That kabuki moment
I was in Tokyo around Christmas time and I managed to make my way to the famous kabuki-za theatre in Tokyo, despite everyone’s best efforts to get me lost. (Seriously, don’t trust directions from a Japanese local.) The entrance was grand and illuminated but I entered through the plain side door where tourists, grannies and cheapskates can pay a small fee to watch a single act of whatever kabuki play happens to be showing at the time.
I didn’t do any research whatsoever so I had no idea what was going on when they started prancing about in heavy, coloured clothing and speaking in Japanese without any surtitles. The play started with a couple of bumbling old guys providing the comic relief, then a regal princess trying to hit on some monk who turned into a thunder god and chased her up a mountain. The rest was lost in translation. I learned afterwards that it was a famous play called Narukami which, like your typical ancient legend, involved a woman was trying to seduce a monk so that she could release the rain dragons (not a euphemism). Naturally, the man fell for her beauty and then got all angry about it afterwards, hence his transformation into a god.
Watching this kabuki was, surprisingly, not a completely alien experience for me. It was actually quite reminiscent of Peking Opera, which I saw many years ago in Beijing. Everything about it was over-the top with heavy, colourful clothes; thick, white makeup; exaggerated movements and overly-theatrical, sing-song dialogue. The musicians were hidden on stage so that we could clearly hear all of their clanging and wavering. And just like other classical arts that I’ve taken the time to enjoy, I was enthralled and impressed by their feats of expression.
Synopsis of Narukami – https://sites.google.com/site/utnarukami/narukami-2/plot-summary
You know you’re in Japan when…
– There is a vending machine in every direction you look.
About the vending machines – https://ishikawajet.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/why-does-japan-have-so-many-vending-machines/