Photo:lensonjapan, via Wikimedia Commons

Kabuki Theatre: Learn More with a Guide

Fancy checking out one of Japan's stunning performing arts forms but don't know where to start? Want to know more about the layers of meaning and history you see on stage? Tokyo Kabuki Guide is here to help!

Kazui (Tokyo Kabuki Guide) with myself and my friend outside the Kabukiza, pre-performance

When in any country, having the opportunity to see and hear some of the culture’s traditional performing arts is a truly fascinating and exciting experience. It gives you the chance to open your eyes and ears to something totally new and different, to see another culture's views on beauty, enjoy a different way of storytelling, to get a glimpse of how this culture used to live many centuries ago. In Japan, there are many traditional performing arts which have been carefully preserved allowing you to travel back to the 17th, 14th and even 10th century from the comfort of your theatre seat! One such revered art form in Japan is Kabuki: epic tales of the Edo period and earlier told through song, dance and acting by a dynasty of highly trained actors. With the amazing revolving stages, vibrant make-up and costumes and dynamic acting style, the experience transcends language barriers and provides an exciting spectacle for all. However, Kabuki is a highly refined art form with many layers of meaning: for example the various make-up styles each hold different meanings and the audience interact in a particular way at particular moments-all of this can take years and many viewings to understand! To top it off, getting tickets can also prove pretty tricky, especially for a non-Japanese speaker. This is where Tokyo Kabuki Guide steps in: experience Kabuki and learn more about what you see and hear with a friendly and passionate guide!

When a friend came to visit me in the spring, we wanted to see some Kabuki together. Through a recommendation from a friend, I contacted Tokyo Kabuki Guide and had a fantastic experience. The general outline of the service is reservation of tickets on your behalf, a pre-performance presentation about the meaning and history of Kabuki, along with an explanation of the storyline for the performance you shall see, a traditional tea and sweet in the stylish cafe pre-performance and extra information in the intervals.

First of all, via email I spoke with Kazui Yabe, my Kabuki guide, via email. Kazui speaks fluent English, her website is also available in English and she replies to emails very promptly, making it easy from the get go. I specified which days I would be able to go and Kazui provided me with a list of the available performances at Kabukiza, Ginza-arguably the most famous kabuki theatre in Japan.

Kazui then purchased the seats for the performance on my behalf in the seating area I requested (do be aware, the prices vary drastically!). As we chose the gallery seats, Kazui offered use of binoculars free of charge if we wanted to see the detail of the make-up and facial expressions. She then provided a breakdown of the performance day: we had booked to see a 4 hour performance which included a short one, followed by a premiere for a new Kabuki actor of just 2 years old(!), a full 1 hour 30 minute play and a dance performance. To be honest, my friend and I thought we would not stay for the full performance, we thought we would Kabuki-ed out by the end of the full play. However we enjoyed it so much we stayed for the dance performance too and didn't regret it! Kazui had no issue with us leaving early if we wished to.

The easy-to-find shrine outside Kabukiza where we met with our guide (closest station Higashi-Ginza, Exit 6)

Kazui sent us very clear details of where to meet on the day of the performances. Here we assembled and had a photo outside the beautiful theatre together. She then led us into the theatre and to the stylish cafe where she had reserved a private booth for us. Here was where the pre-performance presentation was to take place, accompanied by a traditional matcha (green tea) and sweet set. The presentation was thoroughly interesting and the enthusiasm Kazui has for Kabuki was incredible-when I met with her, she had just been to Las Vegas to see a particular Kabuki performance! We were given fun and informative print outs; including pictures of the make-up designs of the different characters and what they represent and the history of the famous families of Kabuki actors. We were encouraged to ask questions (great for me as I particularly wanted to know more about the music and instruments used) and we left the presentation feeling much better prepared for what we were about to experience.

Seasonal sweet and match set at pre-performance talk (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Sloan).

We then collected our tickets and Kazui arranged for us to receive English subtitle devices so we could follow the story easily. She then showed us to our seats and lent us the binoculars before sitting down to enjoy the show!

During the intervals between each performance, Kazui checked in with us to see what we thought, to give us extra information and to generally be friendly and welcoming! She also pointed us in the direction of the taiyaki (fish-shaped pancake filled with sweet red bean paste) which was the perfect interval snack!

We met once more at the end of the performance to discuss our experience - and you certainly do experience a lot in 4 hours of Kabuki! - and to bid our farewells. It really was a special experience and a unique chance to meet someone so knowledgeable on Kabuki and so keen to share this with you. Kazui even sent us press clippings and photos from the performance when they became available a few weeks later – extending the experience even further!


Tokyo Kabuki Guide website

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