KABUKI ABC (68) / New Year performances: A festive mood is filling theaters as troupes take the stage in January

The Yomiuri Shimbun

From right, Matsumoto Hakuo, Matsumoto Koshiro and Ichikawa Somegoro

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe first kabuki performances of 2018 are currently running at four theaters in Tokyo to celebrate the New Year. The theaters are filled with jubilation, making this a golden opportunity for people who have never experienced live kabuki to see their first performances. Today’s Kabuki ABC introduces the actors, programs and details of the plays.

Kabukiza theater

The centerpiece of the current program is the announcement of name successions in the Koraiya troupe spanning three generations.

The troupe’s 75-year-old chief, the former Matsumoto Koshiro IX, has succeeded the name Hakuo, becoming Matsumoto Hakuo II. The name Koshiro was given to his 44-year-old son, who has become Matsumoto Koshiro X. Hakuo’s 12-year-old grandson succeeded his father’s former name to become Ichikawa Somegoro VIII.

These three actors are making great efforts in the current program. In the evening performance, Koshiro X is playing Benkei in “Kanjincho,” a role his three predecessors — Koshiro VII, VIII and IX — played to huge acclaim. The new Ichikawa Somegoro is acting together with his father as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the master of Benkei, in what is one of the most popular kabuki plays.

In the matinee, Koshiro and Hakuo both play the role of Matsuomaru, one of the main characters in “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami,” in different acts. Koshiro does so in the “Kurumabiki” act, whereas Hakuo can be seen as Matsuomaru in the “Terakoya” act.

The program runs through Jan. 26.

Shinbashi Enbujo theater

The core of the New Year performance in Shinbashi is Ichikawa Ebizo — regarded as one of the leading young actors of the moment. The highlight of this program is the evening performance of “Nihon Mukashi-Banashi” (Folk tales of Japan). In this play, five popular fairy tales — “Momotaro,” “Urashima Taro,” “Kaguyahime,” “Issun Boshi” and “Hanasaka Jisan” — are woven into a single story.

Other actors in the performance include Nakamura Shido and Ichikawa Udanji.

A prominent feature of kabuki is that while all roles are performed by males, there is an exception for child actors. Ebizo’s 6-year-old daughter, Reika Horikoshi, plays Princess Kaguya in her childhood.

The program runs through Jan. 26.

National Theatre

Every year, Kikugoro Gekidan, a group led by kabuki heavyweight Onoe Kikugoro, performs newly created dramas or reproductions of old dramas for its first play of the year.

This year, the group is performing “Sekai no Hana Oguri Hangan,” an epic drama about two characters — Oguri Hangan and Terute Hime — who repeatedly miss each other.

Each year, this group has come up with a unique way of referencing the trending topics of the day. For example, Pikotaro, who had become a sensation, featured in last year’s performance. Many fans look forward to these unique shows.

Kikugoro is taking on the role of the great thief Kazama Hachiro, whereas Onoe Kikunosuke will perform as Oguri Hangan. Other actors include Nakamura Tokizo and Onoe Shoroku.

The program runs through Jan. 27.

Asakusa Public Hall

Every year, a performance led by up-and-coming young actors — dubbed hanagata — takes place at this theater in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, which is always crowded during the New Year period as people visit temples and shrines.

This year, 32-year-old Onoe Matsuya leads the pack of young actors, who are mainly in their 20s. They include Nakamura Kasho, Bando Minosuke, Bando Shingo, Nakamura Tanenosuke, Nakamura Yonekichi, Nakamura Hayato and Nakamura Umemaru.

A special feature of this New Year performance is that the actors take turns to offer New Year’s greetings to spectators before the curtain goes up.

The dramas being performed include “Genroku Chushingura Ohama Goten Tsunatoyo-kyo” and “Hikimado.”

The performances run through Jan. 26.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese performing arts.

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