This is an obituary; a belated one, but an obituary all the same.
This isn’t, however, an obituary for the Kabukiza, but we’ll have to start there: The Kabukiza had been the emotional heart of kabuki in Tokyo for nearly a century. The building, conceived in the 1920s, and repaired after the Great Kanto Earthquake (1922) and Allied bombings (1945) was one of the last of the true landmarks in this city. Despite being named a “Registered Tangible Cultural Property” in 2002, the Kabukiza was allowed to be demolished because it was too small and, its owner insisted, too weak to withstand earthquakes (What about 1922?).
The truth is, the property is valuable and it needs to generate more revenue and the way to do that is accommodate more customers, which the new building will do. The theater company also made a killing last spring as hordes of aged customers came to pay their final respects to a place that had been a focal point of Japanese culture in the years after the war.
We are promised a “traditional” roof over the front entrance, which will only remind us of what was lost: A boroque Japanese revivalist landmark that had survived a century of earthquakes and war.
I have seen performances twice at the Kabukiza and twice at the National Theater. Tokyo doesn’t need another modern venue – it already has the National Theater. What Tokyo does need is more of a sense of place; a visual sense of what is special about Tokyo and living here. Few modern buildings have risen to that standard: Roppongi Hills is an exhausting, and ultimately defeating maze; Shiodome, a sprawling complexity of caverns and escalators. Tokyo Midtown, with its open spaces and linear Japanese styling, is the only recent landmark worthy of Tokyo.
Having only a handful of architectural treasures is a remarkable accomplishment for Tokyo, considering the sheer vastness of this metropolis, and proof how little architecture and landscape are valued here.
Isn’t it odd that Tokyo so prides itself in gathering the best things from the world within its boundaries and yet is has preserved so little of its own architecture? It is the death of this, Tokyo’s sense of place, that this obituary mourns. The Kabukiza is just one more nail in the coffin.