To say that Japan is rich and grounded in cultural heritage is a total understatement. From castles to cuisine, Japan takes pride in making sure that everything is a cultural experience for both locals and tourists. One of the most interesting yet unexplored activities in Japan is watching Kabuki. Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a classical theater performance which is usually based on historical events. It is known for its all-male cast, grand costumes, copious make-up and accessories. It is also known for the exaggerated movements of its actors. The performance is usually accompanied by live music using traditional instruments. As a classical theater performance, some women watch Kabuki in Kimono to make it a full cultural experience.
Kabukiza Theatre situated in Ginza district is considered as Tokyo’s principal theater for Kabuki performances. This theater was built during the Meiji era by Fukuchi Genichiro, a journalist who wrote various Kabuki dramas. Kabukiza Theater was originally a wooden structure but was engulfed in fire in 1921 due to some electrical issues. It was then rebuilt but was once again destroyed during the Great Kanto earthquake in 1922 and World War II in the 1940’s. The Kabukiza Theater that we see now is refurbished. It is meant to be fire and quake proof, while maintaining the traditional Japanese architecture.
Kabukiza Theater offers performances regularly, one at 11 AM and the evening show at 4:30 PM. As Kabuki usually uses an old-fashioned form of Japanese, it can be very difficult to understand even for the locals. Luckily, Kabukiza offers English translation guide for rent especially for those who have little to no knowledge of the Japanese language. This allows tourists to fully immerse themselves on the performance and its message despite the language barrier.
Address: 4-12-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Business hour: It varies depending on the performance
Phone number: +81 3-3545-6800
Official website: https://www.kabukiweb.net/theatres/kabukiza/
2.Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre
Another theater located in Ginza district is Shinbashi Enbujo Theater. Unlike the other traditional theaters, Shinbashi puts a modern touch on its Kabuki performances instead of following the conventional way of performing Kabuki. This attempt to modernize Kabuki paved the way to the birth of Super Kabuki. Super Kabuki incorporates contemporary values, language and mechanisms such as special effects in its performances. This makes Kabuki more understandable and relatable to the audience, especially the youth. While the attempt is to be more inclusive, some people think that the traditional way is still better. However, Super Kabuki proved its worth as it has increased the percentage of theater goers who watch Kabuki over time.
Unlike Kabukiza, Shinbashi Enbujo offers limited shows. As of current time, the next performances are scheduled in August of this year.
Name: Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre
Address: 6-18-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Business hour: It varies depending on the performance
Phone number: +81 3-3541-2600
Official website: https://www.kabukiweb.net/theatres/shinbashi/
3.Asakusa Public Hall
Asakusa Public Hall is a venue for different types of performances including Kabuki. It was built in Taito-ku to serve as a public facility in hosting various events not only for the residents but for visitors as well. Asakusa Public Hall offers Shinshun Kabuki (New Year Kabuki) to jump-start its series of events for the rest of the year. This venue also offers Kado or flower arrangement workshops and calligraphy exhibitions. Kabuki and other Japanese dances are usually performed in the Large Hall as it has hanamichi, a narrow bridge which connects the stage to the audience seats. This allows the actors to move around and maximize the space for artistic engagement.
Name: Asakusa Public Hall
Address: 1-38-6 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Business hour: 9:00 am~5:00 pm
Phone number: +81 3-3844-7491
Official website: https://asakusa-koukaidou.net/en
The National Theater of Japan is located in Chiyoda, Tokyo. It is run and maintained by the Japan Arts Council. It consists of three halls which host different cultural performances. The Large Hall houses the Kabuki and Buyo (Japanese dance) while the Small Hall hosts the Bunraku (puppet performance), Shomyo (Buddhist Chant), Japanese music and folk theaters. Rakugo (storytelling) and Manzai (stand-up comedy) are performed at the Engei Hall.
The Large Hall of the National Theater is intricately designed, complementing the performances it houses, especially Kabuki. It also provides an English language audio guide for foreigners. Not only that, there are also English-speaking ushers who are ready to help you and answer your questions. The National Theater offers regular shows all throughout the month, starting from 11 AM until 8:30 PM.
Name: National Theatre
Address: 4-1 Hayabusa-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Business hour: It varies depending on the performance
Phone number: +8 3-3265-7411
Official website: http://www.ntj.jac.go.jp/english/access/facilities_01.html
5.EDOGAWA-KU SOGO BUNKA CENTER
Just like the National Theatre, Edogawa Center is a cultural facility for various events such as theatre performances, music, dance, competitions and even lectures. Aside from performance halls, it also offers training/rehearsal rooms. Kabuki, among other theatre performances, is housed in the Large Hall. From the acoustics to the lighting equipment, Edogawa Center makes sure that their halls are perfectly designed for cultural performances. This center is a great place to foster culture as it is a nature-rich facility and is surrounded by water and greenery. It is also a one-stop place as you explore Japanese culture as it is adjacent to different sites such as Katori Jinjya Shrine, parks and other recreational activity centers.
For their Kabuki performance schedules, you can visit their official website or Facebook page listed below.
Name: EDOGAWA-KU SOGO BUNKA CENTER
Address: 4-14-1 Chuo, Edogawa-ku , Tokyo
Business hour: 9:00 am~21:30 pm
Phone number: +81 3-3655-9935
Official website: http://edogawa-bunkacenter.jp/
For foreigners visiting Japan, including Kabuki in your itinerary can get you mixed reactions. Some people who went to see Kabuki have enjoyed it, while some said they weren’t able to get into it as much. Perhaps, it is because of the difficulty to understand the performance in its entirety.
Before seeing a Kabuki performance, it is best to scout theatres which offer English audio guide. This is the most crucial step in immersing yourself in a Kabuki performance. Next, locals suggest that theatre-goers should read a little about the story, as it gives you a heads up on what the performance is all about. It could be about a historical event, a romantic drama, comedy, and so on. You can see the details of the act as you purchase your ticket in advance. You can come in with a single act ticket or complete the segments of a whole day performance. Tickets range from 2, 000 yen to 18, 000 yen, depending on the seats and season.
Overall, Kabuki is one of Japan’s gems in showcasing their culture and history through performing arts. From traditional theatre, it has even branched out to modernized versions to cater to contemporary times. This makes its appeal even wider. When in Japan, make sure to squeeze in a trip to a Kabuki theatre for a one-of-a-kind experience!
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