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Kabuki Theatre
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Kabuki Time!
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Oh yes Sweety, lovie darling, it really was quite exquisite... today saw my return to the theatre after a break of a good few years. No, not to act, but to spectate from the lofty heights of the back row of THE most famous theatre in Japan, Kabuki-za, in Ginza, central Tokyo.

A typical performance begins at 11am, and runs right through until approximately 7pm. A prime seat for the entire performance will set you back about £90 ($130), although we managed to get tickets for back-row standing spots - a bargain at £5! There is a break between each act that enables folks like us to just watch an hour or so of the performance, whilst those who are there for the day bring o-bento (packed lunches) to help them through the hours.

"Kabuki has a great history, dating back to around the year 1600. It was created by Okuni, a shrine maiden from the Izumo Shrine. Her performances in the dry river beds of the ancient capital of Kyoto caused a sensation and soon their scale increased and a number of rival companies arose. Early Kabuki was much different from what is seen today and was comprised mostly of large ensemble dances performed by women. Most of these women acted as prostitutes offstage and finally the government banned women from the stage in an effort to protect public morales.

This ban on women, though, has often been seen as a good move because it necessitated the importance of skill over beauty and put more stress on drama than dance, putting Kabuki on the path to become a dramatic art form.

Another development was the appearance of "onnagata" female role specialists, men who played women."

Even nowadays there is not a woman to be seen on stage, and the actors are the most female men I've ever seen! It is not possible to simply "become" a Kabuki actor. You must be born into a "Kabuki Family" - from the age of about three you will be taught the art of your father and brothers.

Although I couldn't understand a word of what was said, I really enjoyed it. The timing of the subtle movements of the actors was fantastic. Perfectly in tune with the twang-twang music (from a Shamisen - guitar like instrument) and the singing of the musicians. The musicians take a very active role, at times uttering the words of the characters as they dance, or shouting cries to emphasise the actions.

Perhaps the most startling element of the performance is the audience participation. At strategic points people will shout out the names of the actors in support of them. If I hadn't read about this custom before going in I really would have felt that something was horribly wrong!

All in all, it was a great experience. Certainly different from the last performance I saw by the Royal Shakespeare Society!

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