While in Fukuoka studying Japanese, Oxford University graduate Matt Perkins dedicates his spare time to uncovering Fukuoka’s local theater and performing arts scene. The below guide was created to inform foreigners interested in theater about the venues, resources and events available in Fukuoka.
Fukuoka Theater Guide by Matt Perkins
Fukuoka’s theater scene can be hard to find. But with a little digging you’ll realize how lively and varied it is. If you’re interested in traditional Japanese theater, you can attend a solemn, hymnic piece of Noh Theatre in Ohori Park or a gaudy Kabuki in the opulent Hakata-za. There are plenty of touring musical theater productions as well as live shows and stand-up comedians. One of the most exciting things about Fukuoka’s theater scene is its openness to new forms and ideas. The city often plays host to touring groups from all over Japan, while Korean and Chinese dancers perform at Fukuoka’s international theater festivals. Theatre in Fukuoka is fast becoming a notable export. Homegrown groups not only go on to tour major cities in Japan but also travel to Seoul and Hong Kong.
– Hakata-za Theatre
– PomPlaza Hall
– Edamitsu Iron Theatre
– Ohori Park Noh Theatre
– Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre
– Nishitetsu Hall
– Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival
– ‘We’re gonna go dancing’
– Edamitsu Theatre Festival
Interviews and Features
View Fukuoka Theater Guide in a larger map
Hakata Za Theatre
· Shimokawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City 2-1 (Google map)
The impressive Hakata-Za theater was built in 1996. The venue is state of the art complete with a traditional hanamichi (flower path) for Kabuki plays. The theater can accommodate a variety of performances from Bunraku puppet theater to musicals. The lobby of the theater is like a luxury hotel. The second floor resembles a cruise liner crammed with bespoke stalls all competing to flog you international delicacies. The theater seats are comfortable and spacious and, even from Row Z, the view and sound quality are great. The overload of trimmings might not make up for the hefty ticket price. On the other hand, if you do want to spend an evening sitting in a plush seat surrounded by theater lovers, many decked out in thousands of pounds worth of Kimono, then maybe Hakata Za is indulgence worth paying for. Note on tickets: Non-Japanese speakers may find it useful to go in person to the theater box-office. Not all staff members are English speakers but they have fliers with information about performances and can help you select your seats in person. Tickets sell quickly so book in advance to avoid disappointment.
+ best venue for big, spectacular shows
+ gorgeous interior
+ easy ticket booking at the box office
– high ticket price
➤The production I saw of Jane Eyre was modest, well executed and the audience loved it.
· 8-3 Gion-machi, Hakata, Fukuoka (Google Map)
· http://www.fpap.jp/about/english.htm (English)
· http://www.fpap.jp/pomp/index.htm (Japanese)
Photo: Matt Perkins
PomPlaza Hall is a converted water-pump and still a functioning part of the city’s waterworks. Located in Central Fukuoka close to the Canal City shopping centre, this 108 seat theater is an intimate studio space ideal for contemporary theater. In partnership with FPAP, a non-profit organization supporting regional performing arts in Fukuoka, the theater charges low rental rates for companies and reasonable ticket prices. It also offers student discounts. The theater supports new plays, local theater groups and emerging talent.
If you don’t speak fluent Japanese, realist theater will not be easy to follow. Fortunately, FPAP invites English language speakers, if they are interested in attending a show at PomPlaza hall, to contact them beforehand and ask for a translation of the play’s synopsis at info@FPAP.jp
+ great venue in the heart of Fukuoka
+ excellent resources on the second floor with flyers for local shows, big and small
+ run by FPAP who offer help to English language speakers interested in theater
– if you see any conversation heavy theater here, be warned that you’ll have to put your Japanese to the test
➤ We saw Edaniku, a conversational piece about the pressures of working in Japan’s meat-industry. The intimate venue proved an excellent place to stage this energetic but thoughtful award-winning play .
Edamitsu Iron Theatre
· 8-26 Edamitsuhonmachi, Yahatahigashi Ward, Kitakyushu (Google map) – Edamitsu Station JR
Photo: Matt Perkins
The Edamitsu Iron Theatre is a community theater based in Kitakyushu, about an hour by train (get off at the Edamitsu stop on the JR line from Hakata). It started life as a street theater in a nearby shopping centre. Now it aims to foster cultural links between theater groups from all over Japan holding workshops and classes as well as performances. Their program offers an impressive amount of variety. Previous shows we have recommended have been lively and experimental. ‘Like Suho’s White Horse’, a play about a Mongolian fairy story, featured live folk music and dance, while a production of ‘The Long Party’ led the audience from room to room of a traditional Japanese house. The Edamitsu Iron Theatre also hosts an annual theater festival.
