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[What is kabuki?]

Phraya: I have a friend visiting Japan, and he wants to watch some traditional Japanese performing arts. What would you recommend?

Kimono shop owner: How about kabuki? It is a traditional theater unique to Japan.

Phraya: What is kabuki theater like?

Kimono shop owner: Kabuki is a classical theater and was established during the Edo period. It is a form of composite art that combines elements of music, dance, and acting. Kabuki performances are characterized by elaborate costumes and exaggerative acting styles. Many programs are accompanied by music played with traditional Japanese instruments. They are also exquisitely choreographed, so I am sure your friend will enjoy it.

Phraya: Is kabuki like an opera or a classical ballet theater in Europe?

Kimono shop owner: In a way, yes. But what makes kabuki different from them is that all characters, including females, are played by male actors.

Phraya: Is that right? That sounds interesting! Do you know why they are played only by males?

Kimono shop owner: The original form of kabuki began about 400 years ago when a woman named Okuni started dance performance in Kyoto. It is believed that Okuni dressed as a man for her performance. Later, however, the Edo government prohibited women playing kabuki because of moral concerns. Since then, kabuki has been performed only by men.

Phraya: I see.

Kimono shop owner: Kabuki was gradually sophisticated and developed into a popular entertainment. The stories often reflected customs and manners of the time as well as current affairs, so they were easy to understand and enjoyable for common people. Today, in addition to the classical style of kabuki that was established during the Edo period, a new modern version of kabuki called "super kabuki" has been produced and has become popular as well.


[How long does the program last? How much does it cost to watch?]

Phraya: Where and when can we watch kabuki?

Kimono shop owner: The Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza runs programs almost throughout the year. The Shinbashi Enbujyo, the National Theatre, and a theater in Asakusa occasionally offer the kabuki programs as well. There are also theaters in Osaka and Kyoto where you can watch the kabuki programs.

Phraya: Do you know about how much a ticket would cost?

Kimono shop owner: I believe it runs from 2,500 to 17,000 yen at the Kabuki-za, depending on the type of seat you are buying. You can choose either a matinee or an evening program. The entire program lasts for as long as 4 to 5 hours, so be sure to allow enough time for your schedule.

Phraya: That sounds like quite a long presentation.

Kimono shop owner: Yes, the program consists of a few different plays with some breaks between them. If you would rather watch only one play of your choice, you may purchase a non-reserved seat called hitomakumi-seki. The seat is the farthest from the stage but is much cheaper than other regular seats, ranging from about 600 to 1,200 yen depending on the play. The tickets for hitomakumi seats are on sale only on the day of the performance, so you may have to go to the theater early to get one for yourself.

Phraya: My friend does not understand Japanese. Do you think he will still enjoy the performance?

Kimono shop owner: Of course he will. He may rent an "earphone guide" that is available both in Japanese and English. It is an audio guide that runs parallel to the performance and helps you understand stories, music, and props. It is not expensive either--650 yen per set. The stories of the plays are also explained in the program book in English. Don't worry about following the story too much though; it is simply interesting to watch actors' various moves and expressions.

Phraya: Sure. Do you know where I can get the tickets?

Kimono shop owner: You may go directly to the theater's ticket office, call the reservation center, or buy online. The Kabuki-za's website tells you more details. You can check the schedules and programs on their website as well. Popular programs sell fast, so make your reservation early once you know your friend's travel schedule.

"Kabuki-bito" Kabuki official website (Japanese text only)
Kabuki-za Theater (theater guide in English)

Phraya: I see. Thank you for the great information.

Kimono shop owner: No problem. You will be surprised to see how beautiful those actors playing women are. They are called "oyama" and are just as feminine and elegant as real actresses.

Phraya: I cannot wait to see them.
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