Exploring the History of the New National Theatre, Tokyo

The Heart of Performing Arts in Japan

By New National Theatre, Tokyo

New National Theatre, Tokyo

Perspective of Opera Palace by Photo by Takahiko Yanagisawa + TAK Architects INC. and Sketched by Helmut JacobyNew National Theatre, Tokyo


Beginning - “The Second National Theatre”

In 1966, the National Theatre Special Public Corporation (now the Japan Arts Council) was established and the National Theatre was opened. When the National Theatre Act was approved by the House of Representatives, a supplementary resolution was passed to the effect that “To promote non-traditional performing arts, necessary measures should also be taken with regard to facilities.”

With this, a plan to build the national theatre for contemporary performing arts went ahead under the provisional name of Dai-Ni Kokuritsu Gekijo (“Second National Theatre”), more familiarly known under the abbreviation “Nikoku”.

Before the Theatre was built - Chemical Industrial Research Institute (1977)New National Theatre, Tokyo


Selection of the Site

A number of candidate sites for “Nikoku” came and went. The site in Hatsudai where NNTT was eventually built was originally home to the ‘Government Chemical Industrial Research Institute, Tokyo’, which was in operation from Meiji period until 1970s. When the Institute was relocated to Tsukuba, the vacant site was earmarked for “Nikoku” in 1980.

Exhibition of Submitted DesignsOriginal Source: 『第二国立劇場[仮称]設計競技応募作品集』391ページ応募作品展写真(右側)


International Contest and Exhibit of Submitted Designs

The first application period of the design for “Nikoku” was in April 1986, and a total of 228 designs were submitted, including 60 from 22 countries around the world. After screening sessions, the design by YANAGISAWA Takahiko was chosen in May, as the most outstanding proposal. The submitted designs were collected together as “Designs Submitted for the Second National Theatre (provisional name) Design Contest”.

Archaeological Survey (1988/1992)New National Theatre, Tokyo


Hatsudai Archaeological Survey

Records showed that the proposed site of “Nikoku” in Hatsudai had been occupied between the Middle Edo and Meiji periods by the residence of the Matsudaira, Governor of Izumo Province. Because the terrain also suggested the possibility of archaeological remains from prehistoric times, a Hatsudai Archaeological Survey Team was formed to carry out excavation surveys between 1988 and 1992.

The surveys yielded artifacts from various epochs, ranging from Jomon pots to Edo tableware. In particular, many daily implements from the late 18th to 19th centuries and structural features of the residence were unearthed.

Opera City from the SkyNew National Theatre, Tokyo


Birth of a Cultural District

The construction site for “Nikoku” was made to bring about an overall unification between the area and its surrounding under the Urban Planning Act. Next to the New National Theatre for Opera, Ballet, Dance and Drama, inside the 54-storied Tokyo Opera City Building, “Takemitsu Memorial Tokyo Concert Hall”, “Takemitsu Recital Hall” and “Ohmi Gakudo (Ohmi Music Hall)” were to be constructed to promote Music; “ Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery” to promote Fine Arts; and “NTT Inter-Communication Center” for Art and Science Technology.
The blueprint for a comprehensive cultural district was born.

When there were Nothing (1990)New National Theatre, Tokyo


Days of Watering and Weeding

After the Chemical Industrial Research Institute buildings were demolished, dust would fly up from the empty lot on windy days. To cope with this, the staff had to sprinkle water on the site. All they had there was a single tap and a thin hose, and when it seemed that the watering would never end, they came up with the idea of planting grass seeds to compact the earth.

Now another problem arose: the grass grew too vigorously and mosquitoes started to breed. This time, the staff had to spend hours weeding the grass.

Under Construction of the theatre (1992)New National Theatre, Tokyo


Construction Work Starts

Bidding for the construction started after the completion of environmental assessment and reviews by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In August 1992, construction work on “Nikoku” started at last. 26 years had passed since the first supplementary resolution.

A ceremony for site purification and groundbreaking was held in October in the presence of the Ministers of Education and Construction. For the many stakeholders who had been involved for so long in preparing for the building of “Nikoku”, this was a major turning point, and as such, the ceremony seems to have been quite an emotional affair.

Interior of the New National Theatre, Tokyo by Photo: Hajime KatoNew National Theatre, Tokyo


Officially Named "New National Theatre, Tokyo"

After due deliberation, it was decided that the name would be settled based on 1,000 questionnaire responses. Various suggestions were received, including the names of flowers, constellations and places, the name “New National Theatre” for the whole Theatre, and “Opera House”, “Playhouse” and “The Pit” for each of the theatres were decided in April 1995.

