Performing Arts, Sumo & Matsuri
Japan is a country full of spectacle – whether the slapping and shoving of sumo wrestlers in combat on a tiny dohyo stage, the overly exaggerated moves of kabuki actors in striking makeup and dress, or teams of men as they heave portable shrines through crowded city streets.
Although kabuki stretches back to the 1600s when a female troupe in Kyoto first performed on the banks of the Kamo River, kabuki really flourished in the late Edo period in Tokyo with the rise of the merchant class. Characterised by glamorous costumes, heavily stylised moves, archetypal characters, and an all-male cast in which some actors perform onnagata female roles, kabuki reflected the everyday life of the times. Join this private experience to learn about its history, try out the distinctive kumadori makeup on your own face and see a kabuki actor in full dress demonstrate the famous keburi move (where the hairpiece is swung in circular motion to accentuate a dramatic point).
Noh & Kyogen Theater
Older than kabuki, the world of noh is an exercise in subtle, slow and studied movements accompanied by ancient court music. Actors (some wearing the classic wooden noh mask) inhabit a square stage decorated with a single pine tree and through words and song will play out the story of an ancient tale. Related to noh, kyogen theatre takes some of the themes from the esoteric noh world and renders them with humour. Interact with actors from both media in this experience and gain precious insights into Japan’s performing arts.
Accompanied by a former sumo wrestler well-known in Japan, this unique experience allows you to visit a sumo stable and get up close with sumo wrestlers as they run through their morning practice. Your guide will then continue his explanation about this fascinating sport over the traditional wrestlers’ lunch – chanko-nabe hot pot. If your visit times with one of the six annual sumo tournaments, you will then be taken to watch a tournament and get a ringside commentary of the game.
The Japanese drum, or taiko, has played an important role in Japanese culture for centuries – part of religious rituals, used as a military tool, or as an accompaniment to other instruments in kabuki and noh plays. Meet some professional drummers to learn the fundamental steps of this dynamic musical form and try out some drumming yourself on a range of drums, both large and small.
At any time of year across Japan, you can experience sacred rituals honoring Buddhist or Shinto traditions, rollicking street parades and colorful floats, or local gatherings where families dressed in summer yukata enjoy the summer fireworks or traditional dance. We can arrange participation in a number of matsuri across the country but have particularly strong links with Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri with its 1,200-year heritage and some of the local matsuri in the shita-machi area of Tokyo – a once-in-a-life opportunity to interact with local people and feel a special part of the celebration.