Japan day 3: Kabuki theatre


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Asia » Japan » Tokyo » Ginza
May 8th 2019
Published: May 13th 2019
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We left the hotel after a late breakfast to get the subway to the Ginza area. There are signs on the pavement indicating walking and bicycle lanes and warnings about smoking restrictions on the streets. We passed vending machines for confectionary and soft drinks.

Then we entered the subway station. The various lines are indicated by colours and letters. We had PASMO cards for public transport which are like London Oyster cards or Israeli Rav Kav cards. The first part of the journey was quite straightforward, just two stops; easy. Then changing lines became a bit more complicated. We had to use a number of escalators and we had to remember to walk on the left. We eventually found the second line and got onto the second train but it was an 'express' train which didn’t stop at our intended 'local' station. So we had to go back. Eventually we got to Ginza but couldn’t find an exit! Observations: 1) the Japanese signage also has English but there are just so many signs for the 13 criss-crossing lines that it was confusing; and 2) there is no eating or drinking on the trains, nor in the nice clean stations.

Lunch was French toast at a cafe/bakery. Under each chair was a basket for putting a handbag or briefcase.

The loo in the restaurant was quite something. As you enter the room the toilet lid rises. As soon as you sit down the seat warms up and the anti-smell deodoriser starts - oh and music starts playing. Like the loo in our hotel room, you have a choice of wee wash or bum wash. I tried the bum wash in our hotel bathroom and soaked the bathroom floor as I couldn’t find the stop button.

Then to the Kabuki theatre. We noticed no birds (so no poo) and the streets are spotless. 34 years ago when I went to Japan many of the high-rise buildings weren’t there. Today's eight-lane main road was narrower then, with some empty space opposite the theatre where a new high-rise now looms. But the area was still full of very up-market stores.

Kabuki is a classical form of Japanese theatre where they use elaborate costumes and make-up, strange wigs and over-exaggerated expressions, voices and movements. Our guide to the kabuki genre was Kazui Yabe (www.tokyokabukiguide.com). Her knowledge was amazing. She took us to the tearoom in the theatre where I had green tea and Don had roasted tea. Both were served in small tea pots and a miniature egg-timer was on each tray. In addition there was a bowl into which hot water was placed. The hot water had to rest in the bowl for precisely one minute before being poured into the tea leaves in the pots, hence the egg timer.

Kabuki comes from the Chinese characters ka = song, bu = dance and ki = dramatic skill. The Kabuki dance originated in 1603 by women in Kyoto. However, by 1629 the Samurai deemed that women shouldn’t be on show because often the plays were ribald. Then the female parts were played by young boys. But as they too were getting too much attention from men it was deemed in 1673 that all roles be played by men.

The first play we saw was a dance about cranes. Cranes are said to have long lives and this dance was enacted in honour of the new emperor to wish him long life. The percussion section included several women musicians on stage which is rare but apparently so is the instrument they were playing. At the recommendation of our guide, we rented devices which attached to our seats and displayed translations and information about each play in English. Glancing at them helped us follow the dialogue of the subsequent plays and even the dance action implications of this first non-speaking play.

After a 10 minute interval we saw a play called The Picturebook of Ushiwakamaru. This was a very special production as a five year old boy got to make his second appearance. He was given a stage name. He appeared with his paternal and maternal grandfathers and his father. The father and grandfathers appealed to the audience to support him. The lad did himself proud and was very good and very funny. Our guide had explained thoroughtly about the multi-generations of Kabuki actor families and the significance of this new young star. This was validated as many famous actors made cameo appearances during the production and wished the boy well,

After a 35 minute intermission we saw another dance - The Maiden at Dojoji Temple - which was amazing. Most impressive was how the actors in female roles were so convincing in their feminine looks and mannerisms. At one point towels were thrown into the audience. Everyone tried to catch them. Our guide had described this practice so Don quickly got into catching position. He almost retained one but it got away in the scramble. We have included a picture of what it looked like, with the family crest of the lead actor.

Following another 20 minute intermission we saw the final drama - Gosho no Gorozo - which was full of staged sword fights. The 'women' wore clogs which were about six to eight inches high. The entire set of 4 performances lasted over 4 hours. It is a tribute to the art and variety of Kabuki that we surprised ourselves by likewise lasting so long on our first full day in Japan!

Then it was time to get back to the hotel. Luckily the subway journey took only twenty minutes as we seemed to find the changes much easier. At the hotel we had an early night as we have an early start for a full day of touring tomorrow.

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