Hyogo Children’s Theater Oyako Theater Council and Circumstances Tour for Disaster-struck Areas

February 15, 1995 - June 29, 1995

Ryoko Yonekawa / NPO Hyogo Children's Culture Promotion Association

Text by Forecast

Ryoko Yonekawa (Hyogo Children’s Theater Oyako Theater Council (present: NPO Hyogo Children’s Culture Promotion Association (※ 1))

The goal of the “Hyogo Children’s Theater Oyako Theater Council” has been to engage children in the performing arts. As a coordinator, Ms. Ryoko Yonekawa was able to connect evacuation centers and the theater companies in various places immediately after the earthquake to deliver performances.


What can be done for the children

Immediately after the earthquake, I was in Itami.The vicinity of Itami station and the station building sustained terrible damage, and the furniture in my house was wrecked.The office was in Motomachi Sakaicho street, but immediately after the disaster, there was no means to go there. I was finally be able to get there a week later.Since the direct train was not restored, I took the subway and Kobe Railway from the Mita direction, and walked from Shin-Kobe to Motomachi to work.Until the transportation gradually recovered, it took me two and a half to three hours every day to get to work, and the same amount of time to get home.

Right away, I thought about what to do from now on.The Hyogo Children’s Theater Oyako Theater Council (hereinafter “Oyako Theater”) has been regularly working together with professional organizations for children’s plays and puppet theater. I was worried about what happened to the children under these dangerous circumstances.

Motomachi’s office was a mess, but the damage was contained and the phone was also working.We were flooded with calls to confirm our safety as well as offering of assistance from Oyako Theaters and theater groups all around the country.As we received these calls, we began thinking about what we could do, and concluded that we would stay here and do what we can do for the children.


“Please let us know when you’re okay”

We began coordinating activities to perform puppet shows and ventriloquist shows in different disaster areas.When I first began getting in touch with Oyako Theater members who were living in evacuation shelters, I was met with anger, and told “this isn’t the time for that now.”So I simply said, “please let me know when you’re alright” and “the theater troupe is worried.”One month after the earthquake disaster, a volunteer performance was held in an area with relatively minor damage.

In Kobe there are four Oyako Theaters, and the members and committee members were spread around in Kobe, which gave us the advantage of finding out the circumstances of certain areas through the members living there.The network was so thorough that there seemed to be members at each evacuation shelter.We went around various places, listening to the circumstances of each evacuation shelter, performing performances suited to the situation, and receiving feedback on it.

The activity took place once every 3 days, and went on for one full year.From around the 4th month we started workshops with the team from Theater Works (※ 2).We gave workshops about once every two weeks, in public spaces like community welfare centers.When I started these activities, I could not accept the reality of the earthquake.I was finally able to accept reality after two years of continuous activities, visiting destroyed homes and evacuation centers,


The power to soften the hardened heart and body of children

The evacuation center was a battlefield.Parents were desperate to rebuild their lives and were busy going to government offices and filling out forms. The children were watching their parents through all that, and holding everything in. They could not go to the kindergarten they had been attending before, and temporary kindergartens were being installed where room was available.Children did not understand what happened, but could feel their parents’ anxiety and were worn out.

In the first kindergarten we went when we were able to perform, the children laughed a lot.There are various patterns in ventriloquism, but the one that was performed was a sketch of a child enjoying a conversation with an old man by troubling him by being selfish.This performance brought out the best reactions from the children.

In everyday life, children are able to say selfish things or be spoiled by their parents and families.However, since the earthquake left the adults in a frenzy, the children cannot even ask for anything, and had no choice but to hold it in and endure .Even if they don’t understand the exact situation, they understand that they are in unusual circumstances.However, the moment they see the ventriloquism performance, the children seemed regain the sense of ordinary life.Everyone started off sitting and listening, but was soon rolling around the floor and playfully messing around with the child next to them, and laughing very happily.Later the headmaster told me, “this is the first time since the earthquake that these children laughed so much.”I thought that it was so.

