This Friday a kabuki performance will be held at the magnificent open-air Hinoemata Kabuki Stage!
What is Kabuki?
Kabuki is a form of Japanese theatre born in the Edo period. It is different from Noh and Bungaku – the other 2 traditional forms of theater – through its use of vibrant costumes and make up, and the exaggerated physical gestures of the actors.
Kabuki in Hinoemata
Kabuki has been performed at Hinoemata for at least 270 years. This local tradition began when a local who visited Edo (Tokyo) en route to Ise Shrine was inspired by a kabuki play that he saw, and decided to study it and bring this performance art back to his own village.
Kabuki became so popular – especially among the working class – that the feudal government of the Edo era resorted to banning it, to ensure that villagers were still concentrating enough on agriculture. Performances could be held if locals requested permission. Perhaps this lead to performances being held on specific, planned days of the year.
Because kabuki had been discouraged by the feudal government, ordinary people came up with new words for referring to ‘kabuki’, without getting in trouble. Some terms used for this purpose include monomane (mimicking) and teodori (dancing with hands).
Kabuki performances held in Hinoemata are of a very old-fashioned style, known as ‘joruri’. It has been performed in the village for hundreds of years as part of a ceremonial tradition dedicated to the gods.
Being such a tiny, isolated village, enveloped in deep snow for 4 months a year, the old style of Kabuki performed on that fateful day in Tokyo has continued to be practiced and passed on from generation to generation in Hinoemata, regardless of how the performance art changed in other areas of Japan.
There are around 30 people involved in each production, including performers and other staff. All performers are local people from Hinoemata. This is also true for everyone involved in making costumes, and doing make-up.
You can learn more about the props, costumes, and make-up used in Hinoemata Kabuki performances by paying a visit to the Chiba no Ya – an information center very close by to the stage!
Seeing Kabuki in Hinoemata
Whether rain or shine, kabuki performances are held 3 times a year. The stage that actors perform on has been recognised as a Nationally Important Tangible Cultural Asset.
The performances on May 12 and August 18 are always free to view, and it is not necessary to reserve tickets in advance.
The other performance, held on the first Saturday of September each year, costs 1000 yen. Gates open 1 hour before performances start. Take a look here for more information on upcoming events.
Seeing as performances go into the night, it would be best to stay somewhere close to Hinoemata, as there aren’t buses or trains late in the evening! For this reason, it would be a good idea to rent a car when coming.
Kabuki Outside of Hinoemata
Minamiaizu area holds a huge number of kabuki stages, including those in the form of festival floats, such as those used in the Aizu Tajima Gion Festival. In fact, kabuki has been held traditionally in 140 of the 270 villages across Minamiyama region of Minamiaizu. There are still 3 main stages standing to this day – Hinoemata Stage, Yunohana Stage and Omomo Stage.
I’m sad to be missing out on seeing this summer’s performance, but I will make it a priority to go and see it next year! If you get a chance to go, please let me know how it was!
From Tokyo: Take the Revaty train from Asakusa and get off at Aizu Kogen Ozeguchi (会津高原尾瀬口)(3 hours)
From there, take the Aizu Tesudo bus going in the direction of Ozenuma (尾瀬沼) from Aizu Kogen Ozeguchi to Hinoemata Onsen (檜枝岐温泉)(1 hour 15 mins).
From Aizu Wakamatsu: Take Tadami Line / Aizu Tetsudo Line from Aizu Wakamatsu Station （会津若松）to Aizu Tajima Station （会津田島）(1 hour). Then take the Aizu Tetsudo bus to Hinoemata Onsen (檜枝岐温泉) (2 hours).
- 2 hour drive from Aizu Wakamatsu
- 2 hour 15 minute drive from Nikko Toshogu
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