Japan has an incredibly long and varied theatrical history with different performance art forms evolving from the threads and intricacies of other works. Both classical and contemporary theatres can be found in Tokyo, in fact the city is the centre of Japanese contemporary theatre. There are lots of international companies putting on glitz-coated musicals but there are plenty of dramatic works in translation if you want something more serious. If you’re confused about the selection then No theatre is an amalgamation of song and dance forms that reflect Zen-like aspects.
The performers consist of a chorus, actors, drummers and a flautist with one main character being either a restless dead soul or a living person who leads the other central character- the waki – to the play’s climax. Kabuki theatre has only male performers who present a combination of dancing and speech patterns against a formalised background of beauty and stylisation.
Travel Guide Tokyo Theatre
Bunraku is a traditional puppet theatre developed at the same time as Kabuki, where large, silent puppets, often directed by three puppeteers, act out a story told by a narrator. There are also other variations such as Kyogen, comic plays that are rather like modern-day soap operas, Rakugo, a comic monologue, and Mazai, a comic dialogue. Buton is also an exciting and beautifully performed dance form.
1. Imperial Theatre
3-1-1 Marunochi, Chiyoda-ku. Telephone – 03 3213 7221. Opened in 1911, this was the first Western-style theatre in Japan and you can see musicals and operas performed throughout the year.
2. Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre
1-1-3 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku. Telephone – +81 3525 12001. Closed on Wednesdays.
Uniquely, all the performers are female at this venue where the historical Takarazuka troupe first introduced the revue to Japan.
3. New National Theatre
1-1-1 Hon-machi, Shibuya-ku. Telephone – 813 5351 3011
Constructed in 1997, this excellent glass and concrete theatre has three stages and, apart from putting on operas, ballets, contemporary dances and drama, there are also exhibits and back stage tours on offer.
4. Kabuki-za Theatre
4-12-5 Ginza. Telephone – 55 65 6000. Times of performances may vary so check with the theatre or at a TIC.
Performances of Kabuki are accompanied by English translations via ear pieces, making it much easier to enjoy. The performances can be very long – anything from 4 ½ to 5 hours – so if you only want to catch part of the show then go to the fourth floor and pay ¥600-1000 for a ticket. The price for a complete performance is ¥2400-14000 and there are usually two performances a day at 11am and 4pm.
5. Kokuritsu No-gakudo
1-5-9 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku. Telephone – 34 23 1331
Tokyo’s premier No Theatre. Expect to pay ¥2800-5600 to watch a performance that delights the mind and senses.
6. Kokuritsu Gekyo Theatre
4-1 Gekijo, Hayabusa-cho, Chiyoda-ku. Telephone – 3265 7411
Performances of Bunraku take place here several times a year, twice a day at 11.30am and 5pm but be sure to check with the theatre or a TIC for information on times and booking tickets.