INVITATION TO KABUKI Guide to Japanese Traditional Performing Arts KabukiINVITATION TO KABUKI Guide to Japanese Traditional Performing Arts Kabuki

To the Theatre

Where do I watch?

In cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto there are theatres that regularly stage kabuki for a month at a time; there are also regional and irregular performances.

Theatres and tickets

National Theatre

*National Theatre is closed for the “National Theatre Reconstruction Project - Towards a New Adventure -” from the end of October 2023.

Address: 4-1 Hayabusa-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 102-8656

The National Theatre was established in 1966 to preserve and promote Japan’s traditional performing arts. For their independent productions, they valuably stage long plays in their entirety and put on revived productions of plays that have not been performed for a while. They also put on plays for beginners with explanations through their Kabuki Appreciation Classes, aimed at first-time viewers and international visitors.

The theatre has exhibition rooms for exhibits relating to traditional performing arts, including Kabuki, and facilities where visitors can browse documents and books, and view footage of productions.

Production style

The National Theatre stages Kabuki productions in January, March, June, July, October, November, and December, and these run each month for between three weeks and 25 days. Generally, one play is performed once a day, but in the Kabuki Appreciation Classes (performances for beginners) in June and July one program is performed twice a day.

In other theatres, performances are composed of two parts, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. Each of these are made up of different programs, and usually run for around 25 days. Several plays are staged over the afternoon and evening in around three and a half or four and a half hours. Regional productions consist of one performance per day.

In Kabuki, many plays have content that reflects images of the seasons or events. A lot of theatres select and put on plays that convey a sense of the season - for example, auspicious, festive plays at the start of a new year, and ghost stories that will chill you in the heat of summer, and so on.

Performances for beginners

In these sessions, real actors first explain how to enjoy Kabuki, using a variety of different staging tricks and interweaving their explanations with performances. They also act out famous scenes of plays that are easy to understand. The two-part set up (explanation and watching plays) of these performances can help you become more familiar with Kabuki. There are also productions that are aimed at international visitors and parents and children.

Membership associations

The National Theatre has a membership organization called the Azekura-kai. It offers members the chance to purchase discounted tickets and access members-only lectures and events, as well as receive the association’s publication filled with useful and interesting information, among various other benefits and services. There are similar associations for fans in other theatres, so try making inquiries if you are interested.

Buying tickets

You can purchase and reserve tickets for the National Theatre online or by phone.

Website: National Theatre Ticket Center

Tel: National Theatre Ticket Center
0570-07-9900 / 03-3230-3000

Other theatres

Theatres equipped with stage devices used in Kabuki performances are generally located in big cities, but there are touring productions that use places such as regional public halls, which do not have these devices.

Kabukiza Theatre
4-12-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0061

Shinbashi Enbujo
6-18-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0061

Osaka Shochikuza
1-9-19 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka prefecture, 542-0071

Kyoto Minamiza
Shijo Ohashi Higashizume, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto prefecture, 605-0075

1−6−14 Sakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi prefecture, 460-8403

Selecting seats

You can enjoy the charms of the hanamichi (walkway) stage, a device unique to Kabuki, in the seats on the first floor and the seats near the hanamichi. The seats close to the stage near the kamite (stage left: the right hand of the stage as you face it) and the shimote (stage right) allow you to really hear the music and sound effects where they are produced.

If you want to look out over the entirety of the stage, or when there are chunori (aerial performances in which the actor moves above the stage and seats), the upper seating on the second and third floors is probably worth taking. These seats, further away from the stage, are known as “omuko (great distance),” which is also the name for the connoisseurs who shout from here with exquisite timing during the performance and liven up the stage.