On Friday we went to Ginza and stopped by Kabuki-za. Hunh, I was completely unaware that that was the center of Kabuki theater. That's cool.
Standard tickets had long since sold out, but there are day-of tickets available on a per-show, first-come-first-served basis (for much cheaper). We were thinking about just attending the first of the three afternoon shows, but a kabuki regular (who was unable to buy her standard tickets due to the popularity of this particular set of shows) recommended staying. We ended up buying tickets for all three.
Armed with bento and our commentary handsets, we filed up to the nosebleed seats above the balcony. The seats were narrow and cramped; the seats in coach had more leg room. Still, I was there for a new experience.
The first show was modern (1930s) and set at the end of the Shogunate, shortly after Commodore Perry and the Kanagawa Treaty. It was surprisingly realistic (due to its modern style) with a set that included the first 10' of a house, complete with sliding doors and raised veranda. The makeup and acting were realistic, with little of the over-the-top stylistic flair that one would associate with Kabuki. Overall it seemed like one of the lengthier expository scenes of a Kurosawa film.
I found the commentary a little jarring for this one; recorded dry English commentary in one ear and the live Japanese dialog in the other. At times I turned the volume down to listen to the Japanese. Overall I liked it, and the intermission gave me a chance to stretch my legs.
The second show was a classic, telling the tale of Minamoto Yoshitsune and Benkei using guile to evade detection (and execution) at his half-brother Yoritomo's roadblocks. This one was fully Kabuki with Noh artifacts, with thirty or forty traditional Japanese musicians accompanying the ten or so actors. This one was great, quite a treat. We were glad we didn't just see the one.
As a side note, I experienced my first earthquake in Japan during the second show =) A 4.0 quickie; the actors didn't stop acting.
The third was ultra-modern, having been written in the late 90s. An amusing but waaaaay too long comedy with maybe eight different scenes and set changes that were obviously not written for the people sitting in the backseat-of-a-yugo footroom nosebleed seats. Without the commentary I probably would have fallen asleep.
Still, we were glad we went, and by the time we left, it was dark, allowing me to photograph Ginza at night.
[night shots and roppongi]:
The city is so much more beautiful at night.
After humoring me for a while, my parents wanted to head back to the hotel. I decided to wander around Shinjuku for a while to get some of those shots I had missed the first time around... my first time oot&aboot Tokyo by myself.
Kinda wanted to pop into a pachinko parlor to see what the fuss was about, but not enough to actually do it.
Headed over to Roppongi by train since Tim had regaled me with tales of girls in outrageous costume: the loligoths and cosplay and various other outfits crowding the streets... just something you gotta see. Maybe I got out the wrong exit (there were six or more widely dispersed exits from the station) or maybe he was exaggerating... I just saw a bunch of fairly normally dressed people, "gentleman"s clubs and bars, and a bunch of shady types trying to lure people (in shady ways) to walk into said clubs and bars. The better to part with your money, my dear.
Although I had never been to Roppongi before, I've seen it. The hustle, the girls on the other side of the doors, the drunks, the glassy-eyed men stumbling in or out. Not really what I was looking for at that point.
Instead I popped into the Tokyo Hard Rock, dodged some vomit, and took the ultra-packed train back home.
[homeless encampments + winter]:
After I showed so much interest in graffiti and homeless, my father showed me a small homeless encampment in Shinjuku Chuo Gyoen (the park just outside our hotel room). While others picnic nearby, homeless doze off on benches or take advantage of the free water and bathrooms. A small neat cluster of little tents, small enclosed shelters covered with blue tarps, lay in one corner of the park.
I asked my father where they go when it snows... is there a shelter? He said he saw them clustered underneath City Hall, in the parking area.
All men. My mother hypothesized that women adapt easier to new situations, so it's easier for their friends and family to take them in. I think there might be another reason as well.
They don't panhandle, so they're most likely getting some sort of handout from the government. I wonder what sort of carrot or stick keeps them well behaved and relatively neat and clean.
It's sad in a way. If my mother had been right, and there were no litter or homeless or graffiti or crime in Japan, that would have been some comfort, that there is a way for humans to reach a sort of utopia in this world. Who knows, maybe it's there in Canada or somewhere, maybe it's all about the moose. But Japan, with its strongly capitalist ways (privatized rail, privatized health?) doesn't have it, unless you have money.
Ginza is the high class shopping district. Before kabuki we walked to Nihombashi, the site of an old bridge, 4 train stations away.
We finished our walk in Mitsukoshi, the oldest department store. Old enough to have a train station named after it: Mitsukoshimae, or "in front of Mitsukoshi".
Another notable train name: the Chiyoda line. Literally, "blood of Yoda". ;-)
Small police stations abound, three or four police per (and often a couple are out patrolling). These certainly contribute to the safeness of the city.
Akihabara is the electronic store district. Yodobashi Camera is a Circuit City / Fry's mix. The US isn't terribly far behind in tech these days, so it wasn't mind boggling... but I really liked the camera section. They had a number of camera bodies out and a greater number of lenses, all tethered to the counter. I was able to try out the various lenses in-store. The rest of Akihabara is just kind of crazy.
The cherry blossoms in Shinjuku are definitely fading fast, and will most likely be gone next week.
On Sunday we took the shinkansen to Kyoto, which is gorgeous. One 4gb card lasted me all week in Tokyo; I'm afraid I'll fill up my second soon and today was our first full day in Kyoto. Internet access is a bit more limited here and they cut off anyone who's a bandwidth hog, so I'm going to wait to upload photos til Tokyo or when I'm back in SF.