No, I’m not talking about this:
Picture from Filipina Glitters.
During my undergraduate days in NUS, I attended a class on Japanese culture and the lecturer showed a video of a Kabuki performance during class. (He also showed a Noh play – I dozed off after a minute of intense, forced concentration) I enjoyed that video tremendously, so I thought I should watch a Kabuki performance while in Japan. Here’s a taste of a kabuki performance if you have yet to lay eyes on one:
This is not the performance I watched, but this is the only one I could find on youtube – and the English commentary comes with the audio guide (600 yen).
Being a Kabuki novice (an idiot, actually), I was quite clueless what to watch. Should I watch that classic? Or that one with the very interesting scandal weaved into it? Should I watch a matinee or an evening show? Also, my grasp of the Japanese language is limited to short sentences (e.g: Excuse me, where is the toilet?) – it is certainly not enough to understand a whole play in classical Japanese. Another problem I encountered was the ordering of tickets online – I had to be in Japan to get the good seats.
Therefore, I did some research, and found this Japanese lady who could get tickets and explain the Kabuki play for me. For a good introduction to the world of Kabuki plays, please contact Kazui Yabe-san – the Tokyo Kabuki Guide.
I watched Arakawa no Sakichi and Yamashina Kankyo. A synopsis of both plays can be found on this website.
I enjoyed Arakawa no Sakichi tremendously. I even burst into a waterfall of tears near the end of the first half. I wasn’t the only one – 2 Japanese ladies beside me were sniffling away. Yamashina Kankyo was sleep-inducing. I guess that means I should stick to contemporary Kabuki plays.
For the uninitiated, all performers in a Kabuki play are all men. Even for the feminine roles – and they are convincing. Until you scrutinise the actors. The first Kabuki performer was a female (Izumo no Okuni) in Kyoto. Female performers were banned after a while, as the authorities deemed the performances to be too erotic. It then switched to an all-male cast. My Japanese friends say that Kabuki is better in Kyoto (since it started there), but watching it in Tokyo is a lot easier since I don’t have to get tickets on my own.
Yabe-san starts her session with some traditional Japanese green tea and sweets.
The tea is bitter but tastes perfect with the sweet. So take a bite of the sweet before taking a sip of the powdered green tea. At this tea house, she will bring out her notes and explain the context of the play. It’s sort of like a mini-lecture. At the end of it, she will pass you some notes about the plays in English. She walks to the theatre with me, sprouting Kabuki information along the way. We pick up a bento and an audio guide outside the theatre (bentos are cheaper outside the theatre) for me.
I’m sitting in the theatre – eating my bento and trying to read those notes before the play starts. I didn’t finish reading.
Half-time came along, and the stage assistant comes out to lay the ‘snow’ for the next play.
This is one of the highlights of watching a Kabuki play live. This and getting snacks from the snack stalls in the theatre.
My thoughts after watching a Kabuki play?
Merry Christmas, everyone! There are 12 days of Christmas, after all.