+ low ticket prices
+ exciting contemporary theater and dance
+ helpful staff (some of whom speak English)
– over an hour by train from Hakata, tricky to find, so quite a time investment
➤ Yukio Suzuki’s ‘Volatile Body Theory’, a work of contemporary dance, was hugely enjoyable. If non-Japanese speakers are interested in seeing Japanese performance art, modern dance may be a good place to start.
Ohori Park Noh Theatre
· 1-5 Ohori Koen, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka (Google map) – Ohori Subway Station, Nishitetsu Bus ‘Nishi Koen’/ or ‘Kuromon’ stops
Photo: Matt Perkins
The Ohori Park Noh theater, constructed in order to help preserve Noh and traditional music, is a simple, beautiful venue only about 7 minutes walk from Ohori subway station. The cool pinewood interior and neat mini-garden are works of art in their own right and will satisfy any tourist who is trying to search out the traditional. The Noh theater often holds free events and it is worth checking the website for these. You can wander in and out of the hall at leisure while a demonstration is going on, often a mix of dances and songs from a medley of plays, take a stroll in Ohori Park and return for a complimentary bento box and a little more theater. The Ohori Park Noh Theatre website is in Japanese but if you can get a friend or a translation program to help you out, it is worth searching out a free event for a taster. These performances are relaxed, more informal occasions and give audiences the chance to think about why people of all ages are still keeping this old form alive.
+ Beautiful location for traditional Japanese theater
+ Reasonable ticket prices and free events
– Noh is baffling!
➤Noh theater can be a relaxing, meditative experience but it is invariably slow. A man who looked like an expert sat close to me as I attended one demonstration, earnestly peeling over pages in a book in time with the singers on stage. When I looked back, he had fallen asleep. The dances were more appealing than songs. One boy in a yellow hakama, who was the only performer small enough to fit under the low doorway at the back of the stage without stooping, got his shoes caught in his robe very early on in a dance and had to be untangled by a chorus member. A cute highlight in a day where staying awake, let alone understanding, was tricky!
Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre
· Kitakyushu, Kokurakita Ward, Muromachi, 1 1-1 (Google map)
· Contact form available online
The Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre is one of the liveliest venues in Kyushu for modern performing arts. The theater is located within the Riverwalk Centre, a swanky shopping complex on the Murasaki river opened in 2003 an easy walk from Kitakyushu central station. According to the Riverwalk website, Autumn is the peak time for cultural events in the Performing Arts Centre but contemporary theater is performed here all year round. Check the schedule on their website for information about upcoming shows. When important contemporary practitioners come to Kyushu, you may well find them here.
+ an impressive modern theater in the heart of Kitakyushu
+ one of Kyushu’s most lively performing arts centres staging cutting-edge talent
– a few hours journey from Fukuoka
➤ We saw the world famous Sankai Juku at Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre and learnt a little about Butoh.
· 6F Solaria Stage, 2-11-3 Tenjin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka (Google map) – Tenjin Nishitetsu
The Nishitetsu Hall, on the 6th floor of the Solaria Stage, is a flexible performance space which can be transformed to host discussion events and concerts as well as plays. Types of performance vary, including traditional and folk demonstrations, impressive international acts and Japanese comedy. Its central location means that you’re likely to see a packed, popular show. The program for March 2013 included a samurai sword demonstration, a live show version of a popular anime and a new play. Check the performance schedule on their website and go with your gut. Depending on the performance, even a good grasp of Japanese may not be enough. Be prepared to miss out on ‘in jokes’. You might want to bring a friend who is in the know. But find something not too wordy and you’re sure to enjoy a mad, modern experience.
+ Central location
+ Frequent, varied modern performances
– Complex and comic performances require some Japanese proficiency
➤ We saw Matsuo Suzuki’s ‘What’s the point in Living’ (Ikichatte Dousunda) a one man comic epic. While the audience were in stitches throughout, I was mostly a bit lost. Several scenes made it worth the trip. A one man zombie battle, a secret bunker beneath the Fukushima plant and a world class drag act.
The Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival – February
The Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival is a two day extravaganza of Asian contemporary dance. It offers Fukuoka residents a chance to glimpse something of Korea’s cutting edge dance scene as well as presenting pieces by Japan’s up and coming choreographers. Working in coordination with two important dance festivals in Seoul, the Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival brings together experimental performers from cities across Japan as well as hosting groups from Seoul and Beijing.
➤ An interview with festival organizer Yoshiko Swain about non-profit theater, international collaboration the importance of paying attention to the body can be found here.
