When you take a closer look, Japan is one of the world's outstanding nations of performing arts. There is a variety of technically complex dance performances that you can watch in the theatres across Japan. The most important of these are the Noh theatre or dance drama, the Kabuki, and the Bunraku.
From prehistoric times, dances have served as an intermediary between humans and the gods in Japan. Continue reading the article and learn about some of the traditional performances in Japan.
Japanese Traditional Performing Arts
The three major classical theater forms in Japan are Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku. All three of these performance types have been listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages. Kabuki and Bunraku are Japanese classical arts that can be traced back to the Edo Period. The Noh classical art, first originated in the 14th century.
Originating in the 14th century, Noh is a traditional form of theatre involving music, dance and drama. During the Muromachi Period (1333-1573), a man named Zeami popularized and formalized the Noh we know of today. Four main Noh troupes were established during that era and received sponsorship from shrines and temples.
Structured around music and dance, Noh Theater consists of slow movement, poetic language, monotonous tone, and brilliant costumes. Plots are usually based on history, legend and literature.The themes of Noh plays are often related to dreams, ghosts, spirits and the supernatural world.
All performers in Noh plays are male. There are five essential roles that are involved to create an outstanding performance.The main actor, who is usually masked, dances to the accompaniment of chanting and instrumental music. All the costumes are composed of multiple layers, textures, and details to make the performers look majestic and graceful, but also quite bulky.
The National Noh Theatre opened in Tokyo in September 1983.The auditorium seats 591 for performances of Noh and Kyogen, and there is also a rehearsal stage, exhibition area, lecture room, and reference library.
Address: National Noh Theatre, 4-18-1 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Kabuki is a traditional form of theatre that originated in the Edo Period. Kabuki has captured the hearts and minds of audiences from the beginning of the 17th century to the present day. It is an art form rich in showmanship. Kabuki is the most popular traditional style of Japanese drama.
Music and dance are skillfully applied, bringing life to the characters from Japan's past, both real and imaginary. Plays can range from realistic, tragic dramas to thrilling adventure stories. Plots are usually based on historical events, moral conflicts, love stories, warm-hearted dramas, tales of tragedy and conspiracy, oron well-known stories.
The earliest Kabuki was performed by women, though at present all roles are played by men. Actors playing male roles are called tachiyaku, and those playing women, onnagata. Some actors only play male roles, while others play both male and female roles.
Kabukiza is the main Kabuki Theatre in Tokyo, and it is the biggest Kabuki theatre in Japan. Kabukiza features Kabuki shows throughout the week. Specific times will vary with each show. Kabuki has three to four acts with a 20 to 30-minute intermission between each act.
Address: Kabukiza Theatre, Ginza 4-12-15, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
During the Edo Period in Osaka, Bunraku started as popular entertainment for the commoners. It is the traditional puppet theater of Japan.
Operated by three performers (a principal operator and two assistants), bunraku puppets are approximately one-half to two-third life-size. Instead of using strings, the puppeteers collaborate to maneuver the limbs, eyelids, eyeballs, eyebrows, and mouths of the puppets to produce life-like actions and facial expressions.
Similar to Kabuki, Bunraku is often based on adaptations of tragic love stories, heroic legends, and historical events. The most distinguished compositions by Japan's famous playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653 - 1724) are Bunraku plays,many of which portray some kind of conflict.
The National Bunraku Theater in Osaka is one of the few places to view the fascinating art form today. English programs and earphones are available. Performances are usually held in three week runs in January, April, June, July/August and November.
Address: National Bunraku Theater, 1-12-10, Nippon-bashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0073
Kyoto Cultural Shows at Gion Corner
Gion Corner is a place where you can take in seven kinds of performing arts, most notably the Kyo-mai dance performed by Maiko dancers. You can see Japan's traditional performing arts in digest form all on one stage. Since the show is only an hour, we recommend you to arrive early so you will not miss anything.
Most people go to Gion Corner for this performance alone. The graceful Maiko (Geishas in training) are a sight to behold! The dance is performed by young ladies that went through years of training to become masters of the art of hosting. In addition to the show, Gion Corner also features a Maiko gallery, with videos, hair decorations, fans and other Maiko/Geisha items on display.
The Koto is an ancient Japanese six-stringed zither.It is played by plucking the strings with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand, which are fitted with ivory plectrums called tsume, while the left hand may alter the pitch or sound of each string by manipulating the strings to the left of the bridges.
Tea Ceremony and Flower Arrangement
Tea ceremonies are common throughout Asia, but each country has a different take on what makes a tea ceremony special. For the Japanese, preparing tea is an art form.You can see the tea ceremony performed by a tea-master in Gion Corner. And just after the tea ceremony finishes, two Maiko take the stage and put together a flower arrangement. It is a peaceful and serene part of the show.
Contemporary Theater and Dance
The Japanese are highly committed to preserving their arts, especially the classical ones. If you are interested in something more modern, Japan's Contemporary Theater and Dance should be on your list. The main venues are in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Marunouchi, and you can watch musicals, comedies, classical ballet, and modern dance.
Tokyo Comedy Store
This is an English-language comedy show held in central Tokyo, which features stand-up comedians and improvised comedy. They sometimes also perform other styles, like sketches or musical performances. Please check their schedule in advance because they are not performing at a single location.
This is a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe based in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. Women play all roles in lavish, Broadway-style productions of Western-style musicals, and sometimes stories adapted from shojo manga and Japanese folktales.
Nihon Buyo is a generic term for Japanese dance, which first originated in the early Edo Period. Among the two most important Nihon Buyo, are the Kabuki Dance and the Kamigata-mai. Both dances are performed to the accompaniment of a Japanese lute, but Kabuki Dance has more dynamic and vigorous movements, while Kamigata-mai shows restraint.
There are several ways to book tickets for a show. We recommend the following ways:
For those who are not yet in Japan: It is a good idea to try to secure your tickets even before you get to Japan, to make sure you get to see the show you desire.
For those who are already in Japan: Contact your travel agent if you use one and let them do the booking to save you any hassle. However, if you are on your own, try to book the tickets through a local travel agency or you can always check online and secure your spot by phone.
Securing your spot in a classical or even modern show can be difficult. Let Asia Highlights do the stressful things like making an itinerary and booking tickets for a show in advance, so that you can relax and enjoy the holiday. Please contact us if you have any questions!