On June 7, 2014, I participated in another program coordinated by CIEE. The staff planned an outing for students and host families (for students who have host families) to watch a kabuki play in the National Theater (国立劇場) in Tokyo. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese drama that is known for its elaborate makeup, as well as the only male actors who play both male and female roles.
In my opinion, the National Theater (国立劇場) was splendid with its lighting, grand staircases and magnificent statue of a kabuki player; however, according to my host parents, usual kabuki theatres are much larger and stunning than the National Theatre. I was shocked to hear that. I wonder how much larger a regular kabuki theatre is… especially since the National Theatre had two or three buildings connected to each other!
The play performed that day was“ぢいさんばあさん” or simply, “Grandpa, Grandma,” written byMori Ogai (森鴎外). According to the play’s introduction, Mori Ogai wrote this famous play on 15 pages. Thus, the play had only a few, but powerful, scenes about a loving couple who was unfortunately separated for 37 years due to a terrible mistake. Even as they were reunited late in their age, their love for each other lasted.
Initially I was expecting that this play would be completely engulfed in sadness, but surprisingly, the play was comedic with touches of despair. There were scenes that made me tear up slightly, but the tears never dropped. I did see my friend’s host mother wipe her tears away, though. I recommend this play to anyone who wants to a see kabuki play at least once!
This particular play was designed for students and first-time kabuki watchers. Before the play began, an actor came to introduce how the theatre worked, who was behind the makeup and costumes (all males), and what the music means. I learned that the stage was built on a rotary system, allowing for multiple, extremely elaborate stages to liven the words of the play for the audience. Moreover, the males did their own makeup themselves, and practiced for years in the art of kabuki. They even gave us a two-minute lesson on how to stand and act like a woman. The traditional instrument players also introduced themselves and showed the audience when their instruments are played and for what reason. My favorite part, however, is the stagehands. They were black uniforms, making them look exactly like a ninja! It was extremely amusing to see the ninjas dart in and out of stage.
Another amusing factor was the theatre’s curtain. The curtain had elaborately embroidered picture of a stream framed by two dark trees. Even though the trees are dark, the flowers budding from their branches are bright white and red. Moreover, by the tree’s trunk are several other flowers growing in a variety of locations near the stream. What popped the most was the corner. There was a “Toyota” embroidered with bright gold threads. There are even advertisements in kabuki theatres!
All in all, this experience made me want to see another kabuki play before my month and a half is over in Japan!