There are many things to love about Japanese culture: sushi, street fashion, sake, textiles, lacquer boxes and traditional architecture all rank high on my list.
Add to that Kabuki theater, a Japanese form of popular theater combined with dance and characterized by an all-male cast wearing elaborate costumes and make-up.
Kabuki can best be described by the adjective/genre “avant-garde”. The Japanese term kabuki is derived from the verb kabuki, which means “to be out of the ordinary”.
In the U.S. we tend to think of avant-garde as a 20th or 21st century genre, but Japanese Kabuki began in the 17th century.
Some theaters perform traditional Kabuki, which reflects the boundary-pushing trends that were present when the genre began. Others have continued to modernize the genre. There is now a sub-genre of Kabuki called Super Kabuki, which integrates impressive special effects and adapts the centuries-old storylines of traditional Kabuki. This controversial new form of Kabuki has been criticized by purists, but remains very popular with younger Japanese audience members and tourists. If you can, I suggest taking in both a traditional show and a Super Kabuki performance to better understand both genres.
Where to see Kabuki in Tokyo:
There are two famous Kabuki theaters in the theater district of Tokyo’s Ginza prefecture: Shinbashi Enbujo and Kabuki-za. Shinbashi Enbujo is located near the Higashi Ginza Subway station (address: 6-18-2 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo). Kabuki-za, Ginza’s most established Kabuki theater, is located a few blocks north of Shinbashi Enbujo near the Higashiginza station (address: 4-12-15 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo). The Kabuki-za has been temporarily closed for renovations for several months now, but it is scheduled to re-open in Spring 2013.
Most Kabuki theaters offer headsets that audience members can rent and set to their language in order to have spontaneous interpretation throughout the show. Though Kabuki can be very entertaining without hearing the direct interpretation, I find the experience to be more meaningful when using the headset.
For more information on Kabuki theaters and performances throughout the city, see: http://www.kabuki-bito.jp/eng/top.html
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