Six Days in Shikoku: Kanamaru-za in Kotohira

Above there are many cylindrical lanterns shining brightly.  Far in the distance is a wall covered with white and red cloth.  On the right side we see a raised wooden platform, called the 'hanamichi', extending into the vast area where the audience would sit on tatami mats.

Looking down the hanamichi of Kanamaru-za, the oldest intact kabuki theatre in the world

I kept on changing my mind about whether or not I actually wanted to go to Kotohira. I eventually realized that I would have to pass through Kotohira anyway to get from JR Oboke station to my next destination. Once I was in town, I went straight to what was of greatest interest to me: Kanamaru-za, the world’s oldest kabuki theatre.

The map shows that Kotohira is in northeastern Shikoku, a bit inland, and west of Takamatsu

It takes about ten minutes to walk from JR Kotohira station to cross the river into the old part of town.

This is a Shinto shrine, with a tori gate, a very tall lantern in the distance, and a towering green tree

I passed this shrine on the way to the old part of town

There is a historic street which is all geared up to separate tourists from their yen. Apparently, it had once been a flourishing merchants’ area.

Ye Olde Japanese Architecture

Ye Olde Japanese Architecture

Removed from the noise and bustle of the historic/touristy street, the Kanamaru-za is in a surprisingly quiet area.

It's the KANAMARU-ZA!!!

It’s the KANAMARU-ZA!!!

An old man gave me a tour of the theatre. Since I had spent almost 6 months in Japan sharpening my Japanese language skills, I was actually able to understand a lot of what he was saying, at least with the assistance of lots of gestures and my prior knowledge of traditional Japanese theatre (i.e. I already knew what a hanamichi is).

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Above is the room where audience members remove their sandals, since sandals/shoes are not permitted inside the theatre.

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And those are the lanterns which light up the theatre, though I suspect they are now lit with electricity and not fire (theatres were the very first places to install electric lighting – within a year of the electric light bulb being invented, theatres in Europe were installing electric lights, because there are Serious Problems with using fire/gas to illuminate a theatre). There is also a contraption up there which allows kabuki actors to fly, though I can’t really see it in any of my photos.

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And of course, any theatre with built-in flying machines is also going to have some trap doors.

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Apparently, there had been several temporary theatres built here before the construction of this permanent theatre in 1835. When it was first built, most of the audience was people visiting Kotohira for religious reasons (if you want to know why people came to Kotohira for religious reasons, you should read my next post!)

This is one of the 'backstage' rooms for the actors

This is one of the ‘backstage’ rooms for the actors

The theatre had fallen into disrepair until top kabuki actors rediscovered it in the 1980s. Since then, it’s hosted a kabuki festival every year featuring Japan’s finest kabuki stars.

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But this … this is the REVOLVER! It revolves the stage! I think it’s supposed to take 6 people working together to revolve the stage.

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That is the hanamichi – as seen from below. It’s designed so that people can *ahem* appear and disappear from the hanamichi rather quickly.

And this is what the theatre looks like from above

And this is what the theatre looks like from above

I notice that they have a screen showing a pine tree on the stage. Noh and kyogen theatre always have a pine tree in the background because, historically, those plays were performed at temples literally in front of pine trees, and when they started performing noh and kyogen indoors they brought (painted) pine trees with them. However, the kabuki play I saw at the Minami-za (the kabuki theatre in Kyoto which was established in 1610 BUT the current building was built in the 1920s, therefore it’s not as old as Kanamaru-za) didn’t feature any painted pine trees in the background.

Good-bye, Kanamaru-za!

Good-bye, Kanamaru-za!

The theatre definitely got my visit to Kotohira off to a good start.

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I went back to the historic street, and saw a little dance-and-song show put on for tourists. I don’t remember much about it though.

The steps leading up to Kompira-san

The steps leading up to Kompira-san

So now I went to the big, big, big tourist draw in Kotohira, which is Konpira-san. Yup, Konpira-san is where those steps lined with merchants trying to separate tourists from their yen is going up to. That’s the subject of the next post.

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