Sign in for a personalized experience.
Japan Guide Homepage
Travel
Living
Forum
Restaurants
Shopping
Jobs
Friends
Arts and Crafts
-
Entertainment
-
Etiquette
-
Food
-
History
-
Language
-
Photo Gallery
-
Religion
-
Tradition

Home - Travel - Arts and Crafts
Kabuki

jump to:   links

Kanamaruza Theater, a traditional kabuki theater

Kabuki (̕) is a traditional Japanese form of theater with roots tracing back to the Edo Period. It is recognized as one of Japan's three major classical theaters along with noh and bunraku, and has been named as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

What is it?

Kabuki is an art form rich in showmanship. It involves elaborately designed costumes, eye-catching make-up, outlandish wigs, and arguably most importantly, the exaggerated actions performed by the actors. The highly-stylized movements serve to convey meaning to the audience; this is especially important since an old-fashioned form of Japanese is typically used, which is difficult even for Japanese people to fully understand.

Dynamic stage sets such as revolving platforms and trapdoors allow for the prompt changing of a scene or the appearance/disappearance of actors. Another specialty of the kabuki stage is a footbridge (hanamichi) that leads through the audience, allowing for a dramatic entrance or exit. Ambiance is aided with live music performed using traditional instruments. These elements combine to produce a visually stunning and captivating performance.

Plots are usually based on historical events, warm hearted dramas, moral conflicts, love stories, tales of tragedy of conspiracy, or other well-known stories. A unique feature of a kabuki performance is that what is on show is often only part of an entire story (usually the best part). Therefore, to enhance the enjoyment derived, it would be good to read a little about the story before attending the show. At some theaters, it is possible to rent headsets which provide English narrations and explanations.

The interior of the previous Kabukiza Theater, a modern kabuki theater

Kabuki conventions

When it originated, kabuki used to be acted only by women, and was popular mainly among common people. Later during the Edo Period, a restriction was placed by the Tokugawa Shogunate forbidding women from participating; to the present day it is performed exclusively by men. Several male kabuki actors are therefore specialists in playing female roles (onnagata).

One of the things that will be noticed are assistants dressed in black appearing on stage. They serve the purpose to hand the actors props or assist them in various other ways, in order to make the performance seamless. They are called "kurogo" and are to be regarded as non-existent.

If you come across people from the audience shouting out names at the actors on stage, do not mistake this for an act of disrespect: all kabuki actors have a yago (hereditary stage name), which is closely associated to the theater troupe which he is from. In the world of kabuki, troupes are closely knit hierarchical organizations, usually continued through generations within families. It is an accepted practice for the audience to shout out the actors' stage names at an appropriate timing as a show of support.

Formal dress code is not required when attending a kabuki play, although decent dressing and footwear are recommended. Sometimes, often on the first day of a run, some ladies dress in traditional kimono.

Rotating stage of a traditional kabuki theater from below

Where to watch it

In the olden days, mainstream kabuki was performed at selected venues in big cities like Edo (present day Tokyo), Osaka and Kyoto. Local versions of kabuki also took place in rural towns.

These days, kabuki plays are most easily enjoyed at selected theaters with Western style seats. A day's performance is usually divided into two or three segments (one in the early afternoon and one towards the evening), and each segment is further divided into acts. Tickets are usually sold per segment, although in some cases they are also available per act. They typically cost around 2,000 yen for a single act or between 3,000 and 25,000 yen for an entire segment depending on the seat quality.

Below are some venues where kabuki can be watched:

TOKYO
Kabukiza Theatre
Above Higashi-Ginza Station (Hibiya/Asakusa Subway Lines)
The Kabukiza in Tokyo's Ginza district was reconstructed recently and reopened in April 2013. It closely resembles its predecessor except for a skyscraper that now stands above it. It is the most accessible theaters for foreign tourists, staging plays almost everyday and offering single-act tickets and English headsets. Single-act tickets are only available on the day at a dedicated ticket window, while regular tickets can be booked online in English.

TOKYO
National Theatre
5 minute walk from Hanzomon Station (Hanzomon Subway Line) or 10 minute walk from Nagatacho Station (Yurakucho/Hanzomon/Nanboku Subway Lines)
Programs vary monthly, and include kabuki or bunraku performances, as well as kabuki appreciation workshops for beginners. English headsets are available for rental.

