Culture/History

August Kabuki

08/07/2021

Kabukiza Theater

Have you been to Kabukiza Theater in Higashi Ginza in Tokyo? This is where you can enjoy Kabuki performance in Tokyo. The program changes every month which is performed by various famous Kabuki actors. Under the COVID-19 pandemic, the theater places a one-seat buffer to the left and right of the seat. Wearing of face masks is mandatory during the performance and there are also some restrictions such as guests leaving the theater row by row after the performance.

Kabukiza Theatre|Theatres|KABUKI WEB

The current Kabukiza theater was built in 2013 which is the 5th Kabukiza building and resembles the 4th Kabukiza theater in its appearance but equips more advanced technology and facility. As you can see in the picture below, the building itself looks pretty new.

The title of August programs which are all performed by different Kabuki actors are below:

  1. Kagamiyama Gonichi No Iwafuji
  2. Shinkei Kasanegafuchi / Adayume
  3. Yoshikata Saigo / Date Kurabe Kuruwa No Sayaate / Sanja Matsuri

One ticket is available for either one of the program above so it is highly recommended to check the schedule of the programs that you would like to see in advance and buy the right ticket. The tickets are available online. I chose to see the part 2 which is performed by Nakamuraya (the main characters are performed by famous Nakamura Kankuro and Nakamura Shichinosuke).

Let me introduce one program from August Kabukiza performance.

Shinkei Kasanegafuchi

Shinkei Kasanegafuchi means the ghost of Kasane Swamp which is a part of the ghost story of the same title of a Rakugo storyteller Sanyutei Encho. Shinkei in the title has a homonym meaning “nerve”, by which he implies that criminals terrify and have nerve trouble, that is how ghost stories come into existence. The story is about the love of the woman called Toyoshiga toward Shinkichi but it also develops full of suspense which is especially favored by people during the summer time when the weather is extremely hot in Japan.

Story and Highlights

Scene 1 – Toyoshiga’s House in Shichikencho

Toyoshiga, a mistress of Tomimoto music, suffers from a swelling on her face and a doctor makes a house call at her house in Nezu Shichikencho in Edo (old name of Tokyo). Her apprentice Shinkichi nurses her. Although SHinkichi is about 20 years younger than her, they are in intimate relations. His devotion for her is much talked among the residents of the tenement house, and the number of her apprentices keeps on dcreasing. Some visit her and criticize her relation with Shinkichi indirectly.

After all the visitors have gone away, Toyoshige gets out of the bed. She pretended to be sleeping as she did not want to hear the nasty covnersations.

Now that she is alone with Shinkichi, she feels sorry for him and makes sarcastic comments saying that he would be able to marry Ohisa, a daughter of the merchant Hanyu-ya, if she dies, feeling jealous of his intimacy with Ohisa in well-matched age. As Ohisa comes, Toyoshiga sarcastically says that Ohisa must have come to see him on the pretext of visiting Toyoshiga. As Ohisa leaves, Shinkichi smoothes Toyoshiga, gives her medicine and gets her to bed. He encounteres Ohisa at the door who is going shopping, and he accompanies her.

In the house Toyoshiga wakes up feeling heartache and asks him to bring her a glass of water, but no answer is heard. Accusing him of his cruel treatment, she crawls onto the open verandah to get some wter from the washbasin and dies using up all her strenghts.

Scene 2 – In Hasumi Sushi Shop

Shinkichi takes Ohisa to the Hasumi Sushi Shop on Shitaya Kayacho Street. He tells her that he is eager to flee from Toyoshiga and give up nursing her, when he is frightened to see her ugly swelled face at night. Ohisa deplores her circumstances: her stemmother is hard on her, so she hopes to depend on her uncle in Hanyu Village in Shimousa Province, but she is afraid to go alone. Shinkichi secretly loves Ohisa, but he has not confessed his love to her as he must nurse Toyoshiga. Now his patience gives out and they decide to disappear from thier respective home to visit her uncle together. Just then the candlelight goes out and bitter words in Toyoshiga’s voice are heard. He turns pale and runs down the stairs leaving Ohisa alone.

Scene 3 – At Kanzo’s House

Shinkichi gets covered with mud and runs into the house of his uncle Kanzo in Daimoncho, the back street of Shitaya Ikenohata. As Shinkichi says with a pale face that he would not like to live with Toyoshiga any longer, Kanzo remonstrates to him that he will fall in obligations to Toyoshiga who took care of him to lead a life like others. Kanzo takes out Shinkichi’s identification tag and begins to talk about his life.

Shinkichi was born as the second son of shogunal vassal, Fukami Shinzaemon. As he was a baby, his father and his brother died a violent death. His clan was attained and the gatekeeper Kanzo took care of the baby as his nephew. Kanzo admonishes him against doing wrong which will defile his ancestors’ honor as admirable warrior.

Shinkichi is surprised to hear about his origin for the first time. He thanks Kanzo for his kindness and asks Kanzo to continue as his uncle and swears to persevere at his mistress’ house. Hearing his resolution, Kanzo calls out to someone in the inner room. Kanzo says that Toyoshiga has come searching for him. She came there thinking he must have been tired of her. She apologies him for being selfish, offers to become his sworn in sister and allows him to marry a young woman he loves.

As he managed at last to get her to bed who would not leave him for a moment, a Rakugo story teller Sancho who lives in the same tenement house with him comes breathlessly and tries to take him back, saying that Toyoshiga is dead. Shinkichi can’t believe that, for he has been with her. Sancho tells him of her ghastly death and flees saying that the one in the inner room must be a ghost. As a palanquin arrived which Kanzo called, Shinkichi goes in to wake her, but she is not there..

After watching the performance

It always amzes me how stunning these Kabuki performers are. The story itself is of course a fiction but it does touch our heartstrings as these complicated human drama or relationship exists in the real world. The taste of horror was definitely there but with a little bit of comedy touch which really makes the audience smile and laugh. Thesedays, audio guide with a fee charge is available during the performance which helps us understand the details of the story.

Image of Toyoshiga’s House in Shichikencho

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