the right kabuki-za
I am a big fan of live entertainment, particularly theatre - any kind of it. Sadly, Japan is both a great and a bad place for fans of performing arts - there are many unique forms of entertainment, and almost all of them are very expensive. Even going to a cheapo local punk band's gig might cost you up to $30 on the door.

I probably wouldn't have gone to see kabuki on my own, but last July it happened that some people on the Couchsurfing Osaka group were planning to go to Osaka's Kabuki house (the kabuki-za) for the performance of some apparently very famous players.
Anyway, on a hot and humid July day, I got all dolled up for the great matinee. Almost, it didn't happen, because I thought I knew where the Kabuki-za was, and which subway stop (which exit even) I had to get off. It just turned out that the massive building I knew as the Osaka Kabuki-za doesn't actually host plays anymore, but a smaller and newer one a block way. Luckily, Osakans are friendly people and I was directed in the right direction once I swallowed my pride and asked why the big old building didn't seem to have an entrance.

three continents at Dotombori :)
Much later than expected, I managed to find my group because the Sachiko had described the dress she was wearing online (damn you, phones who don't work in Japan), I managed to find my group, which consisted of the wonderful, elegant Sachiko, who spoke excellent English and knew how to explain Japanese culture incredibly well, a Swedish japanophile I got on with very well, and a Peruvian who lived in Australia, but was in Osaka for a few days for a conference, and just seemed to have stumbled into this whole thing by accident but enjoyed every minute of this confusing ride.

Sachiko was brilliant in explaining us all about kabuki, which was especially great because the Kabuki-za in Osaka doesn't offer English subtitles (apparently, in Tokyo, you can even get a little headphone with dubs - but to be honest, I think that would have spoiled the experience). We were just given a little leaflet that had short descriptions of the different scenes, but with Sachiko's help, it was all easy enough to follow.

I was very impressed by the fact that kabuki is a family affair - the men of entire clans are kabuki actors for generations and it's almost impossible to get into this if your father didn't play - and at the other hand a big family disappointment if a son doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps. It's also very popular to buy pictures of the actors, as you're not (officially) allowed to take pictures - there's a massive fandom around the actors, almost more than for Japanese pop idols. Not that we could have taken any pictures from our cheap seats - which still cost about $100 each. I told you, it's not a cheap form to spend your evening (or afternoon), and the frustrating thing is that the good seats get booked far in advance and it's quite impossible to get them if you don't have a Japanese bank account.

I usually try to give tips for travel on a budget, but it just doesn't work when it comes to theatre and Japan. So my advice is: if you are into theatre and have some Japanese or interest in a certain art form, go and see the noh, the kabuki, the bunraku. If not, save yourself the money - my opinion, I wouldn't have enjoyed it without background knowledge of Japanese mythology and language skills.

The intermission was very Japanese, too - beers and bento boxes, and of course a lot of kabuki trinkets and gift boxes could be bought.

The play itself was interesting - I know, that sounds lame, but it was much less bizarre than I expected, I managed to understand a good deal of the Japanese spoken, but I wasn't exactly blown away. Kabuki is all about small, artful elements, but there are no deep, life-altering stories or dramas to be shared.

To give you an impression of what we saw - this lion dance thing is the apparently very popular and was the highlight of the performance. We had a version with two lions, but there also is a one lion and a three lion version, but I couldn't find great videos of these - these here have only one lion but one has English descriptions and the other one is an amazing close-up!

Most parts very much quieter, while others almost reminded me of martial art performances.

 Kabuki is an art form that loves little details, beauty and perfection and is steeped with rituals and mythology, while at the same time, stories and everything around seemed a bit... superficial. This sums it up and also seems to describe many other Japanese things.

If I had to describe it in a one word - kabuki just is very, very Japanese.

Have you seen any foreign theatre variations, and how did you like them?

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