New National Theatre, Tokyo logo (1995) by Designed by Masashi UeharaNew National Theatre, Tokyo

In September of that year, the symbol mark of the Theatre designed by UEHARA Masashi was decided.

Tuning Concert (1997) by Photo: Takahiko Yanagisawa + TAK Architects INC.New National Theatre, Tokyo


Tuning Concerts and Completion of the Theatre

In February 1997, Tuning Concerts were held at the Opera House and the Playhouse to check the acoustic characteristics. “Dummy-head" dolls, charged with microphones, were installed in various places among the full-house audience to collect and evaluate acoustic data and the achievement of the acoustic goal was confirmed. Once the acoustic was also confirmed in the Pit, on Feb 28, the theatre construction was officially completed.

March 1, the back office of the New National Theatre Foundation moved into the Theatre and on May 26, the completion ceremony took place.

Waterlocked theatreNew National Theatre, Tokyo

Theatre Architecture: Sound and Vibration Proofed

Facing the Koshu Road and the expressway that passes above, as well as the Keio New Line that passes underground, the Theatre needed sound insulation and anti-vibration measures. The Opera House and the Playhouse are located furthest from the source of noise and vibrations, and protective walls were installed for sound insulating.

Moreover, measures for sound and vibration isolation were implemented between the three theatres and the 19 rehearsal rooms that had been built close to each other.

Commemorative Stamp by Design: Akira Kikuchi and Photo: Fumiaki KanematsuNew National Theatre, Tokyo

New National Theatre Opening Commemorative Special Stamp

It was issued on October 9th, 1997, the day before the NNTT opened. 

With the auditorium of the Opera House in the background, it depicts Takeru, the hero of the commemorative opera production “TAKERU” in a costume designed by OGATA Kikuko, combined with the silhouette of a ballet dancer in “SLEEPING BEAUTY”. Twenty million of the stamps were issued.

Theatre's Opening Ceremony (1997-10-10) by Photo: Chikashi SaegusaNew National Theatre, Tokyo

10 October 1997

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opens

Opera Productions of the Opening Series

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opening Series - Opera "TAKERU" (1997) by Photo: Chikashi SaegusaNew National Theatre, Tokyo

The Inaugural performance - Opera “TAKERU” in October 1997

New National Theatre, Tokyo presented "TAKERU" by a renowned Japanese composer Ikuma Dan as its inaugural performance. 

Costumes for I.Dan's opera "TAKERU" performed as the celebration of New National Theatre, Tokyo's opening (1997) by Costume Design by Kikuko Ogata and Photo: Junkichi SekiguchiOriginal Source: TAKERU premiered in 1998 at New National Theatre, Tokyo

Costumes of Opera "TAKERU”

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opening Series - Opera "Lohengrin" (1997) by Photo: Chikashi SaegusaNew National Theatre, Tokyo

"Lohengrin" in November 1997

In a series of Opening Season, R.Wagner's "Lohengrin" was presented under the direction of the composer's grandson, Wolfgang Wager.

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opening Series - Opera "Aida" (1998) by Photo: Chikashi SaegusaNew National Theatre, Tokyo

"Aida" in January 1998

Franco Zeffirelli worked on a new production of Giuseppe Verdi's much-loved opera “Aida”, his first in 35 years, to be performed in January 1998. This “Aida" has been revived every five years to celebrate the theatre's anniversary year.

Stage Sets of G.Verdi's opera "Aida"Original Source: Aida premiered in 1998

A stage set of Opera "Aida"

Ballet & Dance Productions of the Opening Series

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opening Series - Ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" (1997) by Photo: Hidemi SetoNew National Theatre, Tokyo

"The Sleeping Beauty" in October 1997

The National Ballet of Japan starts its history with an absolute classic ballet "The Sleeping Beauty". 
To adopt such a classic work for the repertoire, the first Artistic Director Hiroshi Shimada enlisted the cooperation of the Mariinsky Theatre.

"The Nutcracker" in December 1997

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opening Series - Ballet "The Nutcracker", Photo: Hidemi Seto, 1997, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
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Tchaikovsky's another everlasting masterpiece "The Nutcracker" was performed in December 1997 with brilliant Japanese dancers.

