Keep the Kabuki

Yesterday, I went on a NUFS sponsored field trip to see a Kabuki play in Fushimi. According to the Digest, it is one of the '18 Best Pieces of Kabuki'. Nobles of the Edo period found it charming, but college students may have a harder time relating to this ancient theatre art.

Let me say, it's not what I expected. While I appreciate the value of immaculate, painstakingly ritualistic performance, it was not my cup of ocha.

Pictures and video in the theatre were strictly forbidden, but I managed to steal a shot before the show started.

The costumes were stunning, even from high in the rafters where we were seated. I wish the camera rules weren't so strict, because the costumes were the only stimulating thing during two hours acts of dialogue.

My favorite parts were the brief moments when a geisha would enter the stage with her entourage. She wore layers and layers of vibrant embroidered kimono, with glinting golden adornments in her large, heavy-looking up-do. The geisha's black lacquered geta were almost a foot tall, a man humbly stretching to hold parasol for her against the harsh lights of the stage.

I had no idea that Kabuki theatre moved so slowly... the entire production was about four and a half hours long, split into three acts and two intermissions. Let's just say, a lot of people were doing their kanji homework in our group.

Essentially scenes would flow this way: a character enters the stage. Fans of that actor applaud or yell out their name. Long dialogue is delivered in a dramatic voice you can't understand unless you are fluent (and possibly also familiar with Kabuki). Sometimes the characters change positions or sit down.

That made up 70% of the show. The rest of the time, there were entertaining dances. Most of the second act had a pair of friends who had been tied up as punishment- one with his hands behind his back, the other with his arms tied to a long pole lying across his shoulders. 

While commiserating, they find a large canister of sake, drink, and begin dancing while tied up. The two friends were wearing vibrant green and orange hakama embroidered with circles, which billowed with every movement. Even while bound they managed to throw, catch and dance with gold fans, that glinted in the warm spot light. 

The live music was performed by an orchestra of sorts, equipped with shamisen, traditional drums and flutes. Sometimes they were on stage as part of the scenery, other times they were hidden behind set elements like fake tea house fronts. The kabuki actors added a staccato beat by 'stomping', or I'd rather say, cracking their sandal against the wood of the stage. 

I honestly preferred the intermissions. Not just because of the colorful omiyage tables and dango ripe for the purchase, but for the fellow audience members milling about. 

Many ladies came dressed in full kimono. One woman even painted her face, wore pink and red kanzashi, and vibrant kimono.

The theatre was gorgeous. The lobby was decorated in rust and gold hues, with lanterns, autumn garlands, and flower arrangements in every corner.

NUFS absorbed most of the cost of this outing, which I didn't realize until I got my ticket. As students, we paid 2,500 yen for the ticket, bus, and an obento meal... but just the ticket alone was 6,500 yen! No wonder everyone else was so dressed up... we were terribly under dressed!

Our next NUFS-sponsored field trip is a weekend excursion to Hiroshima. I am so glad our school offers us the chance to experience Japanese culture outside the classroom, and at a generously subsidized cost! 

Until our next adventure... 

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