To see Kabuki is to know Japanese culture
“In Kabuki, things such as Japanese culture, its color sense, body language and spirit are condensed, which makes it a representation of Japan itself. To watch Kabuki is to know Japanese culture”, says Mr. Petr Holy, who is a Kabuki researcher and enthusiast who watches performances once a month. Mr. Holy is the former Director of the Czech Centre in Tokyo and is currently a representative of CHEKOGURA, which plans various events that introduce Czech culture (his contribution will be described later).
“A theatrical performance starring only male actors with 400 years of history, registered as an intangible cultural heritage,” may sound highbrow; however, it is a cultural activity that was originally enjoyed by common Japanese people. It has enough appealing aspects to attract people, even if they don’t know the Japanese language, such as performances by Onnagata (a male actor who plays female role in Kabuki) with glamorous movements that are more feminine than real women, powerful performances by actors playing male roles with unique makeup, dances set to music performed by Onnagata wearing gorgeous kimonos, and fancy sets that represent early modern Japanese culture.
The Kabuki theatre “KABUKIZA”, the home ground for Kabuki, reopened this April. It has been renewed with a building that has a photo studio where visitors can wear a Kimono and have a commemorative photograph taken, a gallery that conveys the appearance of the actual stage, and a shop that sells original products.
The appeal of the reopened, remodeled “GINZA KABUKIZA”
“GINZA KABUKIZA” is a complex made up of a permanent Kabuki theatre, “KABUKIZA”, and the 29-story Kabukiza Tower building. With KABUKIZA and its traditional appearance and the modern building with its white exterior wall coming together in beautiful harmony, it has become a new landmark of Ginza, an entertainment district that represents Japan.
The appeal of “GINZA KABUKIZA” is not just its theatrical performances. It also has facilities of various types that allow visitors to experience the excitement of Kabuki, which was originally a bright form of entertainment and a social occasion.
For example, in the “Kabukiza Gallery” on the 5th floor of Kabukiza Tower, events are held with various themes. The theme of the opening event is “The Beauty of Kabuki”. You can very closely observe real stage costumes or stage sets and props that are usually difficult to see, under the theme of “spring”. Colorful and gorgeous costumes for princesses or samurais or elaborately-made props will convey the traditional and depth of the world of Kabuki.
“Studio Alice” is an experience-based photo studio, where you can be in photo shoots wearing Kabuki costumes. There are rental costumes available for photo shoots, and professionals will do your makeup and dress you, so you can simply show up as you are. The photos taken there will surely become a precious memory of your trip.
The shop “Kaomise” located in the Kobikicho Plaza on the 2nd basement is perfect for buying souvenirs. There are a variety of sweets available as well. “Kobikicho Hall”, where various events including lectures by Kabuki actors will be held, is on the 5th floor. In the Japanese style café also on the 5th floor, you can taste delicious Japanese teas while viewing a little Japanese garden.
Since these facilities are open even when no performances are held in KABUKIZA, you can enjoy the world of Kabuki whenever you want. Why don’t you stop by while shopping in Ginza?
Address: 4-12-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Connected to Higashi-Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya and Toei Asakusa Lines
Ten-minute walk from Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza, Marunouchi and Hibiya Lines
A practical guide to watching Kabuki
Following the first performance in April, many famous Kabuki plays will be performed in May and June. In particular, “Kyo Kanoko Musume Ninin Dojoji”, which will be performed in May, consists mainly of dancing by two Onnagata representing the Kabuki world, and takes place on a glamorous stage that you can simply enjoy watching. Conversely, the characters in “Kotobuki Soga no Taimen”, which will play in June, are mostly males. It is a powerful play that is typical of Kabuki. “Sukeroku Yukari no Edo Zakura”, which will also play in June, is the most classic Kabuki play, in which oirans (luxury prostitutes) with gorgeous costumes appear. This is a popular play that allows you to feel the sophistication of Edo Culture, in which Kabuki blossomed.
Performances in KABUKIZA are held three times daily in the morning, afternoon and evening during the three months of April, May and June, and a different program is performed each time. There are five classes of tickets, including balcony seats, First Class Seats, Second Class Seats and Third Class Seats (A or B), as well as lower-cost tickets for those who wish to see only single act (At-Door tickets only). You can purchase a ticket directly at KABUKIZA (Box office at the 2nd basement floor) or through the Internet or by phone.
Many stories are set in Japan during its medieval era; however, there is no need to worry if you don’t understand Japanese. Rental earphones are available (paid service) that provide narrations of story contents or points for watching as the performance progresses, so that non-Japanese audience members can smoothly be immersed into the world of Kabuki. In addition, aside from KABUKIZA, there are many theaters in Japan where Kabuki is performed. Representative theaters are Shimbashi Enbujo (Tokyo), Osaka Shochiku-za (Osaka) and Kyoto Shijo Minami-za (Kyoto). Theaters in local cities or public facilities also sometimes stage Kabuki performances; if you are interested, please stop by.
Kabuki – its phoenix-like appeal epitomizing Japanese culture
(Petr Holy, Representative of CHEKOGURA)
It has been 410 years this year since the birth of Kabuki, a Japanese traditional drama about which it can boast to the world. The three-year-long remodeling project of KABUKIZA, which is a theater representing KABUKI, was completed in March, Kokera Otoshi (the opening ceremony) for KABUKIZA was held on April 2nd. If I was asked, “In what form is Japanese culture, its customs, physical consciousness, way of walking, timing for pausing, body language, sense of color, elegant sense related to the four seasons, and folksy enthusiasm most concentrated?”, I would answer that is in Kabuki. It can be said that Kabuki is the epitome of Japan itself.
While KABUKIZA was closed, there was a significant generation change in the famous family representing the Kabuki world. Although some great actors have passed away, much to the people’s regret, we look forward to dynamic performance by young actors. When looking back at the history of Kabuki, even though it has faced crises many times including bans due to being too popular, it has risen again like a phoenix. Its mysterious world lures us in and its stages wait for us, while increasing in their brilliance.
We won’t let you say that Kabuki is too difficult; we want both Japanese and non-Japanese people alike to enjoy its sophistication and unique atmosphere, which cannot be felt anywhere else, even if there is a language barrier. To watch Kabuki is to know Japanese culture.