Bonsho no Koe -From The Tales of the Heike-

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opening Series - Ballet "BONSHO NO KOE - from The Tales of the Heike", Photo: Hidemi Seto, 1998, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
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Following these classic ballets, "VOICE OF TEMPLE BELLS”, a new ballet in three acts based on the epic “Tale of the Heike” specially commissioned to commemorate the opening. Composed by ISHII Maki with choreography by ISHII Jun, this original ballet thrilled audiences with episodes including scenes from the Battle of Dannoura, featuring characters from the Minamoto and Heike clans.

Also, various Contemporary Dance pieces by prominent Japanese dancers have been programmed.
In November 1997, NNTT had a triple bill programme named The Panorama A with works by NOUMI Kenshi, ISHII Kaoru and SHOJI Hiroshi. Following this, another triple bill programme The Panorama B was presented by inviting TAKEUCHI Toshiko, YONEI Sumie and FUJII Koh as the choreographers. This The Panorama series was staged at The Playhouse.

In December 1997, a double bill programme Master Works with the pieces by ORITA Katsuko and NISHIDA Takashi was performed at Opera House.

Drama Productions of the Opening Series

New National Theatre, Tokyo Opening Series - Drama "KAMIYACHO SAKURA HOTEL" (1997) by Photo: Masahiko YakouOriginal Source: https://www.nntt.jac.go.jp/season/s13/s13.html

Kamiyacho Sakura Hotel

Drama kicked off in October 1997 with “KAMIYACHO SAKURA HOTEL”, a new work by INOUE Hisashi. The director was WATANABE Hiroko, Artistic Director at the time. 

The story had originally been to stage the twists and turns before opening a theatre but while the concept was being developed, another idea caught on – that of “opening the New National Theatre on the foundations of thespians who fell victim to the war”.

The inaugural season also featured “GINCHAN HAS DIED” written and directed by TSUKA Kohei, SHIMAZAKI Toson’s “BEFORE THE DAWN” directed by KIMURA Koichi and SHAKESPEARE’s “KING LEAR” directed by UYAMA Hitoshi.

NNTT's Resident Companies

New National Theatre Chorus New National Theatre ChorusNew National Theatre, Tokyo

New National Theatre Chorus

New National Theatre Chorus (NNT Chorus) has been a vital element of the Theatre’s history. Inaugurated in the 1998/1999 season, the Chorus performs in several operas every season, playing a significant role in the success of each production.

The members comprising the NNT Chorus are rigorously selected. Numbering over 100, each member is characterized by top-level vocal ability and outstanding performing skills. The Chorus’ superb ensemble, under the direction of the chorus master, has garnered accolades both domestically and internationally.

The NNT Chorus is actively involved in joint performances with many orchestras. In addition, the Chorus actively participates in educational projects for schoolchildren throughout Japan. This wide-ranging variety of activities only grows in scope every year.

In addition, the Chorus actively participates in educational projects for schoolchildren throughout Japan. This wide-ranging variety of activities only grows in scope every year.

The National Ballet of Japan

"Swan Lake" staged in October- November 2021

The National Ballet of Japan (NBJ), the first resident ballet company in Japan, launched in conjunction with the opening of the New National Theatre, Tokyo in 1997. The NBJ’s repertoire is broad in scope, embracing classics such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker; 20th century works by choreographers such as Ashton, Balanchine, Petit and Kenneth MacMillan; as well as works by contemporary choreographers such as Bintley, Nacho Duato and Christopher Wheeldon.

Young Artists Training Programme

Training the next generation of performing artists is a core function of the NNTT.
The Young Artists Training Programme launched with the opening of the Opera Studio in 1998. With the addition of the Ballet School in 2001 and the Drama Studio in 2005, full-time training is conducted to foster the opera singers, ballet dancers and actors of tomorrow.

NNT Opera Studio NNT Opera Studio, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
NNT Ballet School NNT Ballet School, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
NNT Drama Studio NNT Drama Studio, Original Source: NNT Drama Studio
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NNT Opera Studio Opened in 1998 / NNT Ballet School Opened in 2001 / NNT Drama Studio Opened in 2005

In each division, faculty of the highest standard provide a comprehensive curriculum of instruction in specialized techniques, extensive knowledge and cultural refinement. We also provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their skills on stage.

