The grand dame of Japan's kabuki theaters, the Kabukiza theater in Ginza dates back to 1889. Sumptuous and an icon of the area, this tourist-friendly theater is the place to learn about one of Japan's most vibrant and captivating traditional artforms.
The Ginza area, where you'll find Kabukiza, is located next to JR Tokyo Station.
Kabukiza is a quick 2-5 minute walk from either Higashi-Ginza Station or Ginza Station on Tokyo Metro subway lines. The theater is about a 15-minute walk from JR Tokyo Station or a 10-minute walk from JR Yurakucho Station on the Yamanote line.
Alongside with bunraku puppet theater and noh, Kabuki is one of Japan's traditional theatrical artforms. Dating back to the Edo period (1603-1867), there are many genres of kabuki performance, but they share common elements.
Kabuki's deliberate motions, exagerated posturing, and timing are highly technical, and the ornate costumes and accompanying live music are truly captivating. Even with little or no understanding of the language, the artform's allegorical nature should make it clear who the heroes and villains are. Kabuki may be seem inscrutable for the unitiated, but you can rent a headset to hear the scenes explained in English.
The Kabukiza theater was built in 1889 especially for performances of kabuki. Having been stricken by disaster and rebuilt several times, it most recently reopened in 2013.
Seeking to embody the beauty of Japanese architecture, the theater's design by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma retains a characteristic tiled roof, camber barge-board (Chinese cusped gables) and Japanese-style balustrades.
While the exterior of Kabukiza is impactful, the theater's interior, boasting nearly 2,000 seats and high vaulted ceilings, is no less impressive. You'll even get a good view of the stage in the cheap seats toward the back and high above the stage.
The stage sets also deserve special mention: revolving platforms and trapdoors allow for rapid scene changes or the sudden appearance or disappearance of actors. Also unique is the hanamichi or footbridge that leads through the audience, allowing for a dynamic entrance or exit.
Kabuki performances usually consist of three or four acts and can last nearly five hours. Tickets for a full performance can cost around 20,000 yen and can be booked online in English.
A more affordable alternative are the single-act tickets you can buy on the day of the performance from a dedicated ticket window. At much lower rates, these special same day-of-performance seats and standing room only tickets can cost as little as 1,000 yen. Be warned you may need to line up rather early to secure these single-act seats.