Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kabuki At National Theatre Of Japan


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.


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


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


  The list of the performances for the next several months.


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


  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.


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


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


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


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).


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


Several posters from the kabuki plays over the years.


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).


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


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.


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!


Robinn T said...

the red symbol reminded of UNIQLO!!!! wthell?!!

donmelvin said...

Great article and beautiful pictures, Calvin, thanks! You are so lucky to see live Kabuki. Do you know who the actors were? I couldn't see it clearly. If you are interested in learning more about Kabuki and Japanese performing arts, check out the JETAANC Kabuki Club website: There you can join our international mailing list and discussion group devoted to Kabuki and Japanese performing arts! Would love for you to introduce yourself or otherwise post as your interests dictate!

calvin said...

@ tempus:
hahaha! great spot-on there! yes, i think it looks very similar to uniqlo logo too lol!

calvin said...

@ donmelvin:
yup, i was really excited to have the chance to watch the kabuki live! i am not very sure about where the actors originated from, as it was only my first time there and my knowledge on kabuki is kinda limited.

thanks for the link and i will take a look at it! =D