One-Act Kabuki at Kabukiza in Tokyo: Hitomakumi
For a one-act kabuki show, 800 yen for 20 minutes is far from expensive. A complete morning program at Kabukiza costs between 4,000 yen to a good 21,000 yen, depending on seats. That is 4 to 5 times the cost of eating ramen for 1 person. One-act tickets vary in price from 800 to 1,800 yen. So no, 800 yen for a kabuki first experience is cheap as dirt.
A long time ago, kabuki used to be acted by women. Now, to make the history lesson short because everybody can google it, kabuki is only acted by men. Kabuki actors that play a female role are called “Onnagata”. Lucky enough, this 800 yen show features one Onnagata. Oh my.
This month’s matinee has 4 acts and starts from 11 AM. Shiki Sambaso, Kenuki, Seizoroi Kotobuki Renjishi, and Kagatobi. The one that we will talk about is Shiki Sambaso, the first act in the matinee.
The play has only three actors. The roles are Okina (the old man), Sambaso (the third man), and Senzai (a young lady). Shiki Sambaso means “The Third Man’s Dance”. The Sambaso is the “clown” character in a Kabuki play, normally the center of many celebration dances. We thought that these 20 minutes would be all danced by the Sambaso, but we were wrong. Ha.
How To Buy the One-Act Ticket
One act is called “hitomakumi”, and the ticket can only be purchased on the spot 30 minutes before the show starts. As such, I highly recommend you get in the queue at 9 AM. If it is too early for you, 9:30 or 10 is still safe. Arrive later than that and you might only get standing tickets or may not be allowed into the queue at all. One-act tickets are limited to 90 tickets per act. One can only get one ticket for themselves. Every person in your party has to be present when buying the tickets. Strict, eh? Well, it is Kabuki, an old traditional Japanese performance, a fine showmanship. A kabuki actor must endure hard training from an early age or be born into a kabuki family. Mere commoners like us should be happy to be able to see a highly-skilled art performance by only paying a small fee.
The one strict rule the Kabukiza Theatre has is no photography allowed during the show. (Pictures accompanying this article were taken at the Kabukiza Gallery.)
Back to the ticketing procedure. After paying, you will be given a ticket with a number. This number is not your seat number, it is your queue number. What?! I still have to queue, you say? Yes, this is Japan. We love to queue here.
You will get in a second queue for the elevator that will take you up to the fourth floor. Getting off of the elevator, you will need to queue again to enter the theater. The staff will check your queue ticket now, then allow you in to the theater. As one-act tickets are for unreserved seats, get the seat of your liking. The seats are on the narrow side. Definitely not designed for foreigners. But just endure the uncomfortable seat, the inside is remarkably beautiful! The settings, the ceiling, the decorations, the stage curtains, the stage itself.
Two Minutes Before the Show
The stage curtain has many layers. We got shown numerous pretty curtains before the show. Apparently the Japanese scenery hand-painted on the curtains is a show-off from Kabukiza’s sponsor companies. This picture is not of the curtains, though. But who knows, maybe the costumes are sponsored too.
The First 10 Minutes
Finally, the show starts with music. At the corner, on the right side, there were ten men playing what you call traditional sounds of Japan. It started with an “Eeeoouuuuw” sound made by one of the men. It was funny yet mesmerizing. Followed by a strong pitch by a Japanese flute, combined by vibrations of small taiko drums and all was perfect. These ten men played music and sang non-stop for the whole show.
A lady in kimono appears. Must be the Senzai. She walks in holding a wooden box. We decided to forgo renting the English translation device, so we don’t know what that box is. She was graceful, walked carefully while carrying the box to place it soundlessly on the floor, then she sat, waiting. She was a He, mind you.
Then an old flashy dude wearing a golden kimono came in. He sat on the far back. Next to enter the stage was an even older looking dude wearing a black kimono, who sat on the other side of the lady. The Senzai presented the box to the black kimono dude. The two of them then made space to let the golden kimono dude dance. He danced solo.
The Senzai, as if accepting the man’s dance, started to dance solo as well. She took a rest after a deep bow to the man. The golden kimono dude danced once more. At this point, my companion has fallen asleep on the chair.
The Next 3 Minutes
After dancing, the golden kimono dude took his graceful leave. He made his steps that looks like it has been calculated. Like he needed to take a certain number of steps to leave the stage. The older dude (later we found out that he was the Sambaso) and the young lady were left on the stage to dance. The Sambaso circled the stage yelling “Rejoice, Rejoice!” He stomped the wooden floor, then sat next to the lady with their backs facing the audience. The show assistants helped them to shed their outer kimono. Revealed underneath was the loveliest shade of pink dyed kimono for the lady and a shiny soft golden-silvery kimono for the Sambaso.
The Last 7 Minutes
There were 7 minutes left. And the climax was in these last few minutes. The duet dance by those two was vibrant, full of energy, yet so elegant. The stomping noises the Sambaso made were quite pleasant to the ears. The Sambaso and the Senzai compliment each other, like yin and yang. The poses, the movements that stopped midair, the continuous flow between them was remarkable. There were no unnecessary movements. Their dance tells a story of their own. It’s a dance to celebrate and give blessings. We really did feel blessed. This was the true form of a traditional performance. Suddenly, that 800 yen cost felt insufficient to give us these seven minutes of wonder. It ended too fast. The Sambaso left, followed by the Senzai. And we were left wanting to see more.
A Pit Stop at Kabukiza Gallery
Not ready to leave the theater yet?
Make a quick stop at the Kabukiza Gallery. This cute showcase will greet you at the gallery entrance.
(Just how do they dance with wigs like this??)
You get a 100 yen discount by showing your one-act ticket. Just pay 500 yen. You get to touch many interesting kabuki stage props firsthand. They play a DVD as well.
By the way, the wig piece shown in the picture weighs 2.4 kilograms on your head. Some of the stage clothes weigh more than 5 kilograms apiece. No wonder the female roles are played by men. Talk about efforts to become beautiful.
Kabukiza Theater location : Ginza 4-12-15 Chuo Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Access (Subway): Nearest Station is Higashi Ginza on the Hibiya Line or Asakusa Line, Exit 3, direct access (the underground area is connected to these two stations).
Or take the Marunouchi Line to Ginza Station. It’s a 5 minute walk from Ginza Station.
November Show : November 1-25th, 2016