For some time, one of the other English teachers had been eyeing a theater in his town. This was a traditional theater that touted travelling troupes. After letting his curiosity grow for last year, Gary set up an event where those interested could go and check it out. Any of these cultural events involving meeting with my friends that can be done 15 minutes away from my home are fine by me, especially when they don’t clog up my weekends.
I met up near the theater with Gary and one of the new recruits and we made our way in. It wasn’t a large venue, nor was it full, but it seemed like the people there were regulars. Immediately we were getting special acknowledgement, like some guy announcing that ‘some foreigners came’. People were wanting to know where we were from, why we were there, and the sort. We sat on the floor on pillows, next to the youngest looking person there. Japanese theater is certainly an art of more refined taste, thus attracting an older following, so we decided to make connections where we could.
After a short while, the show started and we were taken to the Edo Era, which was filled with samurai, tales of love & honor, and absurd hair. This is the time-frame in which the majority of Japanese theater is based, and also represents the height of cultural development. The show was some drama about a samurai who was searching for his lost love, (I think) and it wasn’t too bad. One interesting thing to observe about Japanese theater is that the actors’ families have usually been doing it for generations and the fans are aligned to the actors, not the shows. During the show the people would shout out the house names of the actors they were partial to, especially during a moment where wailing, gestures, and Parkinson’s were employed to dredge up an absurd form of emotion. An hour in, I noticed that they were billed for a full three hours. I didn’t want to invest that much of my night into something I couldn’t understand all that well, so I was ready to bail at intermission. During the pause though, they came on stage and started talking with us foreigners, about why we were there. I was the group spokesman, as I found myself in the rare position of being the most decent speaker of Japanese present.
An old man simply beside himself over what had lain before him.
So, with no chance to leave, I was ready to put up with the remaining action. To my surprise though, the play was over and the rest of the show would be a drag show, where the men dressed as women and danced to traditional music. None of the Japanese people thought this was weird. I knew that men played the roles of women in certain styles of Japanese theater, but I didn’t know dancing with a fan to music was acceptable as well. After another hour of this, and watching an elderly man simply feast on the pictures he was taking of these people, the show was over. It concluded with more banter with the foreigners before people started to leave. On our way out, with got some pictures with a few of the actors, and talked to them a bit as well. This is were we learned they were from an acting family, and about the acting circuit they were on. They stay in a city for a few couple weeks, performing daily and then move on to the next city. I also learned that one of the drag dressing men had graduated from my school in the last couple years. I don’t know how people fall into this profession, but I figured he must have been a little different from the other students in his grade.
The ‘gal’ in the green was the head of the family and certainly the crowd favorite.
At the end of the show, we all left and met at a Joyful, which is basically just a family restaurant where we ate and chatted a bit. It was overall a great time and rare opportunity to actually do something during the workweek.
Clips here show the poorly suited music between acts, some of the dancing (this time a group dance, but was usually solo though), and also some of the closing chatter.