A Small Global City―Toyooka’s Big Challenge

A pilot edition of the Toyooka Theater Festival was held in September 2019. This is a festival that situates town development at the center of its concept. “Theater” and “town development” are two ideas that hold no instantly apparent connection, and the process is still trial and error, so it may not seem immediately clear. However, I would like to introduce the practice and background of the possibilities of art in local regions, and the Kinosaki International Arts Center (KIAC).


Outside view of the KIAC. The facility was repurposed from the former Kinosaki Grand Meeting Center
©️Madoka Nishiyama

The KIAC was born from an idea of Muneharu Nakagai, the mayor of Toyooka City, which was: “if we created a new locus of communication and a new flow of people through Toyooka and Kinosaki, the whole area would reap the benefits.” In 2014, the Kinosaki Grand Meeting Center was handed over by Hyogo prefecture, and it was renovated to open in the spring of 2014 as the Kinosaki International Arts Center. Since 2015, the second year after it opened, it has been run with a more defined purpose, as a strategic center for Toyooka, pursuing regional revitalization through art and culture. At that time, Oriza Hirata, a playwright who had been involved with the KIAC as an advisor since its planning phase, was nominated to be the artistic director, and also the art and culture counselor of Toyooka. Management of the center, which had originally been overseen by a local NPO, was transferred to the city directly, and the present management scheme was established.


Street view of Kinosaki Onsen. The three-story wooden ryokan hotels stretch out along the Otani River

About the Kinosaki International Arts Center (KIAC)

The KIAC is a production base that specializes in theatrical art, such as dance and consists of one hall, 6 studios, and an accommodation facility with a capacity of 22 people (for artists in residence). Artists selected through an open call process can stay for a maximum of 3 months, and are able to produce 24 hours a day, with free use of the facility. Their accommodation fee is also waived, in return for the provision of at least one free local cultural exchange program during their stay―such as holding open practices and workshops, or out-reach at local schools.

With the conditions described above, and the charm of the hot spring town – one of the greatest in Japan – within just a few years the KIAC has become a place that every performance art practitioner dreams of coming to. The 2020 open call garnered applications from 80 theater groups and companies from 23 countries. Although Toyooka is a small regional town with just 80,000 residents, it could find a direct connection to the world in the field of art.


KIAC Main Hall – a 500-capacity venue. Artists in residence can focus on their creation 24 hours a day in the center.
©️Madoka Nishiyama

A Small Global City

The strategy in place for Toyooka’s regional restoration is realizing the idea of a “small global city. “ The population may be small, but as a local and regionally unique place, it can still become a town that is respected by the world. To achieve this, we need to refine that localness in a way that can compete internationally. Reaching one’s own decisions and creating new values―these are the things we want to gain from art, and we want to facilitate the environment that will enable us to do so through the medium of art itself.


The KIAC lobby at the opening of “Tokyo Note International Version” at the Toyooka Theater Festival

This challenge stimulated new development: the establishment of a specialized university with the aim of “producing art and tourism professionals with a connection to the KIAC” (currently in the midst of the submission process). This higher education institution, provisionally named “The International Tourism Art Specialized University“ is, under the jurisdiction of Hyogo, aiming to open in 2021 as the first public university to teach theater in depth, and upon this foundation to create business in tourism and art.

One of the characteristics of this vocational university is its 800 hours of practical placements―in actual work environments―within the four years of the course. In addition to the local tourist sites, the accommodation facilities of the KIAC, and other cultural locations, we also decided to hold an international art festival as a place to learn both about cutting edge tourism business and art.

This is the Toyooka Theater Festival that was mentioned earlier.
The city also realized that they could utilize the festival as a place for communication, and the revitalization of the local area and regional business. It can be used, not only as a cultural project, but also as a platform for town development, to search out and appeal to the tourism needs and lifestyle of a new generation, utilizing private companies’ technology and ideas.


The pilot Toyooka Theater Festival program: Seinendan’s “Tokyo Notes International Version”
©️Igaki Photo Studio

In a regional city like Toyooka, for example, mobility is an urgent issue. Working on solving this issue, Toyota Mobility Foundation has participated in the festival as a partner from the very beginning.
At the pilot edition of the festival it provided on-the-spot visualizations of the location of public transport, along with free rental of super-small electric cars (Coms), and round-trip services in the area. Building on those achievements, in 2020 it aims to pursue the issue further―conducting a demonstration experiment to realize the model of “a town where people and mobility connect.”


KIAC and Coms. During the festival it was a very popular means of transportation on Kinosaki’s onsen streets.

That is not to say that we are holding the theater festival for technology. The main aim is always to enjoy art and the theater, and it is for that purpose that we continue to develop new technology and new schemes. And after that, they will be applied to the development of the town.

Oriza Hirata, one of the festival directors, says that this is an attempt to “realize a smart city that makes people happy.”

Now, can you see the connection between the theater and town development? Toyooka has just started off down the challenging path of becoming a small global town. We would like to reach out to as many people as possible who are interested in this challenge, and interested in taking part in it.

The first full Toyooka Theater Festival will be held in September 2020. We hope to see you in Toyooka!

Kinosaki International Arts Center (KIAC) is an artist-in-residence base, located in the onsen town of Toyooka, Hyogo, specializing in the theatrical arts. It was opened in 2014 as a center where artists could not only exhibit their theater art, but also have a long stay in the town of Kinosaki, as though they were living there. It has a hall, studios and residence.

Yushima 1062, Kinosaki, Toyooka-shi, Hyogo 669−6101
Mail: info[at]
January 15, 2020

January 15, 2020

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