text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
It was originally built in 1889, it was destroyed by fire in 1921, its rebuilding started in 1922 but before it was completed it was destroyed in 1923 by the Great Kanto Earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1924 but was once again destroyed by the Allies’ bombing of Tokyo in 1945 and it was rebuilt in 1950; this time, it lasted until 2010, when it was voluntarily demolished by its owner company, Shochiku to be rebuilt better, more earthquake resistant, more easily accessible to senior citizens (a big part of its audience) and people with special needs and with better dressing rooms for the actors. The Kabuki-za, Tokyo’s specialized kabuki theater for kabuki drama has its own eventful history, as dramatic as the plays performed in its hall.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to really live Kabuki-za; I only visited it once, during the “Sayonara Kouen” the farewell performances staged between January and April 2010 (this is when the picture was taken). And I’m certain that because it was the first time I watched kabuki live, because of the actors starring in those plays (true giants of the art), because of which those plays were (essentially, an anthology of kabuki) and because of the impending demolition, I remember it as much more exciting than it probably was; judging from the complaints of the fanatic kabuki enthusiasts, the old theater really needed the change that is underway at this time and that will be completed by the spring of 2013.
The models displayed by Shochiku only show the exterior of the new Kabuki-za which, after much discussion and heated debates will be the same as the old; this means that, at least in appearance the theater is not going to change. And even though I believe some people will be longing for the old theater, it won’t be long until this “non-change change” will be broadly accepted, since it is indicative of how traditional things are in Japan: what is preserved is the parts of appearance and content that are necessary for the conservation of substance other than those, everything else changes mercilessly. And maybe this is the reason that Tokyo, a city with hardly any things aged over fifty years at all, manages to step with one foot in the future and with the other in the past.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. For more information about his work and his writing, visit http://about.me/GrigorisMiliaresis and http://www.japanarekore.gr/