Kabuki-za Theatre, Ginza
Even non-theatre fans will find something to love about the Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginza. Just a short walk from the famous Tsukiji fish market, the theatre was originally constructed in 1889, then destroyed in a fire in 1921, damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, and burned down again during World War II – so it’s seen its fair share of rebuilding. In 2013, it was redesigned yet again to bear greater similarities to the temples of the pre-Edo period, and this latest revamping is what visitors in 2015 will be treated to. It doesn’t disappoint.
Unlike theatres abroad, the Kabuki-za runs a single show throughout the day, almost daily, running at six acts in total. The acts are of varying lengths, though none surpass two hours. Visitors can opt to watch the entire play, or individual acts, at prices ranging between 1000 and 2000 yen. Best of all, although tickets can be purchased online in advance, there’s no need to do so: you can simply show up for the act you’re interested in. Be sure to show up in good time as even on weekdays the theatre packs up fast, though arriving as little as 20 minutes early should still guarantee a ticket. Once all the seats have been sold, a handful of standing tickets will still be available. The schedule for each show lasts for three to four weeks, restarting each month with a new program. Each programme generally features three different items: a history play, a dance and a domestic play, so you won’t be short of choice!
The theatre’s interior is enormous, certainly far larger than anything you’ll see in London’s West End, or even Broadway. Beware, no photographs are allowed once the play has begun, so be sure to switch off your Smartphone before curtain-up. Headphones are available with an English translation for non-Japanese speakers, just 500 yen with a 1000 yen deposit, or you can purchase an electronic box with a translation onscreen for the same fee. Handily, the top of the box is magnetic, so you can attach it to the seat in front of you, sit back and watch the action unfold. What’s more, if you’re feeling peckish between acts, restaurants inside the theatre offer a number of traditional Japanese meals, and you can even buy sake.
The shows themselves follow the tradition of the Japanese Kabuki style: all roles are played by men, and an orchestra playing traditional Japanese instruments accompanies each performance. You can expect to see actors adorned in elaborate colourful costumes and bright face masks, striking exaggerated poses and gesturing emotively, in keeping with the melodramatic kabuki style. Shouting from the audience is also perfectly routine and is known as kakegoe, literally translated as “hung voice.” It’s intended to encourage the actors and make the atmosphere in the theatre especially immersive – you’ll most likely hear it during more complex dance/fight scenes. Seeing kabuki for the first time is certainly a unique experience, and makes for a worthwhile day out!
A full run-down of the scheduled shows is available on the official Kabuki-za website, www.kabuki-bito.jp