A Priest’s Dream of Open-Air Theater
Hijikata Toshizō, the “demon vice-commander” of the shogunate’s special police force, Shinsengumi, clashes with the head of the government forces. Both sides refused to budge, but Hijikata is finally brought down by a single bullet. He puts his life on the line, dying in the decisive Battle of Hakodate.
The scene is from the play Hoshi no shiro, ashita ni kagayake (Star Castle, Shine on Another Day). Written locally and performed at Hakodate’s Open-Air Theater for the first time in 1988, it has run for 32 seasons. A key advocate of the theater was the late Father Philippe Gourraud. After moving to Hakodate, he resolved to develop the theater based on a similar one near Nantes, in France’s Loire Valley. The Agency for Cultural Affairs was initially reluctant to allow performances at Goryōkaku Fort, a designated special historic site, but Father Gourraud negotiated with the director to find a way. He was certainly a man of action.
The drama unfolds at a fast pace, with content drawn from Hakodate’s rich history. It features the indigenous Ainu, wealthy merchant Takadaya Kahei and the famed Kitamaebune shipping route, the opening of Hakodate to foreign trade, the Western-style fortress Goryōkaku, the final battles of the Boshin War, the poet Ishikawa Takuboku, and so on.
The theme song Hoshi no machi Hakodate (Hakodate—City of Stars) is by local composer Arai Man, renowned for his song Sen no kaze ni natte. For the grand finale, 200 local volunteer performers wave penlights as they sing the theme song along with the audience. It was so moving—I’ll be back next year.
Getting there: 10 minutes on foot from Goryōkaku-Kōen-Mae stop on the Hakodate City Tram
(Originally published in Japanese.)