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Launching The Kabukicho Art Center Concept Committee

Located near the Kabukicho Benzaiten (Kabukicho Park), the guardian deity of the city, the Ohjo Building is a longstanding Kabukicho building, completed in 1964 and loved for its unique castle-like design. It changed its business format from a meikyoku kissa (classical music cafe), a cabaret, a karaoke bar to an izakaya bar, and continued its operation until March 2020.

The building started to host events again beginning with a countdown party by WHITEHOUSE on New Year’s Eve 2022, and following with one-off parties for EASTEAST_ and HEAVEN.

Following this series of events, we’ve launched a voluntary organization called the Kabukicho Art Center Concept Committee.

The committee will study and propose what functions the Ohjo Building should provide in the future in order to make it a place loved by the locals, a place to mingle and commune that connects people with the town, and a place that serves as a hub for the arts in Kabukicho, Tokyo.

The first commemorative exhibition proposed by the Committee will be Na-Lucky, a project-based exhibition by Taisei Shoji Co., Ltd. (the owner of the Ohjo Building) and Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group. This exhibition will use the entire building and be the first step toward the full-scale launch of the project starting next year.

●Kabukicho Art Center Concept Committee●

Takashi Katayama

 ((Owner of Ohjo Building; CEO of Taisei Shoji Co., Ltd.)

Ryuta Ushiro

(Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group)

Maki Tezuka

(Director of the Kabukicho Shopping District Association, Chairman of Smappa!Group)

Yuko Yamamoto


Kuniaki Tajima

Figure 1.png
Kabukicho Ohjo Building Photo by Yasutaka Hayashi

About the project

The Ohjo Building has a four-floor atrium that has been closed for about 30 years. Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group (hereafter Chim↑Pom) creates a new installation and attempts to install it permanently in the space, which appears as the back side of the castle due to the building’s design.

An exhibition will be held to unveil the new installation, mixed with performances, music, and other events. Chim↑Pom will also produce a new restaurant, various events, and a shop, and establish a one-month-only Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group Museum.

The Theme: Naraku

The name Kabukicho stems from a postwar city plan to attract the Kabuki-za Theater. Although this plan was held back by factors such as the prohibition of large construction projects, the incongruity between the tradition of the Kabuki-za Theater and the entertainment district of Kabukicho has been discussed in the contexts of city and cultural theory, combined with the fact that the "New Kabuki-za" located in prewar Shinjuku struggled to gain an audience and turned into a venue for popular theater after a few years.


In terms of city theory, Earth Diver by Shinichi Nakazawa examines the contrast between the entertainment district that developed in the lowlands by the water and the culture that became more conservative on higher ground. Nakazawa develops his argument by taking up "Kabukicho Park (Kabukicho Benzaiten)," which is located next to the Ohjo Building, at the beginning of his book. The park, which marks the reclamation of a swamp, enshrines Benzaiten as a symbol of water; it has represented the spirituality of the place to the present as the only unchanged place in this city in flux.


Chim↑Pom sees a connection between the atrium that has been closed and these contexts and attempts to read the space itself as a naraku.

Translated as "The End" on the translation website DeepL, the word naraku comes from the Buddhist term for hell, due to associations with accidental falls and dark atmospheres. As typified by the idiom "fall into the naraku," the basement of the stage was generally avoided as an abominable place during the Edo period. In fact, those who worked in the naraku were once called anaban (literally “hole guard”), and the location’s closed nature propelled its image as a bottomless pit or swamp.


Paying respect to the artform of kabuki and making a connection to the history of Kabukicho, Chim↑Pom plays sounds from a kabuki performance recorded in an actual naraku into the atrium space. The recording was made in a naraku during the act Natsumatsuri Naniwakagami from the 7th self-organized performance of Ken no Kai by Ukon Onoe, an emerging kabuki actor who spearheads the next generation and also writes about contemporary art. What can be heard from the naraku there?  We engage in the reality of the naraku through the environmental sounds transferred to Kabukicho.


In addition, a seri, or an elevator-type mechanism used to raise and lower a portion of a kabuki theater stage, will appear in the atrium space. It will turn into a site-specific sculptural work that uses the building, with cut trusses going up and down. A hole will also be made on the rooftop, or the upper floor of the atrium space, and the floor of the lowest level, or the bottom of the naraku, will be dismantled. The closed space will be connected to the outside, extending the concept of the naraku in all four directions, to the city and the sky.

