Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kabuki At National Theatre Of Japan

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National Theatre of Japan, the venue I saw my first every kabuki theatre.

Another must-see Japanese scene has been ticked off my list.

I received a call right at the middle of one night from my senior, who told me she had a couple of extra tickets to watch a kabuki theatre on the next day. It was kinda last minute thing and she asked me if I was interested to join her to see it. I hesitated a little at first, because I had another appointment on the same day. However, after considering the fact that I might not know when will be the next time for me to get this golden opportunity, I rescheduled that appointment and joined my senior to see the kabuki.

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The National Theatre of Japan is a complex consisting of three halls in two buildings, which primarily stages performances of traditional Japanese performing arts.

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  The exterior of the National Theatre building recalls the ancient azekura-zukuri (校倉造り) style of the Shōsōin.

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  The list of the performances for the next several months.

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Some of the musical instruments used during the kabuki performances, such as shamisen (三味線), second from the right.

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  This theatre is celebrating its 45th anniversary since it was opened in 1966.

The two of us were kinda excited because it is gonna be our first ever experience to watch kabuki. I mean, lets face the fact - it is not cheap to go and see this performance because the cheapest ticket costs 1,500 yen (RM60) and it can go up right until 12,000 yen (RM500) for the superior grade seat. Not only the tickets are very pricey, it is never easy to get them because most of the time, they get sold out very quickly.

It is not an every-day-thing that we gonna get tickets to watch the kabuki theatre for free, and we knew we should never let this great chance slip away. The venue of the performance was the National Theatre of Japan (国立劇場), located in Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo, just a short walk from Hanzomon station.

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The titles of the show we were gonna watch on that day.

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The beautiful poster which shows the kabuki performance (on the right) we went to see.

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We noticed some of the audiences who went to see the show went in their traditional kimonos.

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The Large Theatre (大劇場) is one of the two halls in the main building, which hosts performances of Buyō (Japanese traditional dance),  
Minzoku Geino (folk performing arts), and Gagaku (Japanese court music).

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The lobby, which also acts as a rest area during the show's interval.

Kabuki (歌舞伎) is one of the traditional dance-drama public entertainments of Japan. The origin of the name of the public entertainment kabuki is the verb kabuku (傾く), meaning to be eccentric or extraordinary or outstep the bounds of common sense.

In its history of about 400 years, the spirit that prevailed when kabuki was born has been passed down the generations, while developing in a strong and flexible way by avidly taking in other entertainments and fashions while overcoming various difficulties in each period. As a result, kabuki as we have now inherited it as a "comprehensive art" incorporating various elements of Japanese theatrical performances, dance and music.

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1st Grade A seats for us. Guess how much one ticket costs?

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The interior of the grand-looking hall which can seat 1,610 people at one time.

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Another angle of the hall, taken at the end of the show.

As expected, photography is not allowed throughout the play. So, I have no photos from the kabuki performances. On the other hand, I think it was a blessing in disguise that we are not permitted to take photos during the play; otherwise we would be too busy snapping away and will never truly enjoy the show.

The title of the plays we saw was Nihon Furisode Hajime (日本振袖始), and Sonezaki Shinjuu (曾根崎心中), which translates "The Love Suicides At Sonezaki". Nihon Furisode Hajime is a mythological episode about the conquest of an eight-headed dragon by Prince Susanoo. The title literally means "the beginning of long-sleeved kimono in Japan". In order to heal the princess's fever Suganoo had to cut and rip her kimono on her both sides, creating the first furisode (long-sleeve kimono) in Japan. As for the latter, it was a love-suicide play by Chikamatsu.

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Since I'm such a nice person, I went to search for at least a photo and found one, although it doesn't really do justice on how great the performance is.
This is the scene from the Sonezaki Shinjuu play (photo credit).

To be honest, I hardly able to catch and understand the performers' conversation during the play, as the Japanese used were from the olden days and most of them were honorific speeches. But to be fair to myself, even the Japanese find it hard; so I don't think I did too bad there haha!

Anyway, several points about the kabuki performance worth mentioning are the sophisticated and skillfully crafted background props, the entertaining musical part, the beautiful colourful costumes, the elaborate make-up, the stylization of the drama, etc. When you see them putting so much attention to every minute details on every aspect of the show, then you will understand and learn to appreciate the art even more.

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A huge statue of a kabuki actor at the entrance of the Large Theatre.

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Believe it or not, it is a wooden carving, carved in 1958 (Showa 33).

