Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fish Markets and Kabuki

I certainly had a busy day yesterday. I visited the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and took in a single act performance of Kabuki Theatre, then discovered some more of Tokyo’s secrets (that’s for another blog because this one is going to be long enough).

My mother-in-law had suggested that I go to the Tsukiji Market with her, but my wife didn’t think I’d been keen on the idea. It’s not an unreasonable reaction, my hatred of fish has not been kept a secret which has limited some of my eating options here in Japan. However, I thought it would be interesting and at the very least offer a chance for some photos. I hadn’t seen it and it was something to do!

There be fish this way!
So it was that we headed out yesterday on the train to Higashi Ginza station, below the Kabuki-za theatre and a short walk from the market. Or ‘markets’ is possibly a better way to describe it. I mean, it is the biggest fish market in the world! I can strike that off my bucket list now!

There are two markets principally – the inner and outer fish markets. The outer market is a grid of streets where people sell to the public and there are numerous small restaurants and food stalls. There were a couple of small ramen shops with people grabbing a bowl of noodles, and we had a sort of sweet egg thing so not everything is fish-based.
Ramen shop.

You can wander around and see all types of different fish for sale, and you may even see whale meat. The whole whale meat argument is one, folks, I am not entering into because I am here in Japan and my wife is Japanese and in Japan you don’t talk about religion, politics and whales. But I was told that this photo is of whale meat.

Reputedly whale-meat

Inne Market, note the trolley- things!
From there we went to the inner market, which is, from what I understand, a wholesale market. It’s the sort of place where you see people at work and the world go by. I saw some interesting looking seafood there, took a number of photos, and watched these really cool buggies driving about the place. Only part of the inner market is open to tourists, and you can’t enter before 9am. But all in all both were interesting places to see. I also noted so many TOURISTS! WOW! Even at the Cup Noodles museum in Yokohama most visitors were Japanese, but yesterday I saw more foreigners than I have for 12 months I think.

Then, Kabuki Theatre. What is really great is that you can get pretty cheap tickets to see a single act of the show, which may or may not be a complete story. We went to the Kazuki-za Theatre, which is a very modern building – it was completed in 2013 after the previous theatre was considered unsafe and the one before I think burnt down. It was massive and they must have been able to seat a few thousand in there.
Our tickets were 800 yen each, about 8 dollars. So for the tourist it won’t break the bank and for 500 yen more you get an earpiece with English translation. They have a limited number of spots, you need to be in the first 90-100 to get a seat. You are given entrance according to your ticket number. It’s a good idea to buy the tickets a couple of hours before the performance from the little booth outside the theatre, the single act tickets go on sale a little over two hours before that show. Note – I have no photos of the performance, because they are not allowed.
Kabuki-za Theatre

I saw an act called ‘The Dance of the Quiver and the Monkey’. The story is about a female Samurai who wants to take a trainer’s monkey to skin it and make a quiver out of it. However, the monkey starts to dance and the Samurai relents. Apparently the man playing the monkey trainer is a very famous Kabuki actor who had been ill for 12 months and was making his comeback. The entire theatre, which seemed pretty full (single act area was completely sold out) applauded when he came on stage and shouted his theatre-name aloud, which is apparently the tradition to praise the actors this way.

Kabuki theatre, from what I understand, is an offshoot of Noh Theatre, an older Japanese style of performance. The actors all dress up in amazing colours and paint their face and showing body white, speak very loudly and extremely theatrically, and there is a slow, deliberate kind of dance used as well. Kabuki means sing, dance & skill. The actors are accompanied by singers and players of the shamisen, a sort of Japanese ancient guitar (it’s the best I can describe it). The music is slow and the singers warble, rarely in tune and to be honest, it sounds bloody awful as non-appreciator of the art form.  But everything has its own skill set.
Kabuki-za promotional poster.

The stage is set. A long way back!
The female samurai was played by a male actor who specialises in female roles, and the monkey was played by a child and frequented received calls of ‘kawaii!’ from the audience (‘cute’!). He was the best thing about the show from my perspective. It moves rather slowly and is the complete opposite to naturalism. Which is interesting in itself, when I look at Japanese television (see my previous blog post) it very much is naturalistic. Whereas today’s movies and television in the west often err on the side of realism, being gritty, in Japan the dramas and indeed talk shows are very much over the top and ridiculous (with dramas less so, but the acting does appear very OTT).
Stunning work on the backdrops.

I found it really interesting. The crowd really enjoyed the performance and it’s so good to see, a little like East Europe and ex-USSR countries, that people still appreciate culture other than you know, hip-hop. Haha sorry to alienate my younger audience, but I’m 38 going on 70 here!

If you are in Tokyo, why not try a slice of culture? The stage is not so much a traditional, rotating Kabuki stage, but it featured a number of gorgeous backdrops as we waited for the play to begin that kept rolling over one another. Must have been serious work painting those. One act might be 20-40 minutes, so if you don’t like it, you’re not stuck for three hours and you haven’t shelled out your entire daily budget either. The play’s the thing, as someone rather important once said. JK Rowling I think it was.

My ebook Short Journeys: Japan has many more things to do, see and experience in Japan, and a few stories too.

Tomorrow (Thursday 17th April) is a very exciting day for World Journeys, the World Journeys Podcast is beginning. You will find it here, but also it should be going up on itunes and I would LOVE subscribers there! It might take until Friday for it to be available on Itunes though, will let you know! Please do watch this space, and may the journey never end!

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