Attractions

Kabuki-za

Kabuki-za

Travel Guide

Introduction

Kabuki-za is Japan’s most famous and grandest Kabuki theatre for the traditional kabuki drama form. It started to function in Tokyo in 1889, but was immediately recognized as the center of Japanese theater culture.

Kabuki-za to be destroyed by fire in 1921. While the replacement building was still under construction, it was damaged by the 1923 Kanto earthquake, but was completed in 1924. This was later was destroyed in World War Two. In 1951 a replacement theater was opened in which to continue the city's finest traditional Kabuki. Kabuki-za was again reconstructed recently and reopened in April 2013. It closely resembles its predecessor except for a skyscraper that now stands above it.

Kabuki-zaThe new Kabuki-za boasts a variety of facilities and attractions for a wide range of people to enjoy. Kobikicho Plaza is directly connected to Higashi-ginza station on the subway line, and is full of lively shops and eateries. In the theatre lobby, you will find stalls selling lunchboxes and a range of goods. The festival-like atmosphere these stalls create will turn your initial nerves into feelings of excitement. In the theatre, the pillars on the first floor have been removed, and the main seats have been made a size larger, enabling you to sit in comfort. To alleviate the concerns of those less-experienced with Kabuki and who worry that the story may be difficult to follow, a new subtitle guide system has been introduced, in addition to the audio guides. Even if it is your first time to watch Kabuki, you will definitely enjoy it at the new Kabuki-za! Why not take a step into the world of Kabuki?

Kabukiza Gallery

The 5th floor of Kabukiza Tower has a roof garden and a gallery. There is an admission fee for the gallery, however you can enter the building freely. You can enjoy Kabuki in a short time on days and at times when there are no performances. Costumes and stage props used in actual performances are on display, and lectures and performance demonstrations are scheduled to be held. There is also a photo studio where you can dress up in Kabuki costumes and have your photograph taken. It is a place you should not miss!

Performance time

Kabuki shows typically last about 4 to 5 hours. Matinees start at about 11am, and evening shows at around 4pm. If that all sounds too much for you, tickets to watch a single act from the 4th floor gallery go on sale on the day of the performance, but turn up early as they often sell out fast.

Performances

Performances are exclusively run by Shochiku. They are nearly every day, and tickets are sold for individual acts as well as for each play in its entirety. As is the case for most kabuki venues, programs are organized monthly: each month there is given set of plays and dances that make up the afternoon performance, and a different set comprising the evening show. These are repeated on a nearly daily schedule for three to four weeks, with the new month bringing a new program.

History

The Kabuki-za was originally opened by a Meiji era journalist, Fukuchi Gen'ichiro. Fukuchi wrote kabuki dramas in which Ichikawa Danjuro IX and others starred; upon Danjuro's death in 1903, Fukuchi retired from the management of the theatre. The theatre was then taken over by the Shochiku Corporation in 1914; the theatre is exclusively run by the company since.

Kabuki-za insideNight view of Kabuki-za

 
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Travel Advice

 

Kabuki

The word "kabuki" means song, dance and technique. It is a traditional Japanese form of theater with roots tracing back to the Edo Period. The first documented kabuki performance took place in Kyoto at the beginning of the 17th century. 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. The most popular performances are "Benkei in the Boat", "The Love Suicide at Amujima" and "Moritsuna's Battle Camp". 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 stage art of kabuki is carried on a hereditary system, which means that a boy born in a family of kabuki actor will most probably follow his father's steps. Usually children of kabuki actors appear on the stage as soon as they learn to walk. Kabuki performance becomes their destination.

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.

To enjoy the play at Kabuki-za

Don’t worry about not being able to understand anything – the language used in Kabuki plays is so old fashioned that most Japanese people can’t understand it either. The solution? Rent a headset so you can receive an excellent translation into English – along with some background explanations of the cultural context. Japanese people need to use the same headsets to translate old Japanese into modern.


 
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Visit

Address 4-12-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Phone 03-3545-6800
Admission May vary depending on the track  
Hours May vary depending on the track  
Closed Irregular
Required Time May vary depending on the track
Getting There By Train
1 minute walk from Higashi-ginza Station on subway Hibiya Line or subway Asakusa Line.

By Car
Take Tokyo Expressway to the Shin-kyobashi exit. It is approximately 1 kilometer, 1 minute from exit.
Parking Paid parking available
 
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Attractions in Japan

 
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