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Attempting to look into the drama and theatre of the Asian world is like saddling one with the task of looking into the deep blue sea to fish out all the species of fishes therein. W. B. Worthen, based on the multifacetedness of the Asian world and it versatile political histories, authoritatively asserts that “the drama and theatre of the Asian world has a history as complex and multifaceted as the histories of the many civilizations, peoples and nations” (99). The Korean Arts Management Service affirms this position in a book, Asian Arts Theater Research on the Actual Condition of Performing Arts in Asia that:

Unlike the Western World, Asia has such a long history and traditions thereby presenting a variety of cultural diversity, which cannot be generalized into a single definition. Together with its own artistic heritages and newly accepted modern performing arts, Asia became the home to a number of new artistic possibilities. Various performing arts forms of Asia have already made a significant impact on the modern performing arts of the Western, gaining growing attention from the rest of the world (5).

Therefore, this paper only attempts to consider the contemporary Japanese theatre, however, it is noteworthy to state that the history of the development of theatres in Asia are somewhat interrelated because of the political and religious dominances of some countries over others. Take for instance the Indian literature of SANSKRIT and KATHAKALI (dance and music drama) which have lasted for more than three thousand years old still have their place of influence and popularity. The conventions of Indian theatre have pervasively influenced the theatre of Southeast Asia; the Sanskrit epic poems Mahabharata and Ramayana offer the characters and settings for the beautiful shadow puppet theatre of Java in Indonesia – WAYANG KULIT – and related forms of performance using dolls or live actors.

In a similar pattern, the masked dance drama of Korea which is called KAMYONGUK is also related both to Chinese and Japanese theatre, and Korea, like other Asian countries, has developed an important contemporary theatre. No one theatre can be said to represent the rich and diverse theatrical traditions, the classical theatre of Japan shares many features common to other Asian theatres: it blend aristocratic and popular affiliations; it descends from social and religious ritual traditions; it coordinates acting, dance, music and spectacle; many of its plots and characters are derived from familiar literary and historical narratives and legends; its performance conventions are elaborately stylized and refined; and it performers are often trained with level of formality not found in western theatre. Since this paper concerns the contemporary Asian theatre and its practice today, it is then canny to avoid its verse history of the theatre.

The Contemporary Japanese Theatre Activities

To understand Japanese theatre activity as a whole, it is important to say that there are four different types of theatre that one can find at virtually any given time: the traditional theatres doing Noh, Kyogen, Kabuki, Bunraku and classical Japanese dance; the commercial theatres performing Japanese versions of the latest hits from around the world; Shingeki (modern or conventional drama) groups presenting a range of western-style comedies and dramas from both the past and the present; the experimental or alternative theatres known in Japan as Small theatres.

The traditional theatre forms can be found in Tokyo at either the national theatres or at some of the privately operated theatres such as Kabuki-za (or Minamiza in Tokyo). Noh and Kyogen can still be seen in various cities while Bunraku is generally limited to performances in Tokyo at the National Bunraku Theatre or during shorter seasons of the National Theatre in Tokyo. The commercial theatres are generally run by major producing companies such a Tobo (which operate several theatres in Tokyo) and Shochiku (which operates the Kabuki-za and Shimbashi Enbujo. Many Japanese productions of West End or Broadway hits have played in Tokyo under the auspices of these managements. The Shingeki theatre was an attempt by Japanese theatre artists to create a European-style theatre, a form of drama that is different from the classical forms. The Small Theatre was a reaction against shingeki and against society as a whole. The small group experimented with new styles and new work methods (see Don Rubin, Chua Soo Pong and Ravi Chaturvedi, 222-234). For instance the Angura, literally meaning “underground”, was a loose theatre movement created in the 1960s and 1970s, it reacted against the formal realism of the Shingeki to create wild, anarchic productions in theatres, tents and outdoors. It explored primitive and provocative themes, and was associated with avant-garde contemporary cinema as well as groundbreaking art and graphic designs.

Therefore, what could be termed as contemporary Japanese theatre is a combination of both the old and the new, which is, production of the classical theatre and the conventional theatre. The contemporary Japanese theatre is centered on the aforementioned forms of theatres in Japan.

The Kabuki theatre

The Japanese classical forms of theatre are still in existence, especially the Kabuki theatre, with some levels of modernization, which apparently has given it strong audience appreciation and sustenance among the Japanese and foreign audiences, even in this 21st. century. For nearly four hundred years Kabuki theatre has been a popular entertainment among the common people in town areas in Japan. In fact, the practitioners of this aged long theatre have been touring major cities of Japan since July eight till September this year, using the Kabuki-za Theatre and the National Theatre which are located in various places within Tokyo in order to reach all demography of audience. The famed Shochiku group runs a number of permanent kabuki theaters, including the Kabukiza Theater in Ginza, Shimbashi Enbujo Theatre and Theater Cocoon in Shibuya (all in Tokyo), as well as the Kyoto Minamiza Theatre and the Osaka Shochiku-za Theatre.

They are mindful of business and entrepreneurially innovative that in some of their performances they allow non-native audience to rent tablets that will provide English subtitles or headsets offering the plot and other interesting information as the action happens onstage. A kabuki performance is a great way to spend a day indoors. Unlike a Western theater experience, which will last up to perhaps three hours, a kabuki performance will typically start before noon and run with periodic breaks until evening, with scenes from multiple plays of varying lengths strung together throughout the day. You can get single-act tickets in some theaters, but you’ll likely have to wait in line for them. And seats are not only limited, you may end up standing at the back of the room.

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