Even if one do not understand the whole story, we can just sit back and enjoy the pleasant sound of the shamisen musicians, the striking acting and dramatic techniques with emphasis on visual effects, outside the bounds of proper acting techniques, and also how an actor instantly changes to another role.

One useful tip for someone who are new to this kabuki thing; I would recommend you to read up the synopsis of the play beforehand to get a better understanding when you watch the play. I did that for the second play and it really worked.

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Several posters from the kabuki plays over the years.

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This is not a dragon, but a snake, which is one of the characters in one of the kabuki plays, known as orochi (大蛇).

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A drawing to show the kabuki stage in the olden days.

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One of the many Japanese-style paintings or Nihon-ga (日本画) on display on the wall. One painting like this can cost around 3 million yen (approximately RM120,000).

What I notice is that most of the audiences were from the olden generations, and I hardly saw youngsters who went to see the play, except for some small groups of foreigners, whom I suppose were tourists. Anyway, it should not be a surprise as I don't think the younger generations have much interest with these kind of traditional arts in this modern age.

At the same time however, I believe kabuki is one of the unique scenes that do not exists anywhere in the world, and shall be preserved for the future generations. Otherwise, its popularity will slowly becomes lesser and lesser, and it is possible that one day, it will be gone forever.

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A photo after the play with my senior Crystal and Yune-san, from the Asia Bunka Kaikan (Asian Students Cultural Association).

A great experience which I shall always remember!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rasa Malaysia At Chiba University Festival 2011

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Stole Lat's comic (without permission) to promote our "Rasa Malaysia" stall in the pamphlet.

One of the thing I look forward most during my life as a university student is doing stuff only students get to do while they still have the qualification to be called a student. Does the long and twisting sentence above make any sense in the first place haha!

Autumn is the season of maple leaves. It is also usually the season for festivals at high school, college and universities in Japan. Chiba University had its festival early this month, which lasted for four days. One of the thing most people look forward to at a university festival would be the food stalls. After all, who doesn't love food, right? Of the many stalls, the foreign students' stalls usually receive special attention, probably because we often sell food that look weird and unusual to the Japanese haha!

Just like the past few years, the Malaysians in Chiba University decided to set up a stall this year. We call it "Rasa Malaysia" or in Japanese, "Ra-sa Ma-re-shi-a" (ラサマレーシア).

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Everyone started working on the night before the main day. Here's Ikram and Nazriq with their potatoes and carrots for the chicken curry. 
They purposely left the onions for me, for you-know-why reason haha wtf!

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On the other corner, Emon and Azizan working on the dough. It looked easy, but it was pure labour which requires lots of energy. Good way to train your muscles.

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Once Afif a.k.a tauke roti canai was happy with the texture, they begun to roll them into tennis-ball-sized balls.

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Afif is the only one who are able to twirl the dough. His assistant will then spread the thin sheet on the pan until they're cooked.

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I joined in as well (to busybody a bit), trying to learn the skills from the two masters haha!

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Zack led the banana cake team. Just in case you wonder, the chicken on the floor by the way, has nothing to do with the banana cake lol!

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I think I might qualified to write my name in the record book as the person who makes the most cakes in less than six hours. Equipped with two ovens, 
I made twenty banana cakes on one of the nights, that I had bananaphobia the next day hahaha wtf!

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Part of my record-breaking feat lol! That two bananas are just for hiasan and also to show that those are banana cakes.

Before I go any further, I will talk a little about how everything started in the beginning. For this, I will push the timeline back to one year ago. Early April last year, it was my first year since I was transferred into Chiba University. Getting to know the new Malaysian community here was not that hard in the beginning, as everyone was very friendly with the newcomers. In fact, we were welcomed at a party-like ceremony at the International House under an unofficial association we call ourselves CUMSA, which stands for Chiba United Malaysian Students' Association.

However, during the annual Chiba University Festival later that year, a Malaysian stall selling our local delicacies was set up, but unfortunately, only a certain quarter of the Malaysians were involved. The rest were not invited, yet alone approached to join in working together at all. Well, that's what I know at least. That is pretty much different than my time in Nagaoka because although we do have groups, but  we would cooperate as one big group when we did something big.

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Early in the morning, the first thing to do was to set up the tent and decorate it.

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There was quite a big number of us, so that made everything got done very quickly.

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A clear sign to further emphasise that it was our territory haha! I got the banner when I joined the other Malaysians to support our football team in Fukuoka recently.

