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The Fiddler is on a roof in Tokyo – and really enjoying it

TJI Pick
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Published: 11 January 2018

Last updated: 4 March 2024

WHY HAS THE MUSICAL been beloved in Japan for 50 years?

A week and a half ago, I attended the best production of Fiddler on the Roof I’ve seen in years. I didn’t understand a single word. The production in Tokyo marked the 50th anniversary of the show’s premiere in Japan—where it has since become the theatrical company’s most popular American musical.

The late Joseph Stein, who wrote the show’s book, wrote an article the Guardian a decade ago recalling his visit to the first production in Tokyo in 1967: “I got there just during the rehearsal period and the Japanese producer asked me, ‘Do they understand this show in America?’ And I said, ‘Yes, of course, we wrote it for America. Why do you ask?’ And he said, ‘Because it’s so Japanese.’”

But how, exactly, is Fiddler Japanese? Japan is a country that lacks not only a significant Jewish history, but also a broader history of immigration in general that might make the story relevant to those with a parallel experience.

There is no “old country” for most Japanese people to be nostalgic for, no sepia-toned photos of a lost world across the ocean.

The answer, at least in part, lies not in the language, or the tzitzit, or the religion, or even the persecution. Fiddler is Japanese because it’s a family drama.

FULL STORY A ‘Fiddler’ in Tokyo (Tablet)

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