Sunday, June 08, 2008


Yesterday, I went to the Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginza to see Kabuki, which is a traditional form of Japanese theatre from the Edo period(1603-1868). The word 'Kabuki' translates as 'dance, music and craft or skill'.

Plays are divided into three categories, which are jidai-mono (historical), sewa-mono (domestic), and shosagoto (dance pieces).

Originally both men and women acted in Kabuki. However due to many of the women also being involved in prostitution, the Tokugawa Shogungate forbade them from acting in 1714, as they disapproved. Now it is only men who perform in the plays and they also take on the female roles. The actors who specialise in these roles are known as Onnagata.

This month is extremely popular for Kabuki as there are lots of famous actors and classic plays, so nearly everyday is sold out. It is possible to buy a ticket on the day, which I did, but you have to get there early and queue for a couple of hours.

Although the performance is in an older, more traditional Japanese that some Japanese people may even have trouble understanding, it is possible to rent an earphone guide which provides a translation of what is happening.

In total I got to see three performances. Each performance was from a different play and lasted a total of five hours in all, although you can just go to one if you want to.

The first play was written by the Japanese playwright Chikawatsu Monzaienor, for the Bunraku puppet theatre. The story is about an artist called Matahei, who has been refused a professional name by his master because of his stutter. As a result of this and the fact he is forbidden from rescuing a princess, he decides to take his own life.

So he will not be forgotten he decides to draw his portrait on a stone drinking fountain. Magically his portrait seeps through to the other side and his master seeing this decides to give him a professional name and allows him to go and rescue the princess.

The second performance was from Yoshio Yama. This story is about two lovers called Yoshitsume and Shizuka, who are in exile and on the run. Shizuka has been left in the hands of Yoshitsume's retainer, Tadanobu. When they become separated a magical fox disguises himself as Tadanobu in order to get closer to Shizuka's drum, which is made from the skin of the fox's parents.

The final performance was from the play Sukeroku Yukari No Edo Zakura and is one of the most famous kabuki plays. It is about a man called Sukeroku, who is seeking revenge for the death of his father. The play is set in an area of Tokyo known as Yoshiwara, which is famous for its tea houses and geisha. Sukero spends his time here challenging people to fights, in the hope they will reveal his father's stolen sword, taken when he was murdered.

This play was by far the most interesting with its colourful costumes, acting and humour and in my opinion was definitely the best one. The audience obviously agreed with me, which was witnessed with the rapturous response given to the actors throughout the play.

I had a great day and this traditional form of theatre is definitely a must see when coming to Japan.

The official site for the Kaubuki-za theatre in Ginza is