Featuring costumes to rival even the most lavish opera productions in the West, the ancient art of Japanese mime – Kabuki – is one of the most unforgettable theatrical forms on the planet.

Plot lines invariably recount a convoluted, three-part tale drawn either from feudal folklore or court intrigue. They begin sedately , enough, but tend to finish with an eruption of sound, as Japanese instruments – such as the stringed ‘koto’ and piercing ‘shakuhachi’ flute – spring into life. A deus-ex-machina figure, wearing a mask such as a dragon’s face with flowing mane, usually appears in the final act as the riot of colour and sound reaches its climax.

With shows often lasting upwards of four hours, a full Kabuki performance is not for the faint-hearted. However, the 300-year old Kabuki-za theatre in the upmarket Tokyo district of Ginza now offers one-act tickets for sale on the day of a performance. This is an excellent way to sample Japanese high culture at its most abstruse and impenetrable – but in a manageable format. And if the sudden flourishes of music and appearance of the masked figures doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat, then the shouts from the audience – much like those one might hear at a pantomime – certainly will!


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