Translated by Ramona Taranu
Visit the Theater Museum in Waseda to See Japan's Stage Arts All in One Place
This article features the Tsubouchi Shoyo Memorial Theater Museum, Waseda University. This museum, the only one of its kind in Asia, displays stage footage and materials related to Japanese traditional theater such as Kabuki, Noh, Bunraku and other perfor
Written by Ramona Taranu
There is a great diversity of performing arts in Japan. From old traditional arts handed down from generation to generation, to contemporary theater and dance. The theaters in Japan present all around the year performances of classic arts such as Noh 能 (*1), Kyōgen 狂言 (*2), Kabuki 歌舞伎 (*3), Bunraku 文楽 (*4), Rakugo 落語 (*5), but also of modern and contemporary theatre, Angura theatre(*6), avant-garde theatre and musicals.
*1 Noh is one of Japan's traditional performing arts. It was developed around the 14th century.
*2 Kyōgen is a comical stage art performed along with Noh.
*3. Kabuki is a performing art that developed within the urban culture of the Edo period (1603-1889).
*4 Bunraku, also known as ningyō joruri, is type of puppet theater that flourished in the Edo period.
*5 Rakugo is a traditional storytelling art developed in the Edo period.
*6 Angura theater is a movement that began in the 1960's-70's. "Angura" is the short form of "underground theater".
However, in order to watch a stage performance, you need to search and book your tickets in advance.
If you are traveling in Japan and would like to see theater, but at the same time want to use your time wisely, or if you want to learn more about performing arts in general, we invite you to visit the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum (also known as "Enpaku") located in the main campus of Waseda University.
The Museum Building - Itself a "Theater"
At present the only museum in Asia dedicated to performing arts, the Theatre Museum has been established in 1928 by Tsubouchi Shōyō (1859-1935), one of the most influential figures of Japanese modern literature. Professor Tsubouchi is also renowned for being the first translator of Shakespeare’s works in Japanese.
The building of the museum has been designed by architect Imai Kenji and was inspired by the structure of the “Fortune” theatre from the Elizabethan age, which is also the period of Shakespeare’s activity as a playwright. Due to its unique appearance, the museum stands out among the other buildings of the campus.
The Exhibitions Room - A Tour Through the History of Theater
The exhibitions rooms of the Theatre Museums present performing arts from around the world and are arranged according to historical period and region.
1. "Western Drama" Exhibition Room
The exhibition room dedicated to Western drama is focused on Shakespeare’s activity. Plays and stage footage from European and American theater from the modern period are also presented here. You can also see a miniature of the original Fortune theater displayed in this room.
2."Ancient and Middle Ages" Exhibition Room
The “Ancient and Middle Ages” exhibition room displays masks, costumes and objects used in the oldest existing Japanese performing arts.
The visitors can also watch fragments of a video footage from a Noh performance and feel the fascinating atmosphere of this art. Noh has been developed around the 14th century and has been refined over time, being treasured by performers and enthusiastic fans to this day.
After enjoying the exhibit of masks, costumes and instruments used on the Noh stage, you can also try wearing a Noh mask by yourself. With the mask on, try turning your face upwards and downwards. You will notice that the mask can express happiness or sadness depending on the angle of its inclination.
3. "Early Modern Age" Exhibition Room
The next room – “Early Modern Age” – is dedicated to Kabuki and Bunraku, two arts that flourished in the Edo period.
In the puppet theatre called “Bunraku” each puppet is maneuvered by three puppeteers. You can see such a puppet from close and even listen to the emotional storytelling of a “tayū” (performer of “ningyō joruri”, the chanting used as musical background in Bunraku).
In the same room there is a display of objects related to Kabuki, an art that emerged against the background of Edo period culture. Kabuki fascinates its audiences through magnificent dances and impressive stage effects, as well as through gorgeous costumes and make-up. There are old scripts and portraits of famous actors on display and you can even observe the structure of a Kabuki stage with the ingenious mechanisms behind it.
4. "Modern Theater"
During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), elements of Western theater were adopted in Japan. This lead to the birth of a new form of theater, which was named "shingeki". In the room dedicated to "Modern Theater", you can see objects related to the first artist troupes that went to Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, a miniature of Japan's first Western style theater - the Imperial Theater, and other documents that tell the story of the beginning of modern theater in Japan.
5. Temporary Exhibitions
Besides the above mentioned permanent exhibitions, the Theatre Museum organizes twice a year temporary exhibits on topics of actuality in the world of performing arts. These displays tend to be interactive, involving the visitors and opening new ways in exploring the world of the stage.
The library of the museum provides free access to books and publications on performing arts. Furthermore, the AV booth located in the office building of the museum can be used for watching videos of theatrical performances. Some of these video materials are subtitled in other languages. The same space houses a collection of foreign publications on performing arts.
A visit to the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum will surely enhance your experience of watching a performance on stage. We invite you to visit the Theatre Museum for an in-depth look at the fascinating world of the performing arts.
Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum
Address: Shinjuku-ku, Nishi Waseda 1-6-1
Exhibition rooms, library: 10:00 – 17:00 (Tuesdays and Fridays until 19:00)
AV booths, Rare & Foreign-language book library: Monday-Friday 10:00 – 17:00
Closed: the first Wednesday of the month (except for April, August and March), the third Wednesday of the month (except for January) and university holidays
Credit cards: -
Support in other languages: English, Chinese, Korean
Pamphlets in other languages: English, Chinese, Korean
Nearest Station: Waseda Station (Tokyo Metro Tōzai Line, Toden Arakawa Line)
Access: 7 minute walk from the Tōzai Line Waseda station (exit 3a or 3b); 5 minute walk from the Arakawa tram line Waseda station。
Entrance fee: free
Official Homepage: Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum (Japanese)