Kabuki lives!

Revamped Kabuki-za theater aims to charm a new audience

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

Mar 29, 2013

The Kabuki-za is back — with big ambitions and aspirations to make the nation’s classical theatrical entertainment more attractive to a 21st-century audience.

The reopened kabuki theater — now reconstructed for the fifth time — in the upscale shopping-entertainment district of Ginza, will roll out a new monthlong program from next Tuesday, three years after it was torn down to be replaced with a more earthquake-resistant structure.

The new building, designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma, retains the Japanese-style facade of its previous incarnations, the first of which opened at the same site in 1889. Improvements include barrier-free toilets, and less seats at 1,808, but bigger ones that also offer a bit more leg room between the rows. The ticket booths are now located on the second basement floor, which is linked directly to Higashi-Ginza Subway Station and is complete with a souvenir shop and a cafe.

The first three floors — which house the stage and the seats, as well as more souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes — maintain the previous building’s ambience, with its red-carpeted flooring featuring an elaborate symmetrical rhombus pattern of four birds, a design inspired by the one adorning the Byodo-in Temple’s Hoodo (Phoenix Hall) in Kyoto. For people interested in getting just the taste of kabuki, the fourth floor offers makumi seats (good for a single act) for ¥800 to ¥2,000 per person, a fraction of the prices you would pay to watch the entire show (¥4,000 to ¥22,000).

What’s markedly different about the new building, compared with the past four buildings, is that it comes with a 29-floor office tower at its rear. A gallery space on the fifth floor has also been created to introduce kabuki to a broader spectrum of people, many of whom, while recognizing the cultural and entertainment value of the art form, have shied away from actually visiting a kabuki theater.

Kabuki was originally started in 1603 by a female performer named Izumo no Okuni, who organized performances on the dry bed of Kamo River in Kyoto. And it has survived to this day as popular entertainment — with no financial assistance from the government. Dealing with themes dating as far back as the Sengoku Period of the mid-15th century through the late 16th century, kabuki is characterized by stories that are sometimes comical, at times tragic and at other times scary. It’s performed by actors wearing extravagant makeup and costumes, while live music and sounds from taiko drummers, flute players and wood-clappers amplify the mood. Some fans of kabuki say they are fascinated by the characters and plots that, four centuries on, still resonate with many, while others are mesmerized by the acrobatic feats of the actors, who often jump around on stage, emerge and disappear through trap doors, and switch from one costume to another in the blink of an eye.

Yet, despite the enthusiasm, it’s no secret that the world of kabuki — whose actors today are male-only and mostly inherited through blood lines — is at a crossroads.

“Kabuki has been staged solely by the private sector, which means we must make it commercially viable,” Junichi Sakomoto, president of Shochiku Co., told a news conference in Tokyo last week. Shochiku, founded in Kyoto in 1895, is the only production company for kabuki, while it also produces movies and distributes anime films. “We aren’t interested in merely preserving it as a traditional art form. We must make it relevant as modern-day entertainment.”

(go to The Japan Times online for more story and a photo)


It could happen...

Fuji eruption may displace 750,000


Mar 24, 2013

SHIZUOKA – Some 750,000 residents in 14 municipalities in Yamanashi and Shizuoka would need to evacuate in the event of an eruption of Mount Fuji, which straddles both prefectures, a recent estimate shows.

The forecast was presented at a meeting Friday of a joint council of the two prefectures and Kanagawa Prefecture, which adjoins both Shizuoka and Yamanashi. The council plans to draw up evacuation plans by autumn.

The estimated number of people who would be required to evacuate is the largest, at 130,000, in Shizuoka Prefecture areas, including the city of Fuji.

The estimate was based on simulations of lava and pyroclastic flows, or a mix of high-temperature fragments of volcanic origin such as molten rocks, ash and gas, from 3,776-meter-high Mount Fuji, an active volcano.


Two plus Two = (Wow!)

Thinking about recent news, it all adds up. A few days ago, Korea was nearly shut down by multiple, simultaneous computer mischief. No missiles, no troops, no osprey helicopters—and no human casualties—were involved. Isn’t this what 21st century warfare will look like?

