The last thing I expected to hear after settling into my seat at Gofukuza, a kabuki theater in Osaka, was Lady Gaga. She reverberated through the theater as kabuki actors, dressed in their customarily drastic makeup and ornate costumes, performed an updated version of traditional dance. Then, the song ended and the theater was filled with a traditional song and dance.
Gofukuza’s goal is to keep kabuki, a traditional style of Japanese theater featuring acting and dance, relevant as it moves through the ages. In addition to staging performances that blend the old and new, it also slightly modifies the language of traditional plays to make the old-style Japanese more accessible to audiences and prices its shows at a fraction of the cost of other theaters. The theater has a more relaxed environment than other kabuki theathers do, allowing food and drink and a casual dress code.
For all the contemporary updates, though, the kabuki experience is still alive. Actors are held to a high standard and the style of traditional kabuki is upheld. As at most theaters, the all-male cast is mostly comprised of legacy actors: those whose fathers and grandfathers were also kabuki performers. They begin training at a young age, some at just three years old.
At Gofukuza, the show opens with a traditional play. Kabuki, which dates back 400 years to the Edo period, is regionally divided into two types: Edo kabuki, based in Tokyo, generally espouses themes of manliness, while kamigata kabuki, based in Kansai, characteristically uses romance plots.
After the play and a short intermission, the second half of the show is all dance. The theater took on an entirely different atmosphere as its highly produced light show flashed in rythym with the music and audience members cheered and waved LED lights.
The music combined western and Japanese pop music with traditional songs. All the while, dancers showcased their traditional styles, doing flips and choreographed jumps, dancing with swords and navigating complicated steps.
Throughout the show, fans made their way to the front and pinned money to their favorite actors’ chests. Afterward, the line to meet the actors stretched out of the theater and into the street.
Shows at Gofukuza run daily, with an afternoon performance starting at 12:30 p.m. and an evening performance starting at 6 p.m. Tickets cost ¥2,000 and can be purchased in advance by phone or purchased day-of.
This activity was found on Nippon Quest, a website that curates unique, off-beat Japanese experiences around the country and allows foreigners and locals alike to rate them. To learn more about activities like this in Japan, visit their website.
From Shin-Osaka Station: Take the Midosuji Line toward Nakamozu and get off at Umeda Station. The theater is a 5-10 minute walk from the station. It’s also a 10-minute walk from the JR Osaka Station. The theater’s address: Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Kita-ku, Taiyujicho, 8-17 Umeda Building 5F.
From Tokyo Station: Take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Nozomi train toward Shin-Osaka. From Shin Osaka-Station, take the Midosuji Line toward Nakamozu and get off at Umeda Station.