Kuramoto Diary #514 - Japan Century Symphony Orchestra
You may have seen the program "Bringing Classical music to town! Osaka's Struggling Orchestra" on NHK's Friday evening program on April 22, or if you have quick ears, you may have heard about it.
Since last year, I have accepted the chairmanship of Japan's Century Orchestra, a public interest incorporated foundation in Osaka.
As you may have guessed, accepting the chairmanship in the midst of covid is maybe to pull the orchestra's chestnuts out of the fire. After spending 40 years revitalizing a nearly collapsed sake-making company...well, I guess being nosy is a disease that can't be cured.
Japan's Century Orchestra was the fourth orchestra in Osaka and was formed at the behest of the Osaka Prefectural government during the economic bubble era. Unfortunately, with its bursting, people began to take a harder look at the Orchestra. The Governor at the time, Hashimoto, said: "Culture is not something that should be nurtured by the government". The subsidy was 400 million yen at the time but was swiftly decreased, along with the subsidies for Bunraku traditional puppet theater.
For the past 10 years or so, we have struggled to survive as an orchestra, supported by the passionate hearts of the citizens of Toyonaka and Suita city, who have asked us not to let the cultural light go out.
Then the Corona struck. Live concerts were canceled one after another, and even when we managed to organize one, we had to restrict the capacity to less than half. Last year's income and expenditures were numbing, with a negative balance of more than 60 million yen.
We must somehow get back on our feet. The saving grace is that the orchestra members are as motivated as ever to perform. Last year, a music magazine even honored us by naming us the "fifth most popular orchestra in Japan" in a poll of music critics.
There is no way we can just leave such a wonderful orchestra to die out. We have tried several projects since last year anyway, and I was shown on NHK saying in front of the members of the orchestra, "We have to keep up our fighting pose," and I meant it.
But the truth is that I don't know what exactly I should do at this point. We have no choice but to keep struggling.
In the midst of all this, I thought it was crucial to have people feel what it's like to attend an orchestra concert.
I decided to hold a concert entitled "Dassai presents: A Concert for the Senses" at Hattori Ryokuchi Park in Toyonaka City. It's nearby the orchestra's rehearsal space and will be opened to the public so that people can enjoy the music of a full orchestra and then enjoy Dassai sake at the same venue.
In other words, we wanted everyone to feel a little closer to Japan's Century Orchestra and classical music in general.
It is planned for early summer on May 20, the venue is about a five-minute walk from Toyonaka station through a pleasant tree-lined avenue. As this wonderful rehearsal place is the property of the citizen of Osaka Prefecture (or rather, Japanese citizens), no littering or deterioration will be allowed.
I wanted to invite everyone to visit the rehearsal hall and enjoy the charm of the music.
However, when we went to the Osaka Prefectural Government to report on the event, we were told that such an event would not be allowed because the rehearsal space is the property of Osaka Prefecture.
Although we don't mean to cause any trouble, it is such a shame.
One day, as I noticed some weeds in the courtyard, I said: "Let's cut those," but then a staff member told me, "If you touch those weeds, they will get angry and say to not do anything unnecessary with Osaka Prefecture's property,'" which made sense to me.
At first, I thought it was just stupid but I guess it means that even cutting a single weed meant a budget allocation first, and within that budget, the appointment of an appropriate prefectural government contractor to do it.
I guess that if the prefectural government is telling us this, it must have been because the Orchestra staff might have been respectful enough up until now.
But if this is the case, if the administration is running in such a rigid manner, then we'll never have enough money.
I think I understand the depth of what the former prefectural governor, Mr. Hashimoto, said about music and bunraku theater.
If we look at what he said, it might not mean that he does not want anything to do with culture, but rather that he is dissatisfied with the administration itself which has gone haywire as a result of such rigid management.
The contradictions that Osaka Prefecture has been facing for a long time are not only unnecessary but also unjustifiable.
The venue was changed to Rihga Royal Hotel.
Anyway, since we have been notified by the landlord that "no events other than those used for music practice are allowed," this event on May 20 will be held at the Rihga Royal Hotel Osaka in Nakanoshima. Unfortunately, our plan to invite you to that wonderful rehearsal space to get acquainted with music and (a little) Dassai sake is no longer possible, but the orchestra members have not lost any motivation.
We are sure that we will be able to show you a wonderful performance.
We have posted the details on our website, so if you can spare the time, please come and join us.
In addition, there is something we are discussing in the orchestra right now.
In the words of former Governor Hashimoto, "Culture is not something that is nurtured by the government. Culture is something that remains thanks to the power of the people".
And some well-informed people say, "Europe and the U.S. have a culture of individual donation, which does not exist in Japan. Therefore, it is necessary for individuals and companies to change their mindset."
No matter how much they say, this is Japan, and I think there is nothing that can be done about it, at least under the current circumstances. The orchestra has to be independent in its own Japanese way.
The other day at a meeting within the orchestra, I said, "There is no way that a knight on a white horse will stand in front of our house one day and lead us to the land of happiness while we do nothing. Unfortunately, nothing can save us now but our own strength and efforts."
The orchestra will renew itself, and evolve.
Both Junmai Daiginjo sake and music are not actually necessary for human survival. But life without good sake and good music are not enriching. How can a culture that is so focused on efficiency (cheap sake and counting pennies) survive in this competitive world without good sake and good music?
I believe that the Western world's dominance in the modern era is largely due to the power of culture combined with the power of science.
As with the "Concert for the Senses" on May 20, please support the Century Orchestra as it tries to survive on its own.
Lastly, as usual, a ramble from the mouthy Kuramoto.
There used to be a bus stop in front of our brewery, which is located so deep in the mountains that the number of monkeys probably outnumbers the number of humans.
There was a town-run bus that made three to four round trips a day. However, there were almost no passengers on this bus. Usually, there were only one or two. Sometimes the only person on board was the driver!
(When our CEO was in junior high school, he sometimes took this bus back from the nearest JR Suo Takamori station. The driver, who knew everyone in the local area, would talk to him about all sorts of things.)
I once said to the town official in charge of running this bus: "If you change the bus service by just 20 to 30 minutes to match the work and leave times of our company, a lot of our employees will stop driving to work and take the bus. Doing so we can reduce your deficit by a significant portion."
The response I got was, "That's a community support bus, so it's just fine the way it is."
I wonder how much money the administration has plunged down the drain over the past 30 years with this kind of thinking.
I believe that the Osaka Prefectural Government's response this time wasn't out of stubbornness, but rather that the event itself was so sudden that they turned it down out of concern that it might be troublesome for them.
Yet, it is desirable to have the private sector and the government work together organically. We aim for such an ideal so that the orchestra could be self-reliant.
I am sorry that this issue of the Kuramoto Diary is not about Dassai. However, I feel that what we are doing and the direction we are aiming for are the same as what we did experience and aimed for at Asahi Shuzo for Dassai.