This paper aims to clarify the historical characteristics of public theatres and halls in Japan, by focusing on Kokaido (city public halls) founded in local cities between the Taisho and early Showa eras (1912-1930). The research on public theatres and halls has been focused on the analysis of the present. An historical approach will indicate the future of public theatres, their functions and their institutions, which are now drastically changing.
First, the process resulting in their foundation is analyzed. Kokaido founded in the Meiji era were places for city councils or social clubs. In the Taisho era, their characteristics changed to become people's public halls.
Secondly, through the analysis of the events provided in Kokaido, we can point to the following functions; A public place for gaining knowledge of current affairs, a place for education through the appreciation of western arts, a symbol of a modern city, and a free space for citizen's use.
Thirdly, the founders of Kokaido such as politicians and business people hoped they would have educational functions. However, there was a gap between the intentions of the founders and the people who assembled there.
After the war, the characteristics of Kokaido changed to become “theatres”. From an historical approach, we can find the problem of Kokaido as places for social education, which was only the idea of the political and economic authorities.