KYOTO
Minamiza Theater
In the Gion district, just next to Keihan Gion-shijo Station or 5 minute walk from Hankyu Kawaramachi Station
About two runs of three weeks per year, usually one during spring and the other during autumn, are performed.

OSAKA
Shochikuza Theater
In the Dotombori District near Namba Station
Three to five runs per year, each lasting between three to four weeks. English headsets are unavailable, but an English program book can be purchased at the information counter.

FUKUOKA
Hakataza Theater
Next to Nakasu Kawabata Subway Station
Two runs per year, one in February and one in June, are usually performed at this theater.

Historical Theaters

These theaters no longer primarily serve as venues for performances, but are maintained for visitors to experience the feel and structure of a traditional kabuki theater. One distinct feature of traditional theaters is the absence of Western style seats. Instead, the audience is seated on cushions laid on the floor within squarish areas separated by wooden beams.

KOTOHIRA
Kanamaruza Theater (more details)
15 minute walk from JR Kotohira Station or Kotoden Kotohira Station
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Admission: 500 yen
This wonderful, historic theater is open to tourists to explore on their own. Kabuki performances are held only for a couple of weeks in April. The Kanamaruza stands just a few steps away from the main approach towards Kompira Shrine.

UCHIKO
Uchikoza Theater (more details)
5-10 minute walk from JR Uchiko Station
Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
Admission: 300 yen
Also located on Shikoku, the Uchikoza Theater used to stage both kabuki and bunraku performances, but these days only bunraku performances are held infrequently. For most of the year, the theater is open for tourists to explore.

Any Questions? Ask them in our question forum.

Advertisement

User Feedback
We strive to keep japan-guide.com up-to-date and accurate, and are always looking for ways to improve the user experience. If you have any updates, suggestions, corrections or opinions, please let us know:

English Links
Kabuki Web
Offical website by the Shochiku Corporation, the leading producer of kabuki performances.
Japan Arts Council
Offical English website.

Japanese Links
Shochiku
Offical website by the Shochiku Corporation, the leading producer of kabuki performances.
Japan Arts Council
Offical website.

Online Reservations
Hotel
 
Car
 
Flight
 
Bus

(check-in)

Related Pages

Most Recent Autumn Color Report
November 21
Osaka
more reports...

Travel
Living
Japan A-Z
Community
Sightseeing
Accommodation
Transportation
Shopping
Essentials
Regions
Prefectures
Cities
Working
Studying
Living Cost
Apartments
Arts and Crafts
Entertainment
History
Religion
Etiquette
Food
Language
Tradition
Question Forum
Classifieds
Trip Reports
Member Area
Sightseeing Guide
Hokkaido
Sapporo
Otaru
Hakodate
Noboribetsu
Niseko
Furano
Daisetsuzan
Shiretoko
more...
Tohoku
Sendai
Matsushima
Hiraizumi
Hachimantai
Hirosaki
Lake Towada
Dewa Sanzan
Aizu
more...
Kanto
Tokyo
Yokohama
Kamakura
Hakone
Nikko
Kawagoe
Kusatsu
Narita
more...
Chubu
Nagoya
Mount Fuji
Izu Peninsula
Matsumoto
Kiso Valley
Takayama
Shirakawa-go
Kanazawa
more...
Kansai
Kyoto
Osaka
Nara
Kobe
Himeji
Mount Koya
Kumano
Ise Shima
more...
Chugoku
Hiroshima
Miyajima
Okayama
Kurashiki
Tottori
Matsue
Iwakuni
Hagi
more...
Shikoku
Takamatsu
Kotohira
Naoshima
Matsuyama
Kochi
Tokushima
Naruto
Iya Valley
more...
Kyushu
Fukuoka
Nagasaki
Kumamoto
Mount Aso
Beppu
Kagoshima
Kirishima
Yakushima
more...
Okinawa
Honto
Kume
Miyako
Yaeyama
Copyright © 1996-2014 japan-guide.com All rights reserved - Last Page Update: April 9, 2013
home - site map - privacy policy - terms of use - contact - employment - Lɂ‚ - advertising