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No.243 (9/13/13)

Renewed Kabuki Theater

By Chiho Tsukiashi
Staff Writer

Kabukiza is both an old and new and exciting sightseeing spot in Tokyo. It is the most famous and historic Kabuki theater in Japan, that was closed for three years for renovation. Since its long-anticipated reopening last April, it has drawn a full house every day. People visit there not only to see a traditional Japanese play, but also to experience the theater art in various ways, such as taking portraits in Kabuki costumes, visiting its gallery and garden, dining, and shopping for souvenirs. The headline of this article, "IZA, GINZA, KABUKIZA," is a catch phrase for the new Kabukiza, meaning "If it's to Ginza, it's Kabukiza!" As you may know, Ginza is the most famous up-market shopping and dining district in Tokyo. As you visit Kabukiza, you may also want to drop by the world's top brand shops, and eat at restaurants literally from all over the world.

Kabuki is a classical Japanese theater art, known for the elaborate makeup and flamboyant costumes the performers wear, the stylized drama and dynamic stage sets. In fact, the signature face makeup of red on white foundation is for the hero, and blue on white is for the villain. The red and blue lines depict veins on the face. Kabuki's exaggerated expression of emotion is also unique. For example, to show a character's agitation or anger, an actor crosses his eyes while they are wide open. Kabuki stage is equipped with lifts and traps operated by machinery for dramatic effects. Using the sets, characters appear unexpectedly from nowhere.
Kabuki's history dates back more than 400 years. It was initially performed by women, but soon the performances were restricted and taken over by male actors. Even now, all roles including female are played by men. It is hard to believe that a beautiful "woman" is actually a man. The language spoken on the stage is classical Japanese, which is sometimes difficult even for native Japanese speakers. But you don't have to worry as earphone guides in English are available.
The profession of the Kabuki actor is hereditary. Kabuki actors are celebrities that are frequently featured on TV and magazines. Some are chased by paparazzi. They had a parade to celebrate the completion of new Kabukiza, which gathered 32,000 spectators.

This is the fourth renovation in Kabukiza's long history since 1889. The past three renovations were due to destruction by fire, earthquake, and air raids. The new Kabukiza inherits the old style, while adopting the latest technologies and designs. Right behind the theater, there is a newly constructed 29-story theater office building.
Accessibility to Kabukiza has been much improved. The new building is directly connected to a subway station named Higashi Ginza on the Hibiya Line. When you get off the train at the station, you are on the second basement floor of the Kabukiza. Restaurants and souvenir shops, and box office are on this floor.
Another improvement is visibility of the runway. Performers effectively use a runway to appeal the audience for some dramatic scenes. Prior to renovation, it was visible only from the first and second floors, but now, the third floor audience can also see the performance on the runway.
1,964 seats are located on the first through fourth floors. Price ranges from 22,000 yen to 4,000 yen. The fourth floor is for non-reserved seats, the least expensive ones. If your time and budget are limited, try the non-reserved seats only at around 2,000 yen per act. It is also for the avid Kabuki fans who frequently go there. They sometimes shout out abruptly. Don't be surprised. What they yell are actors' nicknames and applause on exactly proper moments. To get a non-reserved ticket, go to the box office on the left side of the main entrance. Kabuki is performed almost every day at Kabukiza. You can rent an English earphone-guide at the box office.
A gallery on the fifth floor is open daily, whether a show is scheduled or not. Admission is 500 yen. Special exhibits themed around Kabuki are planned each season. You may touch some props on exhibit. Its gallery shop sells postcards, writing pads, tiramisu chocolate and more, all with Kabuki designs. You can have a cup of green tea at a zen-style caf? next to the gallery. The room is decorated with 3,000 bamboo trees.
Right outside of the gallery is a roof garden in authentic Japanese style with a stone lantern and a weeping cherry. The garden is lit up at night from the top of the business building behind.
When you go down stairs by the garden, you will see roofing tiles of the "phoenix design." One of them is intentionally situated upside-down. It is said it brings good luck if you can find it. You see the phoenix crests here and there at Kabukiza. The ones on the purple hangings at the front entrance especially catch people's eyes. They are the traditional symbols of the Kabuki theater.
Another highlight of the Kabukiza is a photo studio on the fifth floor. Studio Alice is a nationwide chain, but this studio in the Kabukiza specializes in photo shooting in Kabuki costumes, wigs, and makeup, in front of a Kabuki backdrop.
During intermission, you may eat and drink at your seat. The most popular snack is Taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake with sweet beans inside. What is special about the taiyaki sold at the Kabukiza is it contains red and white pounded rice. The two colors (Ko-Haku) are considered auspicious or congratulatory, or "medetai". Therefore, it is named Mede-Taiyaki. They cost 200 yen each.
For more details about Kabuki and Kabukiza, go to the Kabuki Web (, the official homepage created by the company that produces Kabuki stages.

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