This is just one person’s opinion, but doesn’t it seem that spending a fortune on military bases and military hardware—and ruining the beautiful environment that is Okinawa’s sole natural blessing—is an obsolete way to go about defending a country? If cyber attacks are the way of the future, wouldn’t it be better to defend ourselves by sending our best and brightest to computer school? Job training and national defense, all in one neat package: Wow!


Faster than a Speeding Bullet Train

One of the nice things about Japan is that you can get from almost any Point A to almost any Point B (unless it's in Okinawa) by train. Another nice thing is that the trains are getting faster and faster. Here's the latest:

320-kph Hayabusa matches world speed record


Mar 17, 2013

Hayabusa ("hawk") bullet trains began running Saturday at a new top speed of 320 kph on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, equalling France’s TGV as the world’s fastest train in operation.

Meanwhile, a new red E6 series bullet train debuted on the Akita Shinkansen Line the same day and part of local train lines in Miyagi Prefecture resumed operation for the first time in two years, providing a sliver of good news for the disaster-hit Tohoku region.

The E5 series Hayabusa, which links Tokyo with Aomori Prefecture on the northern tip of Honshu, now reaches speeds of 320 kph between Utsunomiya and Morioka — the capitals of Tochigi and Iwate prefectures.

The Hayabusa’s previous maximum speed — 300 kph — was eclipsed Saturday as operator East Japan Railway Co. revised its service schedules. The bullet trains now cover the 714-km distance between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori stations in two hours and 59 minutes — 11 minutes faster than before.

“I felt the scenery fly by. If more people come and go (to Tohoku) it will help revive the disaster-hit areas,” said Kazuo Saga, a 39-year-old company worker who rode the Hayabusa from Sendai to Tokyo.

The maximum speed of the new E6 series, dubbed Super Komachi, is 300 kph — up from the 275 kph clocked by the E3 series.

Many train enthusiasts took photos as the first Super Komachi departed from Tokyo Station at 6:56 a.m. Saturday.

Also Saturday, operations resumed between Watari and Hamayoshida stations on the Joban Line and between Watanoha and Urashuku stations on the Ishinomaki Line, both of which were badly damaged by the March 2011 quake and tsunami.



Even though almost everyone in the real world of Japan is against it, our Prime Minister has declared Japan will join the TPP. Never mind local sourcing of food, some aspects of the economy might possibly rise by a fraction of a percent, he says. He also is quoted as follows, concerning Japan's ability to persuade the TPP people to allow Japan Japan's rules: Abe admitted that “it will be difficult to overturn rules already set” by the 11 TPP member countries in past rounds of talks.

It is frightening to think that the land that currently has the world's greatest longevity--due largely to food culture--is turning over rules concerning food supplies to the land that gave the world fried butter.



It was especially cruel that our Prime Minister's announcement of his intention to have Japan engage in foreign military adventures coincided with the anniversary of the devastating tsunami and earthquake of March 11, 2013--and the budget hearings allocating Japan's money. When people are still living in emergency housing, when the infrastructure that supports the local economy has not been replaced, do we need to hear that our money is going to be used to destroy other people's homes and infrastructure? (that's what military adventures usually accomplish)

Shouldn't Japan be a nation that stands up for its peace principles and chooses life over war? There is still time for Japan to do the right thing. Or is the clause in the constitution about the people's right to a decent standard of living going to be the next to go?

PS: If you have never read Japan's constitution, why not google it? It's a lovely document and can be read in its entirety in about 20 minutes.


Oh, Really?

I can't believe a sitting Prime Minister said this about his own country's constitution. Japan has taught the world to love sushi, sumo, anime and all manner of alien cultural offerings. Why not share with the world what Japan learned the hard way, ending in 1945: Grown men aka hawkish governments waging war on women and children is immoral. Japan, the only country with peace spelled out in its constitution, needs to own its own history.

Shame on Prime Minister Abe for saying:

"The war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution should be revised so that Japan can participate in collective military action authorized by the U.N. Charter, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared Saturday." (from the Japan Times online)

Is this something that should be said by someone who is meant to be guided by that very constitution?