Today’s adventures included poking over to Ômori briefly (for the shell mound; apparently there’s a whole park to it but I only found a single plaque and stone marker) and to Tôdai (for remnants or signs/markers for the Kaga han mansion which apparently are not to be found at all – turns out I was at the wrong campus), but the key event of the day was the Kabuki.
It’s perfectly common and typical for the National Theatre to run various kinds of explanatory programs aimed (in particular) at high schoolers. I’ve been to several with my various study abroad programs, and they always put me to sleep. … Today’s was a bit different, and I’m really glad that my sensei recommended it (and especially glad that the friend I brought along, who had never seen kabuki before, enjoyed it). My sensei had said it was a little more like an idol show, like Johnny’s Jrs. or something, and, yeah, there was a bit of that aspect to it.
The show started basically just like a boy band concert might open, with loud, energetic music, flashing lights, and a video of handsome young men in hip Shibuya fashions arriving at the theatre. Once the boys were onstage, the tone quieted down considerably. But, still, to have these teenage actors in regular street clothes explaining things out in an easy-to-understand, but not talking-down-to-you sort of way, with hints here and there of being a bit more current and hip and really connecting to the audience (who is, after all, in theory, primarily kids their own same age) just really worked. Kept people excited and engaged, at least as far as I could tell, and was still quite informative and not really watered down or anything at all.
Actually, I learned quite a few things myself – such as the fact that stageleft and stageright are called kamite (up hand) and shimote (down hand), respectively. I suppose this could be hard to keep straight as up and down don’t really have anything to do with left and right, and since, at least in English, in the West, we use “upstage” and “downstage” to mean forward and backward, toward and away from the audience. But, in any case, since it doesn’t involve the words left and right, maybe it’s less confusing than the English terms stage left and stage right. ; It was also great to get a peek at some things we don’t normally get to see, starting with the young onnagata in regular, male, street clothes, and with the stage totally open and bare. We also got a small peek inside the kuromisu (orchestra box), and inside the gakuya (actor’s dressing room) and the makeup process.
The performance itself was Migawari Zazen, which I’ve seen before. Nakamura Kazutarô and Hayato, who led the explanations, played the secondary characters of two young serving girls in a play about a daimyo (samurai lord) who has someone else stand in for him and pretend to be retreated in meditation so he (the lord) can go off and visit his favorite courtesan without his wife knowing. (Spoiler) the wife finds out, and then takes the place of the replacement, so that when the lord comes back and thinks he’s telling all about his adventures to his friend, he’s actually revealing all his trespasses to his dragon lady of a wife. Craziness ensues.
Following the performance, the two boys came out again, stripped of their onnagata makeup, and now wearing (men’s) kimono and hakama, and explained a bit more about the art form.
All in all, I thought it was not only a pretty good introduction to kabuki – and a far more engaging one than I’ve seen before – but also, a fun performance to see for those more experienced… I feel like it’s a fairly special, if not entirely rare, thing to see the younger actors taking such a leading role not only in performing (as they did perform small bits here and there in the course of the explanations, including a sort of show of dexterity at the end, dancing and throwing fans around with their hands tied up) but also in explaining things and interacting with the audience – leading, heading, really, the entire day’s events. I can only assume that at least some of the program, if not the majority of it, was thought up by these two young men (how to make it appealing and engaging, etc.), and I just think it’s really great that such sort of flexible, innovative, new things are going on, introducing people to kabuki in new, exciting, accessible, and innovative ways, while still keeping the actual kabuki itself true to the “real” performances one would see another day and place. The Migawari Zazen – the part of the day’s program that was the actual kabuki play – was not in any way spiced up or watered down.