Varieties of Shakespeare in Japan

Ever since the first full production of a Shakespeare play in 1885 (The Merchant of Venice) the number of productions done annually has steadily increased. According to Minami Ryuta's "Chronological Table of Shakespeare Productions in Japan", the average number of productions per year between 1885 and 1934, and again from 1946 to 1969 was approximately 4. This figure jumped to 19 productions per year in the 1970s, to 23 in the 1980s, and more than 50 in the 1990s.

The following factors have contributed to this sharp increase:

* Translations

Translations of The Complete Works by Tsubouchi Shoyo (completed 1928), Odashima Yushi (completed 1980), and Matsuoka Kazuko (started 1992).

* The Literary Society

Tsubouchi Shoyo's founding of the Bungei Kyoukai (Literary Society) in 1906 to train amateurs to perform Shakespeare.

* Theatre building

The building of The Waseda University Tsubouchi Shoyo Memorial Library Theatre ( a replica of The Fortune Theatre) in the early 1900s.

* Shakespeare Society

The founding of the Shakespeare Society of Japan in 1930 (reestablished after the war in 1961). This now has about 800 members.

* Kurosawa's film adaptions

Kurosawa Akira's popularisation of Shakespeare through his film adaptations of Shakespeare's Macbeth (Throne of Blood), Hamlet (The Bad Sleep Well), and King Lear (Ran).

* Actors

Outstanding actors in different generations such as Akutagawa Hiroshi, Nakadai Tatsuya, Uesugi Shozo, and Hira Mikijiro (who has recently embarked on a project to perform The Complete Works).

* The Shakespeare Company

The founding of The Shakespeare Company by Deguchi Norio in the 1970s, dedicated exclusively to performance of The Complete Works.

* Tokyo Globe Theatre

The opening of Isozaki Arata's Panasonic Globe Theatre in Tokyo in 1988 to showcase local and international productions of Shakespeare's plays. Guest companies and artists have included England's National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Ingmar Bergman, Peter Brook and Robert Lepage, as well as such Kabuki stars as Bando Tamasaburo (Lady Macbeth), and Ichikawa Somegoro (Kabuki Hamlet).

The Tokyo Globe Theatre also hosted Deguchi Norio's A Midsummer Night's Dream series.

* Foreign directors

The Globe-za Theatre Company's policy of hiring foreign directors to produce new translations of such plays as Hamlet (Peter Stormare/Takahashi Yasunari, 1993), Romeo and Juliet (John Retallack/Matsuoka Kazuko, 1994), and The Merchant of Venice (Gerard Murphy/Motohashi Tamaki, 1994 and 1996).

* Shakespeare World Congress

The hosting of the International Shakespeare Association's 5th World Congress in Tokyo in 1991, showcasing Takahashi Yasunari's Kyogen adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor and J.A. Sezar's adaptation of King Lear.

* International invitations

The invitation of Ninagawa Yukio to perform The Tempest at The Edinburgh Festival in 1988, and Suzuki Tadashi to perform King Lear at the RSC's Everybody's Shakespeare Festival in 1994.


In this fertile climate, Tokyo directors, actors, translators , critics, and audience members are arguably as 'Shakespeare literate' as anywhere else in the world, and certainly in the non-English speaking world. Not surprisingly, with a long theatre tradition of its own dating back to at least the 14th century, Japanese productions of Shakespeare over the last 100 years have been both rich and varied.