I thought that watching a puppet show or ventriloquism had the power to undo the hardened heart and body of children.I was also reminded of how important it was for them to use their bodies, to play, to shout, to draw, and express themselves.By becoming obsessed with something, the heart is liberated from its tension.I realized that the arts were a powerful tool at such times, and since then, we continued giving performances in various places.The performances were meant for children, but adults and elderly people all watched together. The adults healed by seeing the children enjoying it.At the beginning, we were still not able to answer the question of whether theater could contribute to emotional care. However, through this activity, I felt that the arts are an irreplaceable element for human beings in terms of having fun and contributing to emotional care.

Since the victims were transferred to temporary housing, we began performing for the elderly.The very painful situation of loneliness and isolation became apparent, so we prepared a performance that we wanted them to see.


Inauguration of Oyako Theater

The Oyaka Theater was first established in Fukuoka 45 years ago.After that, a theater company which was originally performing for the children began spreading the name of Oyako Theater.In the national organization, there were about 700 places at its peak.

In the era when television became popular, children’s play shifted from indoors to outdoors. The regional organizations were made to recruit members for the membership fee, to continue the program in order to nurture the children’s autonomy through play, and provide excellent cultural arts so that they can grow and acquire the strength to live.

The mission statement of the organization was a point of discussion since before the earthquake.In general, the idea was to provide as many opportunities for people to watch theater performance, and popularize the performing arts. As those preparations were being made, the earthquake struck.


How to support the local people

The performances were made possible by, first, the fact that we were aware of what kind of programs each theater group had, from the relationship that was established though regular interaction.I chose the type of performance, amateur or professional, and coordinated it according to the place and situation.In hindsight, there was a part of me that isn’t so sure whether the performances met the needs of the people ta the evacuation centers.For example, compared to professionals, amateur performers don’t generate the same kind of excitement, so we could have tried incorporating participatory workshops and not just performances. It is easy to see these things now, but back then we were doing the best we could.

Second, the members of the Oyako Theater who were in each area or shelter fulfilled a key role.In order to match the place with the appropriate theater company, it was necessary to see the actual venue.The size of the venue and the age group determine what things can be done.The evacuation center is like a community association, and it was important to be introduced to leaders by members belonging to the local community, as opposed to suddenly approaching them on our own.

Because evacuation centers are living spaces, to visit is like entering someone’s home.I was careful not to get in the anyone’s way.Since people’s lives were the priority, we didn’t make requests about the space, but did the most we could with whatever space was available to us.It didn’t matter if we only had a small audience. We performed for whoever came.

Thirdly, the theater company members were experienced in volunteer work.They knew what to do according to each situation.

When the earthquake happened in Eastern Japan, I wanted to do something, but have not been able to.The extent of the afflicted area is wide and the damage is enormous, making things difficult, but another challenge is not being able to find a coordinator, and other people in the area who are interested in cooperating.There is an Oyako Theater in Sendai, and when I asked the people there about the situation, they told me that in the places where there are excessive amounts of volunteer performances, people are exhausted.On the other hand, there are areas that don’t have any performances, creating a stark contrast.Hearing about these situations makes one realize the importance of the role of the coordinator.The main constituents are the local people, so it is important to keep in mind what can be done to support how they can get up themselves, rather than do everything by ourselves.


※ 1 Non-Profit Organization Hyogo Children’s Culture Promotion Association http://www13.ocn.ne.jp/~npooyako/

※ 2 Theater Works is an organization that was born at the call of Mr. Keiji Miki after the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake.We went around evacuation centers in various places, and volunteered to give workshops with the theater companies.

Initial research


February 15, 1995 – June 29, 1995

Background and purpose

The Hyogo Children’s Theater Oyako Theater Council has been working together regularly with groups dedicated to theater and puppetry for children. With this experience, we began matching theater companies with evacuation centers and schools after the disaster to provide emotional care and enjoyment for the children affected by the earthquake.


Children affected, disaster victims


Coordinate performances at evacuation centers, elementary schools, kindergartens, nursery schools, children’s centers, etc.The participating theater companies are: Osaka’s “Theater Company Clarte”, Pantomime · Rabbit Hut “Rabbit Hut”, Nagoya “Musubi-za”, Nara Youth Promotion Council’s “Wednesday Puppet Theater”, “Minomoto” and “Usui Aki Ken chan Isao etc “.

Founder / Organizer

Hyogo Children’s Theater Oyako Theater Council (Executive Director: Ryoko Yonekawa)


Elementary schools, kindergartens, nursery schools, children’s centers etc.