50 Years of NHK Television

Entertainment Progarms

Both western classical music and Japan's own performing arts have a history that goes back centuries. These two cultural traditions appeal strongly to Japanese people today, and are the twin pillars of music programs. Covering the entire gamut from western opera to kabuki, NHK music and dance programs help to define the ever-widening field of contemporary Japanese culture.

Traditional and modern

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Television began with music
On the day television was launched in Japan, a contemporary dance piece called Japanese Drums was broadcast live from the Hibiya Kokaido Hall in Tokyo. Its composer was Ifukube Akira, best-known for his work on the hit film Godzilla. In February of the same year, broadcasts included violin recitals and the ballet Swan Lake, and in March, the opera La Traviata. The visual elements of opera and ballet are lost in radio broadcasts, so NHK's early adoption of these programs for TV provided a foretaste of the more comprehensive possibilities of the coming television age. Between 1956 and 1976, NHK invited a number of Italian opera companies to Japan. This contribution to the growth of public interest in the genre also demonstrated television's ability both to initiate and to nurture new cultural trends.

Great performers come to Japan
The first visit of Herbert von Karajan and his Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to Japan was a historic event. Karajan was invited by the NHK Symphony Orchestra to conduct in 1954, and came again with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1957. They gave a total of 16 concerts throughout the country, enabling the Japanese public to see truly world-class orchestral performances. In those days, only half a million households had televisions, so eager crowds gathered at the windows of electrical goods shops to watch Maestro Karajan weave his magic. Subsequent years saw visits by Karl Boehm with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, La Scala Opera of Milan, and many other great troupes and performers. By broadcasting their performances live throughout the country, NHK became the major force behind Japan's classical music boom.

Catalyst for satellite broadcasting
The NHK Symphony Orchestra, (the Japan Symphony Orchestra until 1951), has always formed the nucleus of NHK's music programming. The orchestra has toured widely overseas, its first around-the-world tour coming soon after the end of the war. The orchestra has also invited many famous conductors from abroad, such as Maestros Rosenstock, Sawallisch and Dutois.
NHK Symphony Hour
NHK Symphony Hour
Wakamura Mayumi, Ikebe Shinichiro
The NHK Symphony's performances were first broadcast live in Hope Concert during the days of radio. The introduction of TV led to such programs as NHK Symphony Concert Hall and NHK Symphony Hour, while the launch of satellite broadcasting has enabled the production of NHK Symphony B-mode Concert, which takes full advantage of the superior sound quality of B-mode stereo. This ideal blend of quality performance interpreted by advanced technology contributed to the successful start of NHK's satellite channels.
  Cultural treasure trove
A commemorative kabuki production featuring Onoe Shoroku II and Onoe Baiko VII was part of the first program ever to be shown on TV in Japan. Live broadcasts of kabuki performances from the theater have been a regular feature ever since. In 1955, NHK initiated studio productions of kabuki for the program Theatrical Arts, recording for posterity such illustrious performers of postwar Japan as Ichikawa Danjuro XI, Nakamura Tokizo III and Ichikawa Ennosuke II. NHK amassed more than 250 precious films, a unique and invaluable archive. This project was followed by Dance Panorama (1956-61), a regular program that was later renamed Traditional Performing Arts Theater. Since starting in 1975, NHK Traditional Performing Arts has featured Living National Treasures from all areas of the traditional performing arts. This is the kind of quality project that only NHK has the resources to produce, and the 30th edition was transmitted in 2003.
Shunkyo Kagamijishi
NHK Traditional Performing Arts:
Shunkyo Kagamijishi
The Musical Fantasy series, which makes extensive use of digital technology, has won several major international awards including a coveted International Emmy. Bringing traditional material into the modern age and helping to nurture and preserve Japan's artistic heritage, the series also offers program-makers the chance to use state-of-the-art technology and the latest visual techniques. The results are modern-looking works in traditional genres.

The ultimate mini-program
Classical Music Album
Classical Music Album
The concept of the mini-program was raised at a lunch meeting of NHK executives in 1975. When one of them mused aloud on the desirability of "a five-minute program slot just before the 9 o'clock news," the classical music director suggested making it with classical music, combined with appropriate visuals. The first person said, "Let's go for it. And let's bring it alive with visuals from the country where the music was composed." A director and a cameraman were dispatched abroad for this mission—a tough 75-day shoot for 25 pieces of classical music. The series, called Classical Music Album, was received enthusiastically by viewers, despite the fact that many had little or no knowledge of classical music. The series has now continued for over 25 years, and has featured 900 pieces of music.

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