyokan

Now, let's go inside this great hall that's home to many Asakusa entertainers!

Entrance

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

The Toyokan is a 10-minute walk from Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line). The entrance faces the retail store Don Quijote. Please note that the Asakusa Engei Hall, located in the same building, has its own entrance in a separate location.

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

The admission fee (also known as kidosen) is 2,500 yen for adults and 2,000 yen for students. Special performances are 3,000 yen for adults and 2,500 yen for students.

The Elevator Where Beat Takeshi Worked!

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

Next to the gift shop, the elevator where Beat Takeshi formerly worked as an elevator boy still remains today. Anyone can ride this elevator up to the fourth floor.

While taking this elevator, the movie scene where Senzaburo Fukami (played by Yo Oizumi) lightly tap dances flashed through our writer's mind.

This elevator has apparently become a mecca for movie fans following the release of "Asakusa Kid."

Gift Shop

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

The gift shop sells various kinds of snacks and beverages. Theatergoers can enjoy a performance while munching on snacks

The shop also has T-shirts, signed copies of books, CDs, and many souvenirs—even merchandise from specific cast members.

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

Of particular interest is the confectionery "To Yokan" (a play on words featuring yokan, a gelatinous sweet; 150 yen after tax). It comes with an omikuji, or fortune-telling slip.

If you draw a slip that says "very good luck" (daikichi), you'll receive one free admission ticket! So, when visiting the Toyokan, be sure to pick up a To Yokan and try your luck!

Stage

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

Picture courtesy of the Toyokan

At the Toyokan, 15 to 20 pairs of entertainers take the stage daily. Each pair performs for about 10 to 15 minutes.

The theater holds up to 202 guests, and all seating is non-reserved. Please feel free to choose your favorite seat. Some performers even like to interact with the guests sitting in the front row.

By the way, the stairway connecting the second floor with the first (see right side of photo above) is a relic left over from when the hall was a striptease theater. Apparently, it's a unique design that's not normally found in a typical theater.

Theater Etiquette

Asakusa French Seiaten Toyokan

The Toyokan doesn't have any special rules for guests. You can enter and leave the theater freely, but it's probably a good idea not to leave during a performance.

Please don't forget that the best way to encourage entertainers on stage is to laugh and applaud.

Experience Japan's Comedy Culture

For those interested in experiencing Japan's comedy culture and watching a performance, we recommend visiting the Toyokan.

You can enjoy a live performance for a reasonable price. Likewise, you can sometimes see comedians who even appear on TV.

On the first floor of the Asakusa Engei Hall, you can watch rakugo, a traditional Japanese comic monologue. We especially recommend this for those who'd like to experience the traditional performing arts of Japan.

Toyokan

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In cooperation with the Toyokan

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.