YAMAGA, Kumamoto – A performance hall in this southwestern Japanese city once deteriorated during the Showa era (1926-1989), but was saved by elderly residents.

The exterior of the Yachiyoza gambling house, built in 1910, is seen in Yamaga, Kumamoto prefecture, September 21, 2020. (Mainichi/Osamu Sukagawa)=Click/tap photo for more pictures.

The present town of Yamaga in northern Kumamoto Prefecture began to prosper as a posting post in the Edo period (1603-1867). The two-story wooden Yachiyoza Theater was built in 1910, at the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912), by an association of local volunteers, and has become a symbol of the prosperity of the region.

It was designed by shipping agent Kimura Kametaro. Although he was not an architect, he visited theaters across the country to study them. Back in Yamaga, he built Yachiyoza using a Western truss technique for the roof, creating a bulky interior space with few pillars. The seating area is sloping – rare at the time – and people enjoyed Kabuki and other plays and concerts here.

The performance hall business gradually declined after World War II as entertainment options diversified. Yachiyoza closed in 1973 and its doors remained closed for over a decade. However, saddened to see the neighborhood’s proud theater fall into disrepair, a local association for the elderly collected donations to renovate the roof. This led to the theater being designated as a Cultural Property of National Significance and then to large-scale renovation.

The pit under the stage was flooded during the torrential rain disaster that hit the Kyushu region in July 2020, but the damage was repaired at the end of September of the same year. On days when there are no performances, visitors can stand on the stage and its tracks as well as in the pit below, and admire the unchanging architecture of the beloved former performance hall.

(Japanese original by Osamu Sukagawa, Photo Group)

The pit under the rotating stage is seen at the Yachiyoza theater in Yamaga, Kumamoto prefecture on September 21, 2020. The stage can be rotated by humans. (Mainichi/Osamu Sukagawa)=Click/tap on photo for more images.

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The Japanese version of this article was originally published on October 4, 2020.

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This series explores the architectural marvels and secrets of Japan’s past. Read more articles about retro Japan here.

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