Theatre is my passion, and the performing arts are one of my favorite ways to experience culture. Back in America I took classes on theatre history, and we talked about kabuki then as well as in my Japanese culture classes now, but hearing about it in a classroom and experiencing it are two completely different things!
While I unfortunately wasn’t able to take photos or video of the actual performance (standard theatre etiquette) I will say that the backdrops, scenery, and costumes were ornate and exquisite. Kabuki is written 歌舞伎 in Japanese, with the first character meaning “song”, the second meaning “dance” and the third meaning “skill”. Music is important, and on the right side of the stage (上手 or kamite) there are shamisen players and singers who narrate the story. On occasion the actors also speak or sing, but they primarily dance while the on stage musicians take care of the sound.
This performance was meant for people who are new to Kabuki, and as such there were Japanese subtitles on the sides of the stage. Quite frequently the readings for the kanji characters was also displayed, which might not mean much to the average person, but it basically means that old Japanese that many Japanese people don’t know is used a lot in the storytelling. To me that basically amounted to Shakespearean level of difficulty in the Japanese language…or not understanding a lot.
Luckily I was familiar with the story because it’s an old folk tale. An 8 headed serpent like demon named Orochi was tormenting a village and each year they needed to offer a beautiful maiden as sacrifice. This year the maiden was loved by Susano, and he hid his legendary sword in the long sleeve of her kimono. He also placed 8 casks of poisoned sake near the sacrificial shrine. Orochi first appeared in disguise as a woman who hates beautiful girls. Orochi drank the sake and eventually was bested by Susano. I was surprised by the fact that Orochi was not only played by a person, but they called him the main character. Also, when the two of them fought, 7 more actors came out in identical costumes and they represented the other heads of Orochi. The art style was fascinating and I hop to see another performance!