Originating in the 15th Century, Kabuki theatre is a truly avant-garde art form and one of the country’s oldest forms of entertainment. Generally consisting of all male actors, Kabuki is distinctive due to their extravagant make up, elaborate backdrops, and unique Japanese musical instruments.
Performances can be quite expensive and long, usually starting in the morning and often not finishing until the evening. If a full-day performance isn’t for you, a good option for travellers is buying a single-act ticket.
At Tokyo’s Kabukiza theatre in Ginza, these unreserved tickets can be purchased on the day and permit entry to a performance that could last up to two hours. Single-act tickets sell quickly, so make sure you arrive at least an hour or so beforehand to grab a seat.
Originating in the 14th Century, Noh theatre is the oldest form of Japanese theatre still performed regularly today. As a form of musical theatre, Noh could be seen as less radical than Kabuki, since it doesn’t have the same level of extravagant make up, scene changes and backdrops.
Due to its Shinto origins, and its historic performance in shrines, it is a much more serene, simplistic, and really quite a spiritual experience, centered around masks and rhythm. Tickets can be purchased for around ¥3,000 at Tokyo’s National Noh theatre.
If Kabuki and Noh aren’t your thing, perhaps Sumo might be suited to you. This Japanese experience is only around during three major tournaments of the year, in January, May & September. Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan is the major venue for matches. Make sure you get your tickets early, though, as they sell out quick!
If your trip doesn’t line up with one of these tournaments, you can always attend a morning training session instead. Just be on your best behavior as the requirements to watch are quite strict with audiences. You’ll be asked to sit still and be quiet for a few hours at a time.
Ryokan are traditional Japanese guesthouses that are located throughout the country. Originally serving as inns for weary travellers, Ryokans are the ultimate insight to Japan’s carefully preserved cultural heritage.
Ryokans are generally complete with sliding screen doors, tatami mats, and futons. Staying at a ryokan for part of your trip is the best way to experience the Japanese culture and taste traditional meals. At the Andon Ryokan in Tokyo, visitors can even choose to partake in a Japanese tea ceremony – a must do for all lovers of green tea.
Many ryokans also provide entertainment and geisha performances at the in-house restaurant and many have private onsen facilities, so make sure you brush up on your ettiquette if this is your first time at the hot spring.
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