A Collaboration with the Kabukicho Festival

This exhibition will also feature the third annual Kabukicho Festival. This unique Kabukicho festival mixes performances by drag queens, pole dancers, as well as burlesque and wheelchair dancers, and we welcome these performers to create the heart of the exhibition from their movements.


The unique Kabukicho customs (the everyday conventions of the town and the trends of the time) that these people have embodied have produced a certain reverse phenomena that brings us closer to the original roots of kabuki.


The entertainment districts (kanrakugai) and the art of entertainment (geinoh) have such strong ties that kabuki and brothels are said to have been the "two most evil places" during the Edo period.


Izumo-no-Okuni, the founder of kabuki, first appeared as a parody within teahouse entertainment, and it was the jorou kabuki (women singing and dancing) in the brothels that spread its popularity.

Since the performers were women, it is said that kanji character for "ki" in kabuki at the time of its emergence used the “woman” (女) radical (妓).


The kabuki art form, which has its roots in the crossdressing of the Okuni Ichiza troupe, not to mention the onnagata (male actors who play female roles) of yarou kabuki (young man kabuki), may also provide unique insight into the history of gender transgression, which has been the subject of much discussion in recent years.


The revolutionary nature of kabuki, which liberated the stage from the otherworldly realm of Noh to that of people’s secular and queer sensibilities, caused various tensions with the male-dominated, misogynistic values and moral senses of the time. It can be said that the history of kabuki, from its origins to its spread throughout the country through jishibai (amateur kabuki), is a history of battles against the prohibition of kabuki by the ruling elite.


The naraku… If we expand the underground mentality of the basement that supports the glorious front stage to the axis of time, could it be possible to interpret it as a space that overlaps with the “Super Rat" history of the entertainment world, which has repeatedly mutated against pressure? This installation, which will be permanently installed after the exhibition closes, may serve as a site to make sense of the identity of Kabukicho and the true nature of entertainment and art in the future.

Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group

Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group is an artist collective that was formed in Tokyo in 2005 by Ryuta Ushiro, Yasutaka Hayashi, Ellie, Masataka Okada, Motomu Inaoka, and Toshinori Mizuno.

Pursuing the realities of the times, they have created critical works that deeply intervene into contemporary society. In addition to participating in exhibitions around the world, they also develop various independent projects.

Since the group’s formation, they have been working on various public projects under the theme of urbanism, representing the individual and the public. In addition to works such as Super Rat (ongoing since 2006), in which they capture rats resistant to poison, BLACK OF DEATH (2008, 2013), in which they gather and guide crows in the sky, and LOVE IS OVER (2014), a street demonstration of collective member Ellie’s wedding, they have also expanded the possibilities of the public street by paving one in their own artist-run space with Chim↑Pom Street (ongoing since 2016). For the Asian Art Biennial in 2017, they laid out another Chim↑Pom Street, a 200-meter path connecting the public street to the museum lobby, announcing unique regulations that transcended the public and private, and creating a legendary site for block parties and demonstrations.

In 2018, the group presented Ningen Restaurant, a project created in a building approaching demolition in Kabukicho amid redevelopment related to the Tokyo Olympics. As a live art event that brought together various people and localities, it presented a spontaneous way of life and proved to be a highly influential project.

In addition, the collective has also tackled environmental issues caused by mass consumption and waste, as well as works that deal with the theme of the members' individual lives. Resisting to consume their projects as transient, or have them consumed as such, they have created unique spaces for discussions and archives through book publications and other means. As a warning against information getting lost amid vast amounts of news, they continue to transform their projects into various forms.

The group also actively curates various exhibitions and events involving other contemporary artists, transforming and expanding not only the state of the artist but also the “surrounding” situation.

Their project-based works are in the collections of not only Japanese museums but also the Guggenheim Museum, The Centre Pompidou among others, and they are spearheading the era as one of Asia’s leading artist collectives.

In April 2022, the group changed its name from Chim↑Pom to Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group.


Oi-chan is a casting director who casts hidden underground gems in mainstream music videos, commercials, and more in hopes of breaking down stereotypes and expanding the minds and futures of performers.

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