Now is the time: Free your mind to leave the house.｜Tokyo Festival 2020 highlights the appeal of Tokyo's diversity of values. — Part I—
It's been half a year since the WHO declared a pandemic. This fall, Tokyo Festival 2020 is taking place in the Ikebukuro area of Toshima amidst our search for new forms of expression in response to the ongoing pandemic. We asked MIYAGI Satoshi, General Director of Tokyo Festival, some questions regarding the significance of cultural and art-related activities, and new ways of enjoying the performing arts.
*The Tokyo Festival 2020 described in this article has already ended.
What are Tokyo values in a time of increasing division?
Tokyo Festival is a cultural project by the Metropolitan Government of Tokyo that aims to establish a performing arts festival that is one of the world's top five performing arts festivals. This year being an Olympic year, the festival was expected to be an even bigger success than usual.
"Everything was put on hold for the time being when a state of emergency was declared, and I was devastated at first. People loudly claimed that closing theaters for about three months wouldn't bother anyone, and that it was selfish to say that arts were important at a time like this.
"I considered at a fundamental level whether the festival was something we should even do in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. If we had money in the budget to spend on a cultural program, wouldn't it be better to use every yen we had to fight COVID-19? While I was asking myself these questions, I also thought about what the role of Tokyo in Japan was and what Tokyo's values were."
Miyagi felt that most people were falling into the trap of "dichotomous thinking". Black or white, right or wrong, friend or foe — that kind of mindset.
"You wouldn't have a Zoom drinking party with people you disagreed with, right (laughs)? In Japan, it's gotten to the point where we only talk to people who are on the same wavelength and agree with whatever we say.
"We have an attitude of exclusion much like we had before the war, making a terrible fuss like we want to "reject the foreign matter" when even one person gets infected in a community with few infections. Empathy toward others is waning and division is on the rise, as people lose the ability to consider the position of those people and what it would be like to be in the same position.
"Under these circumstances, I thought that it was important for Tokyo to maintain its non-dichotomous way of thinking."
Why do we live in Tokyo right now? Miyagi wants every person to consider that question. It's nice having all kinds of people. There is a place for each of us. Miyagi thinks that for many people, those are the reasons they continue to live in Tokyo.
"Tokyo is accepting of diversity. That's its most important value. I think the power of culture and the arts is still useful in maintaining that.
"To put it another way, we would probably be in quite bad shape if we quit doing all of our cultural projects. It is decidedly divisive to say you must think a certain way and that anything else is the enemy, and we would become complicit in that dichotomy. In the long run, people will probably realize they behaved very poorly at that time.
"Art is the easiest way to demonstrate a variety of concepts, like the kinds of things that can be considered 'beautiful'. I came to the conclusion that we should demonstrate the ability of art to challenge preconceptions at their roots to the best of our ability by working hard to put on this arts festival despite the challenges involved."
During a blip in history, discovering that the format of classical theater works during a pandemic
Tokyo Festival includes some 30 programs that will naturally avoid the "three C's", and elaborate measures have been taken to ensure the safety and peace of mind of performers, audience, and staffers.
The question that comes to mind with respect to those efforts is, "Will performers during the actual performances be in close contact on stage?" There are a variety of measures that can be taken, such as using face guards, being prepared to use substitutes in an emergency, and fusing the real and online worlds, but Miyagi had another realization.
"It's understandable that people would associate the three C's with the theater. At first, I also didn't think it would be possible to do anything if the three C's were prohibited, and I think even the creators and the general public had the preconceived notion that on-stage performers would come into close contact with each other.
"But classical theater, such as Kabuki and Greek tragedy, doesn't involve much close contact. I was thinking about why that was, and I realized that throughout most of history, performing arts were actually carried out in the midst of epidemics. There were two bubonic plague outbreaks in Shakespeare's time, right?
"Also, because they didn't have technology like microphones, actors had to face the audience instead of each other. Otherwise, the audience wouldn't have been able to hear their lines. That's what theater used to be like.
"The format of classical theater is one that works during pandemics. It's only in the last 100 years or so that the theater has become a sanitary, bright, and safe place. This COVID-19 pandemic, which is capable of relativizing the thinking we have taken for granted, is truly just a blip in history. For me, that has been its impact."
Read more on: Tokyo Festival 2020 highlights the appeal of Tokyo's diversity of values. Now is the time: Free your mind to leave the house. — Part II—