I thought that was not right, to have split groups when we all came from the same country. At the same time however, I made a kinda crazy and stupid decision, which contradicted very much with my earlier thought - that is to set up a Malaysian stall among our group, without discussing with the other group to cooperate together. However, after getting feedback from a few people in our group, we thought it would be courteous to at least ask them if we would wanna work together this time and make one nice Malaysian stall.

It makes it sound kinda silly now when I think back at that idea to set up two different Malaysian stall. If is like taking two step forward and four step backwards. It will definitely bring more harm than good, and make the relationship worse. When the outsiders see such thing, it will bring up more question marks about Malaysia. And a mistake made here is that both parties made assumptions without even asking. One party thought the other party will reject anyway, so the former just went ahead with their plan without approaching the latter.

Good thing however, that we decided to call out a meeting with everyone, and we came to a decision to set up stall we call "Rasa Malaysia". We planned to run the stall for three consecutive days, from Thursday to Saturday, while making good use of the national holiday which falls on the first day. Although the university festival ends on Sunday, we decided to give ourselves a good rest on the final day, which proved to be a masterstroke decision as it rained on Sunday.

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Our menu this year were roti canai, roti jala, banana cake and chrysanthemum tea.

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One very important element when you have the local Japanese as your main group of customer is to be able to explain to them what those food you're selling.

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These descriptions we hung just below the tent worked very well as most customers will refer to them before deciding what to buy.

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Banana cake was sold at 200 yen for two pieces. Quite a good bargain considering that it tasted really good, and I swear I'm not biased here haha!

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Roti canai at 250 yen. Presentation was also an important factor and placing the curry in the cup had definitely earned us a few extra customers.

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Three rolls of roti jala went for 250 yen. Roti jala attracted the most attention as it is something unique to the Japanese.

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Guess why I decided to post up the photo of these two girls. Judging from the background, I think it is not hard to guess. The answer by the way, 
is NOT because I think they are kawaii.

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As it gets closer to noon, more and more visitors came, which means more customer, more sales and more happiness for us haha!

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We also had ang moh customers, who looked as much impressed as the locals at our food.

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This is one of the most touching scene I saw - business at one point were so good that it made people lining up in front of our stall.

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Some did not miss out to take photos in front of our stall, like this guy who was holding a cup of chrysanthemum tea.

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While for the others, they would try and figure out what made our food taste so good haha!

There are actually many elements which determine how successful you are at such an event. Another one of them would be promotion; how good you promote your stall to the visitors, what creative methods you use to attract people to come to your stall and try out your food, etc. 

You gotta be really bold, to go out there, in the middle of the pathway, release your voice all out to tell everyone about your stall, just like the Japanese. At the end of the day, you are most probably gonna get awarded with a bad sore-throat, but it was really fulfilling and fun actually.

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Our promoters, looking great in their colourful attire and gadgets, ready to pull customers to our stall.

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The Chinese girl came to us and asked us for a photo, which we happily obliged.

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If there is an award for the "Best Promoter", I think it will easily have gone to Wee Kien.

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He is so good that even small kids like this little girl was not spared haha! And once the kid is attracted to the food, the parents would have no choice 
but to get it for their kid. Smart marketing strategy, ain't it?

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The overall design of our stall was kept simple. The board was recycled from last year's one, with some minor touches on it.

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And now, a peek at the people who were working behind the stall. Afif the roti canai man and Ikram the curry boy haha!

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Emon was also one of them in the roti canai team.

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Zack cutting the banana cakes into smaller slices.

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A candid shot under the tent. The expressions of each of them are just unique haha!

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Eating some nice food in between breaks.

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Having a photo with the satay team of our neighbour, the Indonesian stall.

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Mr Ishizaki Masataka from the Chiba Prefectural Office was there as well!

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Andrew, one of our big big senpai paid us a visit on the third day.

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One of our favourite word is "kanbai" (完売), which means sold out.

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All of us went for a sushi dinner on the third day to celebrate our effort.

Business throughout the three days were great. Sales flow was very smooth and fast, especially on the first day that we had to add the quantity halfway through the day. We managed to sell out our food and close shop early on all three days. Compared to what I have gone through during my kosen time, it was not as exhausting as last time, probably because we had much more manpower this time around.

One of my main hope of getting involved in this thing is to try and get the different groups to get along better than before. Many thanks to "Rasa Malaysia", we managed to work together and have more communication between each other through this event. I guess the two groups are now much closer to each other and my only hope is that it will only get better from here.

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To everyone who was involved in "Rasa Malaysia", it was a great pleasure and thanks for the great time!