The 2016 Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards is now open for entries. Find out more here.
We talked with Torii Kosho, the Founder of Torii Hall, about winning a Silver Stevie, his views on the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards; and what plans the management of Torii Hall had for improving awareness of Japan’s traditional culture in 2016.
As Torii Kosho explained to us: “Our ‘Kamigata Culture Revitalization Forum,’ which received the 2014 Stevie Award, has been promoting traditional Japanese cultures of the Osaka region, both domestically and internationally, for some time, and will continue to delve deeply into this culture until the end of this year.”
Editor’s Note: Kamigata is a region of Japan including the cities of Kyoto and Osaka; it is also the term used to describe a prolific period of urban culture in that region from the 17th-19th centuries.
Kosho further explained: “The Forum is a cooperation between enterprises, the government, and the people of Osaka; and includes Waseda University in Tokyo, which has the largest theater museum in the East. The aim is to revitalize and preserve the cultural power of Kamigata, which in the past has originated several forms of traditional Japanese entertainment, such as kabuki theater.”
Introducing Traditional Japanese Culture to Paris
We asked Kosho what benefits his organization had experienced through its efforts to heighten international awareness of these traditional cultures.
Kosho explained that members of Torii Hall were invited to a jazz concert in Paris, France, in March 2014, shortly before the Asian-Pacific Stevie Awards ceremony the following month in Seoul, South Korea. “I have been thinking since then that Montmartre in Paris and Minami in Osaka have a lot in common: they are both downtown areas and cradles of culture and art,” he explained. Following the trip to Paris, an exchange of video letters started between elementary school children in Paris and Minami, Osaka. Consequently, Kosho told us, “We are planning a special performance of Bunraku (a traditional form of Japanese puppet theater, which also originated in Osaka) for the schoolchildren in Paris in 2016 to commemorate this interaction.” This gesture takes on even more significance in light of recent events.
Kosho feels that the Kamigata Culture Revitalization Forum has been successful in raising awareness of such art forms as Bunraku and Kabuki theater, both of which are now registered as a cultural heritage by UNESCO.
Editor’s Note: UNESCO established its lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage with the aim of ensuring the better protection of important intangible cultural heritages worldwide and the awareness of their significance.
Osaka Minami, which is where Torii Hall is located, is an international area, and 42% of students at the South Elementary School nearby are foreign, coming from 15 different countries. The country with the largest number of students is the Philippines, with more than 30 students. 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of friendship between Japan and the Philippines. On March 30, 2016, in cooperation with the consulate of the Philippines, the children will travel to an elementary school on the Philippines’ Bataan Peninsula.
“I met some people from the Philippines who were attending the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards ceremony in Seoul, and when I mentioned to them that I support Filipinos, especially single mothers, in Osaka, I received a lot of praise,” said Kosho. “The feeling that this gave me at the time made me realize the value that this friendship event in March 2016 will have for our two countries. I would now like to plan a Bunraku performance in Manila to commemorate the anniversary.”
Continued Kosho: “The people who live or work in Osaka are largely unaware of the fact that the popular tourist destination of Dotonbori is the place where Kabuki and Bunraku first started. I think that winning our Stevie Award has been effective in letting those people know that.”
2015 is also the 400th anniversary of one of the main attractions for visitors to Osaka, the Dotonbori Canal, that was completed in November 1615. This November, Torii Hall held a special multi-religious memorial service to commemorate the event.
“We forget the differences between Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity,” Kosho commented. “We ride together on a boat and pray for those who sacrificed their lives during open-cut construction of the Dotonbori canal, yet some of them might have been workers who had apostatized Christianity. I believe that we stand today upon foundations that were built by those who lived here during the past 400 years, including both Japanese and Europeans, and upon the traditional cultures such as Bunraku and Kabuki that flourished here. We should give thanks for that.”
Heightening Awareness of a Rare Disease
“Torii Hall will continue its role as a traditional cultural platform in 2016,” Kosho concluded. “At the same time, we also have plans to reach out to the community. We will launch a Kansai Branch of the Sakura Association to support the patients and families of an incurable form of porphyria that has recently been discovered. There is, as yet, no known treatment for this rare disease, but we can express our deep compassion for those who suffer from it–and help them avoid becoming isolated–by encouraging people with this disease to come and talk about their experiences.”
About Torii Kosho:
Torii Kosho was born in Osaka. He grew up as an heir to the traditional ryokan hotel Kamigata in Sennichimae, Osaka. After graduating from Konan University, he worked for a department store before starting work on the Torii building in 1989. With the completion of the Kamigata building in 1991, he opened TORII HALL, of which he is now the director. Kosho entered the Buddhist priesthood in 1994. He founded the Sennichizan Kosho temple of the Shingon Yamashina group in 2012 and became a chief priest.
About TORII HALL:
TORII HALL is a theater with 100 seats on the fourth floor of the Kamigata building. It retains the atmosphere of yose (a Japanese style of comedy theater), and is designed like a traditional storyteller's house so that microphones aren’t needed during performances. ‘TORII yose’ is a showcase held on the first day of every month. It provides a place to train young rakugo (a traditional Japanese sit-down comedy) artists. It is also used as a venue for seminars, plays, and music events. To find out more, go to www.toriihall.com/.