Noh and Kabuki might not do it for everyone, but whether you’re an avid theatre geek or a complete novice, the National Theatre provides an enigmatic introduction. Located in Chiyoda-ku, easily accessible on the Tokyo subway, the National Theatre puts on regular shows and workshops year-round.
The National Theatre is made up of two different theatres; the large theatre can fit up to 1610 people, the small theatre can fit 590. Both offer two completely different experiences depending on what you’re watching.
The larger theatre often holds performances of the famous traditional Japanese arts like Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku. The smaller theatre offers a more intimate atmosphere making it the perfect option if you fancy indulging in an evening of Gagaku, or Japanese court music.
Put off by the archaic Japanese or lack of theatrical knowledge? Don’t be.
Most, if not all, programmes are easily accessible for foreign visitors because of the English language performances and workshops that they regularly put on.
For example, the Discover Kabuki performance combines an hour introduction to Kabuki theatre, covering its long history and the main concepts, along with a one-act show (usually lasting an hour and a half). A professional actor and English-speaking host will guide you through. It’s fantastic to see how the actors’ movements are directed, as well as all of the tricks of the stage and scenery – you’ll appreciate the performance that follows much more.
Subtitles and audio guides are supplied for free if you attend one of the shows. Audio guides do cost a small fee for a regular performance but they are incredibly useful, providing commentary in four languages (English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese). Yup, Kabuki is to Japanese people, like Shakespeare is to more western audiences.
If traditional Japanese theatre gets you hyped (don’t judge, guys) then the theatre’s souvenir shop is full of unique little trinkets and English-language books that go into more detail about the various art-forms, some of which are quite hard to find in normal shops.