‘We’re Gonna Go Dancing!’ (Odori ni Iku-ze!) – March
This is a lively festival which has been running every year since 2000, organized both by the JCDN (Japanese Contemporary Dance Network) and Co.D.Ex . “We’re Gonna Go Dancing” presents a showcase of dance groups from around Japan. It was reborn in 2009 with a new emphasis on producing new work and reenergizing the performing arts across Japan. Group “A” is focussed on collaboration, getting established artists to work together to create a new piece while Group “B” is another new creation developed by having regional dance groups work with with talented professionals. For dance enthusiasts, this is a must-see opportunity to watch great dance literally in the making. More information on the festival program from 2013 can be found on the festival website (Japanese).
➤ A report from the 2013 festival by Mary-Rose Shand can be read here.
Edamitsu Theatre Festival – November to December
The Edamitsu Theatre Festival gathers quality performers from all over Japan to participate in an ambitious program of events. Their annual festival offers an eclectic mix of contemporary dance and original writing in addition to talks and workshops. Edamitsu is in Kitakyushu, a little way from Fukuoka City Centre (about an hour by train) but well worth the visit to discover this lively community theater. These performances should interest anybody with an interest in non-commercial, cutting edge theater in Japan.
Theater information websites
• FFAC (Fukuoka City Foundation for Arts and Cultural Promotion) http://www.ffac.or.jp
Scroll down the homepage for upcoming cultural events of all sorts but FFAC are espcially good on theater. There is plenty of information on upcoming performances both on their website and in the Cultural Artilier, located in the Fukuoka Museum of Asian Art, Riverain Centre, 7F, which has flyers for most major performances in Kyushu and beyond.
• FPAP http://www.fpap.jp/about/english.htm
A helpful page for English speakers interested in theater. FPAP are a non-profit organization supporting regional performing arts in Fukuoka. They will be happy to supply you with information about theater, a synopsis of a performance and even an interpreter.
• JCDN (Japanese Contemporary dance Network) http://www.jcdn.org
An excellent place for finding out what’s on in contemporary dance all over Japan and for buying tickets. You can narrow searches by region to keep you up to date with what is going on in Fukuoka. The site is easy to navigate and provides direct contact information when you can’t book your tickets directly through JCDN. They also are responsible for funding festivals and organizing events so their website is a worth bookmarking.
• Theatre View Fukuoka http://tvf-web.com/
Theatre View aim to promote live stage performances to people of all ages. Keep an eye out for their print magazine too. Their website is in Japanese but most major performances will be advertised here in advance.
Theater group websites
• Space GIGA http://spacegiga.com/ – A small but inventive theater group with big ideas and a unique style. Based in Fukuoka, they often perform in out-of-theater locations. They have resurrected old plays, introduced new life into translations and toured extensively as part of a mission to make theater culture common culture. Physical and fun, GIGA are ones to watch. Check their website for upcoming performances and video clips from previous shows.
• Gingira Taiyou http://www.gingira.com/event/index.html – This theater company is not only based in Fukuoka but makes the city itself the protagonist of its drama. Cast members dress themselves up as important landmarks, subway stations and airports to tell the city’s unknown stories of battling department stores, tragedies of urban design and architectural mishaps. Strange and political, Gigira Taiyou are probably the funniest talking buildings you’ll ever see.
• Sankai Juku http://www.sankaijuku.com/index.htm – An unmissible, internationally acclaimed Butoh group. Don’t hold your breath for their returning to Kyushu any time soon, they often perform in Tokyo and Paris, but their website will tell you a little bit about Butoh, the work of Sankai Juku and let you know what to expect from this ethereal Japanese contemporary dance group.
Theatre venue websites
• Hakata-za – http://www.hakataza.co.jp/
• PomPlaza Hall – http://www.fpap.jp/pomp/index.htm
• Edamitsu Theatre – http://otegarugekijou.org/
• Ohori Park Noh Theatre – http://www.ohori-nougaku.jp/index.cgi
• Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre – http://www.kitakyushu-performingartscenter.or.jp/
• Nishitetsu Hall – http://www.nishitetsu.co.jp/nnr/solaria/hall/kouen.htm
• Aoi Tori Aoi Tori Aoi … (Mar. 2013)
• ‘We’re Gonna Go Dancing’ Vol. 3 (Mar. 2013)
• What’s the Point in Living (Dec. 2012)
• Edaniku (Dec. 2012)
• Body Theory Volatile (Nov. 2012)
• Jane Eyre (Nov. 2012)
• ‘Dance of Darkness’ – Butoh
• ‘Walk like a Samurai’ – a Kabuki Workshop
• ‘Every Person is Giant’ – Erika Yamada, Director of Space GIGA
• Yoshiko Swain, Artistic Director of Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival
Q. What is special about Fukuoka theater?
A. Fukuoka’s theater scene can be hard to find. But with a little digging you’ll realize how lively and varied it is. If you’re interested in traditional Japanese theater, you can attend a solemn, hymnic piece of Noh Theatre in Ohori Park or a gaudy Kabuki in the opulent Hakata-za. There are plenty of touring musical theater productions as well as live shows and stand-up comedians. One of the most exciting things about Fukuoka’s theater scene is its openness to new forms and ideas. The city often plays host to touring groups from all over Japan, while Korean and Chinese dancers perform at Fukuoka’s international theater festivals. Theatre in Fukuoka is fast becoming a notable export. Homegrown groups not only go on to tour major cities in Japan but also travel to Seoul and Hong Kong.
Q. How do I find about out what is showing at the moment?
A. There are many useful online resources even if you’re not a Japanese speaker. Check a listing website like Theatre View Fukuoka (http://tvf-web.com/) or the Japanese Contemporary Dance Network (http://www.jcdn.org). You might have to use a translate setting in your browser but these sites are well laid out and intuitive. Alternatively, you can browse venue websites (see Websites and Resources) to see what’s on near you. You can go in person to the Culture Artilier in the Fukuoka Museum of Art which contains flyers for upcoming performances of modern and traditional shows or leaf through the racks of similar flyers in PomPlaza Hall. Finally, Fukuoka Now flags up two or three performances each month in the event calendar that we are especially excited about so keep checking the website.
Q. I don’t speak any Japanese. Is going to see Japanese theater still worth it?
A. Yes but choose carefully. The contemporary dance festivals which run at the beginning of the year are a must for anyone interested in theater, whatever your standard of Japanese. The JCDN is a great resource of checking up on contemporary dance all year round. Dance can be a great way into Japanese modern theater culture without any need for a translator. As for more traditional dance, Noh Theatre can be a relaxing, memorable experience, if you can exercise patience and prepare to baffled. Kabuki is surprisingly hard on actors’ bodies and very balletic.
If you go and see a scripted play at PomPlaza hall, call or email FPAP (a non-profit arts organization – see Websites and Resources ) and they can provide you with a synopsis and may even supply an interpreter. Depending on the play however, going along with a Japanese speaking friend might be enough. And if you’re a Japanese learner, seeing a play makes for a very enjoyable language workout.
Q. What genres of theater can I expect to find in Fukuoka?
A. If you are interested in Noh Theatre then you can see a production in the Ohori Park Noh Theatre, which also has a traditional garden. Hakata-Za is the best place for Kabuki, the season starts around August, and also hosts touring plays and musical theater productions. PomPlaza Hall is a good venue for new writing and more intimate, conversational pieces. You may want to request a synopsis or even an interpreter (see FPAP in Websites and Resources). The Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre stages acclaimed modern performances by groups from all over Japan, if you don’t mind taking the trip. The Nishitetsu Hall stages more popular shows and comedy but unless your Japanese is up to scratch, it might go over your head.
For the cutting edge and fringe scene, browse the flyers in the Cultural Artilier in the Fukuoka Museum of Art building or the leaflets on the second floor of the PomPlaza Hall Theatre. You could also check the listings on FFAC or Theatre View Fukuoka online. A little further afield, check out the website for the Edamitsu Iron Theatre in Kitakyushu for some very small but powerful local theater. There are one or two English speaking staff there who would be happy to help you. The Space GIGA website is a good place to check if there are any upcoming performances from this intelligent, absurdist local theater group. Co.D.Ex and the JCDN also run several contemporary dance festivals throughout the year.
Q. How easy is ticket booking and are there any services that operate in English?
A. It depends on the venue. Smaller fringe shows often have email addresses printed on their fliers so you can get in contact with theater companies directly. Smaller shows often allow reservations on trust so you can pick up and pay on the day of performance. With bigger shows at Hakata-Za or the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre you can contact the theater by phone, by email or book through their websites. With Hakata-Za, if you are struggling on the phone or online, their box office is open during the day and you may find it easier in person. The JCDN (Japanese Contemporary Dance Network) is also helpful for reserving tickets. Their intuitive website still makes sense if you translate through your google browser.
I studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University and am currently studying Japanese at the Japan University of Economics in Fukuoka. I enjoy writing, directing and watching plays, theatre and dance. I am interested in learning more about Japan’s performing arts. As it can be tricky, especially with elementary Japanese, to track down the best shows I started this guide as a way to help English speakers stay up to date with what’s on. Keep checking the Fukuoka Now blog for up to date information about the performing arts in Fukuoka.