I’m big in Japan: A night of Kabuki (2005 May 8)

3 minute read

We were off to experience the traditional theater experience of Kabuki and needed to be at the Hamamatsucho bus terminal by 5:30PM. While I knew which station on the Yamanote line we wanted to get off on, I couldn’t quite figure out which direction on the loop would get us there faster. A helpful (and cute) station attendant politely pointed us in the right direction; thank goodness the Japanese language allows for questions like “This station?” and still be understood. Bizarro world invaded my brain and made me believe we were running very late and would miss the tour pick-up. It took a few minutes before Jm got through my thick head that we had plenty of time to arrive.

Now, I’ll let you in on the most important tip no one seems to tell you about riding the trains in Japan. Knowing what train and direction to go is useful, but there are plenty of people and maps that can help you figure that part out. The most important thing to determine before setting foot on a train is what exit you want to take once you arrive at the station. Pick the wrong exit, and you’ll find yourself frantically looking at your map and the landscape for your bearings. Can you guess what happened when we arrived at the stop for Hamamatsucho? Yep, we picked the wrong exit. Fortunately, we were not far off from the actual terminal and managed to find it by 5:20PM.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the elderly couple from D.C. was on our tour and chatted briefly with them about our morning excursions. The tour guide wrangled the lot of us up at 5:30, and we headed off to Tokyo Bay for a delicious sukiyaki dinner. Wish I grabbed a business card for the place so I could recommend it by name. Neither of us knew exactly what to do with the soft boiled egg served with the meal, and the green tea ice cream topped things off quite nicely. Jm tried the plum liquor they served and said it was sweet but good.

Dinner was a bit marred by a boorish and rude elderly Frenchman; he and his family seemed a bit confused about what was going to be served for dinner and complained a bit. It would not have been so bad, but he kept pushing the issue by making comments he thought would be amusing but just came off as insufferably rude.

After our delicious meal, the bus whisked us back to Ginza and the Kabuki-za theater. On the ride to the theater, our guide explained we would be seeing a modern comedy piece, a rarity in Kabuki. He kept apologizing that we would not be seeing something more traditional. Kabuki performances are an all-day affair with three or more plays being performed. You could buy a ticket for the whole day or simply for a particular piece. Upon arrival, we received a small radio receiver that would broadcast English language commentary; however, plenty of the Japanese attendees were also picking up receivers. Our guide explained that due to the language style of kabuki and the age of the plays, even the locals need certain references explained to them.

I’ve always found earpieces to be uncomfortable and had to keep switching ears throughout the play. The play was Togitatsu no Utare (Togitatsu’s Revenge) and spun a tale about two brothers pursuing their father’s murderer. While it did have its comedic moments, I would call it more of a morality play that explored revenge and the circle of violence it produces. The lead actor was a fourth generation kabuki actor Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII. It was an enjoyable evening and made for the perfect ending to our first full day in Japan. After the performance, the bus whisked us back to our hotel, and we crashed hard having enjoyed a busy day of sightseeing.

Kabuki-za Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII

1 comment

Daniel Zelter on

"We were off to experience the traditional theater experience of Kabuki and needed to be at the Hamamatsucho bus terminal by 5:30PM."

If you're really into kabuki, might I recommend the recent manga Backstage Prince from Viz? Oh, and here's the walk-through of Kabuki Quantum Fighter for kicks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q453p_Dwvag

"Now, I'll let you in on the most important tip no one seems to tell you about riding the trains in Japan....The most important thing to determine before setting foot on a train is what exit you want to take once you arrive at the station."

I thought the most important thing is to watch out for gropers. Or is that only in anime and manga?