New Theaters, Concert Halls Open One After Another in Tokyo Area

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, which contains Theater Milano-za and Zepp Shinjuku

New theaters and concert halls are opening one after another in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Large facilities in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, on the edge of Tokyo Bay and in Yokohama’s Minatomirai area are changing entire cityscapes.

“It’s like a newborn baby.”

“I want to mark this shiny new theater with our thoughts and emotions.”

“It has a great view of the city of Shinjuku.”

Such comments were made about Theater Milano-za at a press conference announcing the new venue’s inaugural stage production, “Evangelion Beyond,” which will run through May 28. Lead actor Masataka Kubota and others expressed their enthusiasm for making their mark on its history.

The theater is in Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, a building that opened in the Kabukicho district in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on April 14.

The tower was constructed on the site where the Shinjuku Milano-za movie theater formerly stood. The building also contains the live music venue Zepp Shinjuku and a movie theater whose acoustic system was supervised by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, who died in March. The building is a commercial complex focusing on hotels and entertainment facilities, and has no office space.

The area around Tokyu Kabukicho Tower is a popular entertainment center where the Shinjuku Koma Theater was once a landmark. After it was torn down, the Shinjuku Toho Building was constructed on the site in 2015, with a movie theater as its core and accentuated by a monumental bust of Godzilla glaring down from a high floor.

Now the Tokyu Kabukicho Tower has further changed the cityscape.

Tetsuo Nakano, president of Tokyu Bunkamura, Inc. which planned and produced the stage production, said: “Kabukicho is the greatest entertainment center in Asia. From here to the world, we can convey the joy of entertainment.”

In Ikebukuro, the Hareza Ikebukuro commercial complex stands on what had been the site of the Toshima Ward Office building. The complex contains eight entertainment facilities such as auditoriums and a movie theater.

One of the facilities is the Tokyo Tatemono Brillia Hall, which opened in the winter of 2019. Promoting itself as “a city of theater,” the ward aims to become a center for culture and art.

Ikebukuro also has Mixalive Tokyo, a building with four venues for different purposes, including a theater for so-called 2.5-dimensional theatrical productions based on manga, anime or video games.

The Tokyo Bay area, which was boosted by the Tokyo Olympics, is another hot spot.

The Ariake Arena, the venue for volleyball games, was reopened in the summer of 2022 and has been used for concerts by foreign artists. Tokyo Garden Theater and Ariake Shiki Theatre were also opened nearby recently.

Many entertainment facilities already existed in the area, such as IHI Stage Around Tokyo and Zepp DiverCity Tokyo. Its appeal has been boosted with the new facilities.

In the Minatomirai area, Pia Arena MM opened in summer 2020.

COVID brought down curtain

Data by the Pia Research Institute show that the Japanese market for live entertainment, including music concerts and theatrical performances, grew at an average annual rate of 8.3% from after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake until 2019. The market in 2019 reached a record size of ¥629.5 billion.

While the market was expanding, concern grew about the so-called “2016 problem,” an anticipated shortage of halls caused by many large facilities closing for renovations around the same time. The problem led to a surge in new construction projects.

But then COVID-19 pandemic struck. The market in 2020 shrank to just ¥110.6 billion, a drop of about 80% from the previous year.

Even after opening with extensive publicity, many new theaters and halls found themselves unable to operate for several months. Their opening performances were forced to be postponed for a long time or held online.

Yuko Sasai, director of Pia Research Institute, commented: “The live entertainment market had clearly continued growing since the earthquake. But we have a declining population, which is the most serious problem, so it is not likely that the market size will be much larger than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sasai also said: “Despite the situation, more new theaters and halls than originally anticipated have been built. But recently, people recognize the value of live entertainment once again after having endured so much in the pandemic. So I will continue watching with high hopes how they will be operated in the future.”