From Japan: Kabukiza Is Open For Business!


It took over two years of renovating, but the Kabukiza theatre, located in the Ginza district of Tokyo, reopened just the other day on April 2nd.  A parade of actors, as well as a drum ceremony, took part in the grand opening.

What is kabuki, you might ask?

In a nutshell, it’s a Japanese-style play in which actors – all male – dress up in colorful clothing and act out their performance along with a set of dance moves while drums and flutes set the mood in the background.  The word itself is comprised of the Chinese characters “ka” (sing), “bu” (dance), and “ki” (skill).  The kabuki-style drama originated in the early 17th Century by (gasp!) a woman named Izumo no Okuni.  Kabuki quickly grew in popularity, the main attraction being that all the performers were female.  The shogun weren’t too keen on this, and so twenty years later, female performances were banned – and switched to an all-male cast, a custom which remains even to this day.

The Kabukiza is, by far, not the oldest theater in Japan – constructed in 1889 – but certainly one of the most popular, simply because of its convenient location in downtown Tokyo.

KabukiI had the pleasure of seeing a performance several years ago before the renovations began.  And I can tell you, the tickets are not cheap!  I paid about 12,000 yen (US$130) and I was way up in the nosebleeds.  That price included one long performance (a little over an hour), then a bento (boxed meal) for lunch, followed by two shorter performances.

Did I understand any of it?  Absolutely!  And not because of my Japanese language skills.  Translators are offered, in which you stick a headphone in one ear, and listen to an English narrator explain what’s happening and what the characters are saying.  These translators were also offered in Chinese, Korean, and (believe it or not) Japanese.  Yes, a Japanese-to-Japanese translator.  Why?  Because the dialogue in a kabuki performance is ancient, and stretched out vocally which makes it difficult for an amateur kabuki-goer to understand.  Much like trying to watch a Shakespearean performance as it’s sung like an opera.

While kabuki is about as common to the everyday Japanese as a Shakespeare play is to the common Westerner, it is a major part of the culture.  It’s interesting to watch, certainly very different than anything shown in Stratford, and would recommend it to anyone visiting Japan and has a free day to kill.


written by Damon Finos