Culture/History

Kabuki in Hachioji

10/24/2021

It has been a while since I last updated the article here.. Today, I wanted to share some of the Kabuki performances that I saw this month.

Urashima

This is one of the most famous folktales in Japan called Urashima. Urashima Taro, the protagonist of a Japanese fairy tale, who in a typical modern version is a fisherman rewarded for rescuing a turtle, and carried on its back to the Dragon Palace beneath the sea called Ryugu-jo.  After Urashima came back from the Dragon Palace to the real world, he was tempted to open the Tamatebako, a jeweled hand box, remenicing the time he spent in the palace with the princess of the undersea palace, Ryugu-jo.

In the very first scene, Nakamura Tsurumaru, the actor’s name of Urashima Taro danced with happiness, expressing his good memories in the Ryugu-jo. He wore bright red Kimonos with gold embroidery which represents his feelings of joy. The dance involved two folding fans which made the performance elegant and joyful. Once he opened the jeweled hand box, a white puff of smoke escaped from the box and Urashima Taro was transformed into an old, white haired man. On the stage, Nakamura Tsurumaru expressed the transformation by a quick change of kimono and hair wigs. The painting of his face also changed on the stage while the stage was darkened. The transformation in such a short period of time was quite impressive.

After Urashima Taro became an old man, he danced and acted like an old man which was quite a contrast from the first scene when he was expressing his joy with his dance. In the performance, Nakamura Tsurumaru expressed the emotions just by his dance (no lines). The way he bent down while dancing looked just like an old man.

One of the great things about Kabuki is that even though the actors do not speak, they can express their feelings and stories with exquisite dance, facial impressions, and kimonos. Just a subtle movement like where the actors gaze at while performing could change the expressions of the stories.

Yomigaeru Taiho Kasuga Ryujin

This is a story about Myoe, a Japanese Buddhist monk active during the Kamakura period. One day he decided to go to Tenjiku, the Japanese terminology for Tianzhu (derived from India’s Sindhu) in order to worship the Buddha. He went to Kasuga Daimyojin, a shinto shrine in Nara to tell his decision to go to Tenjiku. When he was at the shrine, a young man and woman from the village came to Myoe to pass on a revelation from Kasuga Daimyojin and left the site.

After a little while, other people from the village came to Myoe to tell him how great Fujiwara-kyo, the Imperial capital of Japan for sixteen years, between 694 and 710 was which is where they were at. They reminded Myoe of the history and seasonal events at Kasuga Daimyojin and left the site.

Myoe was at Kasuga Daimyojin to tell his decision to go to Tenjiku; however, he ended up hearing from the people in the village that he should give up on his thoughts and remain in Japan. Otherwise, he may encounter Dragon king (god) and Dragon woman in this world. After what he heard, he gave a second thought to go to Tenjiku and decided to stay in Togano.

Later, as the the rain and lightning began, Dragon king and Dragon woman appeared at the site. It turned out that the man and woman from the village were Dragon king and Dragon woman who stopped Myoe from going to Tenjiku.

What they wanted to tell here is that Japan itself is a great country and is also a sacred place of Buddhist believers.

The man from the village and Dragon king were performed by Nakamura Kankuro, and the woman from the village and Dragon woman were perfromed by Nakamura Shichinosuke. The two completely different roles were performed by the same actors but the expressions that they brought on the stage were totally different. The former with a lot of peace and joy and the latter with a lot of power and strong impression conveyed by thier eyes. I was absolutely astonished by these performers. 

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