Translated by Jay Issei Karslake
Kaho Theater In Fukuoka - Discover The Essence Of The Japanese Stage!
Written by miki fukumuro
Kaho Theater, located in Iizuka, Fukuoka prefecture, boasts the largest traditional Japanese stage! Take a tour behind the curtains and see the mechanisms that make possible the spectacular tricks in traditional performing arts!
Iizuka in Fukuoka prefecture once prospered as a coal mining town, but even now, when the population has decreased, the heart of the town - its great playhouse - is still left. This playhouse is called Kaho gekijō (Kaho Theater).
A Large Stage and Spacious Seats for the Audience
As soon as you enter the theater, you will be impressed by the atmosphere of this place, which seems to be from another era. Able to accommodate 750-1200 members in the audience, it's the largest wooden playhouse in Japan. The tatami style seats that are partitioned by a wooden frame are called masuseki and are a distinctive feature of traditional theaters.
The theater was built using large wooden beams, which made it possible to create a wide space for the audience, without any pillars.
On the lateral sides of the audience seats there are two hanamichi - long narrow paths used by the actors to come in and out. The close distance between the actors and the audience is also one of the appealing points about watching performances in this theater.
The sajiki-seki can be considered "VIP seats", the best seats in theaters for kabuki and traditional performing arts.
This is how the stage looks like. Its size is impressive! Some of the features of this stage originate in the Edo period *(1603-1868), for instance the seri (*1) or the "revolving stage".
*1: Seri… an equipment where a part of the floor is cut out, making it posible for actors to appear on stage through that pit.
While visiting, you can wear the costumes and take pictures! How about making some great memories of your visit by feeling like one of the actors?
Going further into the back, I discovered a room containing props that have been used in past performances.
You shouldn't touch the props, but you can look at the masks and objects used on stage.
A Tour of Naraku - The Bottom of the Stage
At Kaho Theater you can take a tour of the "naraku". In Japanese,"naraku" usually means "hell", but in the world of the theater the word refers to the area behind the curtains and below the stage, which supports the performance.
The "revolving stage" (meguributai) can be operated by pushing the 12 poles using human strength. This is the largest revolving stage in Japan.
This is the seri. Shaped like a mikoshi (portable shrine), it has two poles that are maneuvered by eight people.
Related article: Japanese Encyclopedia: Mikoshi (“Portable Shrine”)
Going further to the back, there is a path that stretches straight. This place is right under the hanamichi.
Several posters of past performances are on display. By looking at them, you can see that various kinds of traditional entertainment such as kabuki, popular plays, ballad shows, pro wrestling, boxing, comedy, and even circus performances have been offered here
A Different Atmosphere on the Second Floor
The second floor seats have a different atmosphere. To make viewing the performance a little bit easier, the seats are slightly slanted.
The lights above the audience are brand new and each one is shaped after an animal or a plant motif.
This is the second floor exhibition room. A large number of props were lost in the flood that occurred in 2003, but the objects that were saved are carefully displayed in this room.
Souvenirs From Your Theater Tour
In the lobby there is a stand selling book covers, picture postcards, and Japanese hand towels.
This towel may be the best souvenir or gift from your visit to Kaho Theater.
Because Kaho Theater hosts performances regularly, stage tours are only possible when there aren't performances going on. (There's a chance you can't visit the theater the day before the performance). Information about the performance schedule, tickets, and tour schedules can be found on the home page of the theater.
After having overcome various difficulties like fires and floods, Kaho Theater continues to be loved by the locals, by the actors, and their fans.
We warmly recommend this place to those who want to experience the world of Japanese traditional theater from close and wish to learn more about a stage with a rich history. Inside the theater there are guidance information systems in various languages (Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Thai) and if you use the Wi-Fi system you can hear the information while on your tour.
If you visit Fukuoka, do go to explore the living cultural asset that is Kaho Theater.