By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Staff Writer
The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center released a somewhat hastily prepared statement last week to announce the closing for renovations of one of Little Tokyo’s premiere venues for performing arts.
The Aratani Japan America Theatre will be shuttered on January 31, 2011, for repairs and upgrades, the statement said.
JACCC Executive Director Chris Aihara told the Rafu Shimpo that the theater, now nearing 30 years since its opening in 1983, is in dire need of repairs that demand immediate attention.
“We need to upgrade certain aspects of the facility, to help enhance the experience of attending performances at the theater, for performers and the audience alike,” Aihara explained.
Aihara said that while the theater is under repair, JACCC will utilize alternate sites for performances, including the Center’s James Irvine Japanese Garden, which recently underwent extensive renovation, as well as other local venues.
Questions about the financial health of the JAT had been circulating in recent weeks, including several inquiries to the Rafu, leading to speculation that the theater was going out of business. Aihara denied those rumors, adding that the announcement of the temporary closure was rushed to dispel the misinformation.
“We were hoping to put out something about it this fall,” she explained, “but we were hearing rumors. We didn’t even have time to prepare a Japanese translation of the press release.
“We have no intention of closing for good,” she said.
Aihara added that a subsequent release will detail the proposed repairs and changes, along with information about the funding for the project. She said one of the trickiest tasks thus far has been informing booked artists that the theater was closing.
“We knew we had to clear our schedule, so we were telling renters we couldn’t commit to their dates,” she explained.
Since its opening, the JAT has hosted some of the most prestigious Japanese-related events to come to the Los Angeles area, from Kabuki by the National Theater of Japan, jazz from Sadao Watanabe and Grammy-winners Hiroshima, to punk rock and recently the West Coast debut of African American enka singer, Jero. The venue is home to many of the Japanese American community’s most popular events, including the annual Nisei Week Queen coronation.
In November, the 30th season of performances at the JAT will conclude with kabuki during the U.S. debut of the Zenshinza Theatre Company of Japan. At this point, the Theatre is expected to reopen for the 2012-2013 season.
“The Aratani Japan America Theatre is a unique public space for cultural presentations and an important venue for the Japanese American community,” Aihara said in the released statement. “JACCC has an important role as stewards of community resources. Over the past three years, we undertook a full restoration of our James Irvine Japanese Garden and renovated the adjoining Garden Room to create more programming and event space. We are working towards securing the JACCC and its facilities for future generations, and believe this temporary closure of the theatre is part of that stewardship.”
The JACCC is located at 244 So. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo. For more information about the JACCC and its programs, visit jaccc.org.