“Theatre-going in Japan is the luxury of the unemployed. When an entertainment commences at nine o’clock in the morning and lasts all afternoon, the busy man knows that he much only at long and rare intervals allow himself the dissipation of witnessing a theatrical performance, which is often a very fatiguing ordeal to boot … for the performance lasts for ten mortal hours, and hunger and thirst will often assail [the] patron during that long spell of looking and listening.”
– Everyday Japan: Written After Twenty-Five Years Residence and Work in the Country, Arthur Lloyd, 1909
After being banished in the 17th century to the hinterland by prudish Tokugawa rulers, Kabuki [song dance skill] made its formal return to the capital city in the late 19th century with the establishment of the Kabuki-za [theater] in 1889 in the Kobikicho neighborhood of Tokyo’s Ginza district. There have been three theaters built on this location.
The first Kabukiza was originally the daimyo [provincial lord] residence of the Matsudaira clan of Izu. In 1889, a true theater was built – the largest at that time in Japan – with a stage nearly 80-feet wide and with a 54-foot revolving stage. An electrical fire burned down this theater in 1921. A new Kabukiza was being built on the site when leveled by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake. However, it was quickly repaired and opened to the public in 1924. The architectural appearance of this second Kabukiza was more Baroque than was its predecessor. Sadly, wartime fire-bombing in 1945 claimed this theater but it would be rebuilt to its pre-war appearance in the immediate aftermath of the Pacific War and reopened in 1947 when Occupation authorities once again allowed Kabuki to be performed after a brief postwar prohibition. It is this Kabukiza that remains today.
Tickets are sold for individual acts as well as for each play in its entirety. Because Kabuki programs ran from morning to evening and many spectators often attended for only a single play or scene, there is a constant coming-and-going at the theater. At mealtimes food is served to the viewers. The programs incorporate themes and customs that reflect the four seasons or insert material derived from contemporary events.
The Kabukiza was then taken over by the Shochiku Corporation in 1914, and the theater has been run exclusively by that company since.