NNT Opera Studio Oversea training programme at Accademia Teatro alla Scala Milan, Italy, Photo: Marcello Chiappalone, 2019, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
NNT Ballet School Spanish Dance Class, 2008, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
NNT Drama Studio Class for Shamisen, 2021, Original Source: NNT Drama Studio
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The Architecture of the New National Theatre, Tokyo by Photo: Hajime KatoNew National Theatre, Tokyo


10th Anniversary of the Opening

Opera Palace Logo (2007)New National Theatre, Tokyo

30 March

Chosen the nickname - Opera Palace

To celebrate NNTT's 10th Anniversary in October 2007, public participation was called for in order to choose a nickname of Opera Theatre.
As a result of rigorous judgement, "OPERA PALACE Tokyo" was chosen as the nickname among over 3000 ideas from inside and outside of Japan.
Until now, this opera theatre is familiar to the audience with this nickname.

The official logo mark was modeled on theatre's four stage areas and the auditorioum.

10th Anniversary 10th Anniversary (2007) by Photo: Chikashi SaegusaNew National Theatre, Tokyo

1 October

New National Theatre, Tokyo's 10th Anniversary Ceremony

On the 1st of October 2007, NNTT held its 10th anniversary ceremony and presented Opera & Ballet Gala with the National Ballet of Japan, New National Theatre Chorus, almuni of NNT Opera Studio and the international artists who had performed on our stage plenty of times.

2009 Gala Performance "Ballet Asteras"

A gala held since 2009 to support young Japanese dancers active overseas.
"Asteras" comes from Latin term "stella" and ancient Greek term "aster", both meaning "stars". We wish our Ballet Gala will be the first step for upcoming dancers to becoming stars in the future.

Ballet Asteras 2021 Finale

The number of Japanese participants have grown over the years, who danced either with a foreign or Japanese dance partners. Almost all of them are soloists or principals in their own company.
Students of NNT Ballet School have gained special experience by performing with dancers whose career is based overseas and students of the world's most prominent ballet schools, by joining them on stage in "Ballet Asteras".

2011 The Great East Japan Earthquake

March 11, 2011 at 14:46, the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake struck during the performance of PUCCINI's “IL TABARRO” at the Playhouse and the performance was cancelled. A dance production of “ALLERGY” had been scheduled that evening at the Pit which was also cancelled and the auditorium and the foyer of the Opera Palace was made available to those unable to return home.

2014 “Evacuation Drill Opera Concert”

Evacuation Drill Opera Concert Evacuation Drill Opera Concert, Photo: Masahiko Terashi, 2014, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
Evacuation Drill Opera Concert, From the collection of: New National Theatre, Tokyo
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We have revised and improved our disaster-prevention measures ever since. As a part of the project, we conducted an “Evacuation Drill Opera Concert” at the Opera Palce in 2014. Both of the audience and the staff experienced "How to behave to protect ourselves at a theatre when disaster occurs" through this project. Following this, we held the concert in 2017 at the Opera Palace, in 2018 at the Playhouse, and in 2019 at the Pit.

We have undertaken to apply this experience in actual emergencies by taking measures to improve evacuation safety.

2015 Train Approaching Melody at Hatsudai Station

Since December 2015, Opera and Ballet melodies signals the train approach to Hatsudai Station on the Keio New Line. The melodies on Platform 1 and 2 are “The Garland Waltz” from the ballet “SLEEPING BEAUTY” by TCHAIKOVSKY, and the “Triumphal March” from VERDI’s opera “AIDA”. During Christmas period, both platforms are respectively changed to a much-loved seasonal Christmas melody, the “March” from TCHAIKOVSKY’s “NUTCRACKER”. All music are arranged by KAWASE Kosuke.

Welcome Flower Celebrating the New Year 2018 - the 20th anniversary of New National Theatre, Tokyo (2018) by Akane Teshigahara (Sogetsu Ikebana)New National Theatre, Tokyo


New National Theatre, Tokyo's 20th Anniversary Ceremony

20th Anniversary 20th Anniversary Celebration Party - Performance by Young Artists of NNT Training ProgrammeNew National Theatre, Tokyo

18 January 2018

New National Theatre, Tokyo's 20th Anniversary Ceremony

NNTT's 20th anniversary ceremony was took place at Opera Palace with many participants including government officials, ambassadors, sponsors. After the ceremony, the National Ballet of Japan gave a programme from New Year Ballet 2018.
At the after-party, the young artists belong to NNT Opera Studio, Ballet School and Drama Studio livened up the party with their performance.

As The Heart of Performing Arts in Japan

Over the 20 years after its opening, New National Theatre, Tokyo has staged an incredible array of productions, totaling more than 650 of the performing arts; Opera, Ballet & Dance and Drama.

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