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A unique, intricate, and mesmerizing combination of traditional dance, drama, and musical accompaniment, Kabuki remains a quintessentially Japanese form of entertainment.

The language barrier, however, has sometimes made it difficult for non-Japanese audiences to grasp all the nuances of an art form whose history can be traced back more than four centuries, but which remains today the most popular form of traditional Japanese drama.

The National Theatre, located alongside the outer moat of the Imperial Palace, is aiming to make Kabuki more accessible by hosting a one-day appreciation event, “Discover Kabuki,” in June.

Kabuki came into existence around 1603 with the arrival in Kyoto of a troupe of dancing girls led by Izumo no Okuni, formerly a shrine maiden. Their dances created a sensation and were labeled “kabuki,” which at that time meant “unorthodox” or “eccentric.” Such troupes of women were subsequently banned, as were those of the dancing boys that took their place. They were succeeded by groups of adult men whose performances developed into Kabuki as it now exists. In the process, the original meaning of the word changed to become “song (ka), dance (bu), and technique/skill (ki).”

Designed to give overseas participants a better understanding of the history, storylines, and characters appearing in the plays, “Discover Kabuki” is divided into two parts. The first, “How to Appreciate Kabuki in English,” is to be hosted by renowned Kabuki actor Nakamura Mantaro and TV personality Kisa Ayako. They will provide background information to set the stage for the second part, a live performance of “Sakanaya Sogoro,” part of the famous tale Shin Sarayashiki Tsuki no Amagasa. This play is a Sewamono, a Kabuki work based on the lives of tradesmen in the Edo Period, written by the great Kabuki dramatist Kawatake Mokuami. The distinctive feature of Mokuami’s literary style is its musical superiority. He effectively interwove Kiyomoto music with poetic speech in shichigocho (alternating verse lines of five and seven syllables) while realistically depicting the lives of common people in the Edo Period. From a career spanning almost 50 years, Mokuami left behind more than 350 works, including dance dramas, which still form a large portion of the Kabuki repertoire.

In “Sakanaya Sogoro,” the title character, Sogoro, has overcome a drinking problem. But when he receives news that his sister—who has been taken as a mistress by her employer—was killed due to a misunderstanding, he has a relapse. Despite the efforts of those around him to prevent it, he turns violent and falls back into alcoholism. Mokuami’s musical mastery is on full display during this scene, and the second act begins with Sogoro visiting his sister’s employer. The long, intoxicated speech that ensues is a highlight of the play.

With unparalleled value and quality of performance, this may be the perfect opportunity to see Kabuki for the first time.


NATIONAL THEATRE (Large Theatre)

Friday, June 17, 2016

First Performance: 2:30pm
Second Performance: 7:00pm

Students: All seats ¥1,300
Adults: 1st Grade ¥3,900 / 2nd Grade ¥1,500

20% discount available for those with disabilities
Audio guide rental fee is included in the price of the ticket. Japanese,
English, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean available.
“Sakanaya Sogoro” performed in Japanese with English subtitles
Online booking opens Friday, May 6, at 10:00am. Box office ticket
sales begin Saturday, May 7
Online Booking (Adult tickets only) http://ticket.ntj.jac.go.jp/top_e.htm
or http://ticket.ntj.jac.go.jp/m (for mobile access, in Japanese only)
To book by phone, call 0570-07-9900 or 03-3230-3000 (IP phone and
international calls)

Kabuki remains a quintessentially Japanese form of entertainment.