Kabuki

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At the theatre entrance

When I was offered the chance to see a kabuki play, I was initially reluctant. I don’t know that much about kabuki, the ticket was 6000 yen (around £50), and the play lasts 4 hours (though it has breaks). But I thought: hey, this might be a cool experience, so I should try it out.

And thank god I did!

Kabuki was an absolutely sublime experience. It is theatre, but in a different way from stuff you see in the West. It is normally based on medieval plays, and lines are spoken in exaggerated voices, making the language hard to understand at times. There was live music, including instruments such as the shamisen (a stringed, plucked instrument) and the shinobue (a wooden flute). The costumes were incredibly detailed, and the dance at the end included some impressive kimono changes right on stage.

What really amazed me, though, were the movements. The entirety of the play looked like a dance, where every movement of every character was precise and filled with meaning. I was mesmerised by the scene where samurai Danshichi from the play “Natsumatsuri Naniwa Kagami” was forced by circumstance to kill his father-in-law, which was a terrible crime in Edo Japan. I only read a short explanation before seeing the play, but even with limited knowledge of the significance of the scene, the costume, the movements and facial expressions, I was very touched by the acting.

Another interesting thing about kabuki is that it is still only performed by men. But it’s not the same concept as the men who performed female roles in medieval England, and a Western viewer would be wrong to judge the male-only casting in kabuki as outdated. The men of kabuki have made acting as a woman, or being onnagata, a real form of art: the only thing that gave them away on stage was their voice, but other than that, the costume, the movements – they were extremely convincing. I think onnagata can actually be used as commentary on society-imposed gender roles: gender is more than one’s genitals, it is also the way you move, the way you speak, and so on. I only actually knew about kabuki because I’m a big fan of David Bowie, who used kabuki as inspiration for his famous androgynous style and stage performances. I’m fascinated by the fact that such a liminal take on gender has been born in an otherwise ever-conservative Japan.

So, yeah, I’m thrilled I took the time to see a kabuki play. Even Hannah’s friend who is visiting at the moment and doesn’t speak Japanese enjoyed the play for its aesthetics. Definitely a recommended experience for people interested in Japanese culture.

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Inside the hall

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Guns N’ Roses in Osaka

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The guitar god himself

It was a Thursday morning, and I was sitting in class, trying not to doze off. I was flicking through my planner and noticed a note I left for myself ages ago: Guns N’ Roses were gonna be here in Kansai, on January 21st and 22nd. I knew about this from way back in November, but with all the Christmas plans it seemed ludicrous to spend so much money on a gig. Now it was January, I just got a fresh instalment of my JASSO scholarship…

So I went ahead and bought a 19,000 yen (£131.50) ticket to see one of my favourite bands. Two days away from the show. I’ve never spent so much money on a gig or bought a ticket so spontaneously, so I was shaking all day.

I’m no stranger to going to rock gigs back in England. I’ve been with friends and alone, and always queued for hours outside of the venue, to stand in the very front rows and get squashed by the mob, struggling to hear the band play. I love that kind of stuff once in a while. But I also heard that Japanese rock gigs are very, very different. My former guitar teacher is in a rock band and they toured Japan before, and came back confused: the crowd is very welcoming, but eerily quiet, dutifully clapping at the end of a song, and making no move to start a moshpit. This may not be so weird to a pop music fan, but it’s far from what you experience at an English rock gig. So I researched and tried to psych myself up for a different kind of show.

And different it was. I went to the one on the 21st in Osaka, and the very first strange thing for me was that doors opened at 4 pm. Apparently that’s the thing with Japanese gigs: they either start early enough to finish before the last train, i.e. midnight, or, if it’s a club night, then they will start at midnight and go on until the first trains start running. It makes sense and I really didn’t want to sit in a McDonald’s until 6 am waiting for the first train, but it also felt weird to go to a gig so early.

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The view was pretty decent despite how huge the venue was

The venue was Kyocera Dome, and it was awesome. It’s a huge complex of shops and restaurants, normally used for the extremely popular baseball games, though many concerts also take place there. I assumed my ticket was for non-assigned seats so I got there as early as I could (around 4:30 pm, no thanks to confusing rail lines), and discovered I actually had a seat number. So I jealously stared down at the tiny area designated for standing (most of the ground floor was seated), and went to wander around the venue. The merchandise cost slightly ridiculous amounts, such as 1500 yen (£10) for a poster.

In fact, the concert ticket prices in Japan also really surprised me: they all cost between 10,000 yen-20,000 yen (£70-140) on average, including small and lesser-known bands. In the UK I paid maybe £40 to see the fairly popular 30 Seconds to Mars at the London O2 venue; but such legendary bands as Guns N’ Roses would cost upwards of £150 for the cheapest ticket. So Japan charges too much for small bands and surprisingly little for very popular bands. I guess I got a good deal. Oh, and standing tickets bizarrely cost more than seating ones, though it’s not so often that there is a standing area at all, it seems. Also, the ticket selling system looks very convoluted, where you have to either go to a convenience store at the exact time the tickets go on sale, or pay to join a fan club, or be lazy like me and grab a ticket off viagogo.com for a slightly higher price.

The show started exactly on time, at 6 pm, and the opening act was Babymetal. It’s a Japanese band where some speed metal is mixed with a bunch of girls dressed up in gothic lolita style, singing pop songs. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, and I highly recommend checking them out. I couldn’t stop laughing through the 5 songs they played, in a good way. For many Japanese people this is a hugely important band and half the crowd seemed to be there as much for Babymetal as for Guns N’ Roses.

Guns N’ Roses were also surprisingly punctual, considering their reputation. They came on maybe 40 minutes after the warm-up act. Then again, their recent reunion with Slash seems to symbolise more focus on the quality of the performance, and less on the rock-star reputation. All I can say about the show itself is: this was the best rock performance I’ve ever been to, and my only regret was that I wasn’t downstairs with the standing crowd. The audience was not as bad as I expected, there was some movement in the crowd, and many of the people in seated areas stood and eagerly clapped along. By the end of the gig there was even a bunch of drunk young men swinging around a bottle of Suntory Whisky and yelling standard concert chants down at the band. It was a good atmosphere, which was very much thanks to the band’s electrifying presence. And, as my friend John said, towards the end you just kind of sit there thinking “and here goes Slash again, doing a solo that shouldn’t be humanly possible without breaking a sweat”.

After that people quickly dispersed, some probably to off to clubs to continue the party, others to get trains home. It was a great time and I don’t regret a single penny I spent on the ticket, though I don’t have much interest in going to another concert in Japan. Getting a ticket is just too much hassle; the atmosphere for the rock gigs is also not quite as intense as in England. Definitely an experience worth having though!