October 11th, 2006

Photography: Sakura

(no subject)

I went to my shamisen lesson yesterday and Sensei told me that she was going to attend a performance by her dance teacher (who, I’m told, also teaches Igawa Haruka-san). It would also include a performance of rakugo. Since I’ve never seen that performed, I really wanted to go.

The Noh theatre in question was underneath the Cerulean Hotel in Shibuya. I always wondered why Sensei demanded such specific theatres for her productions, but it’s easy to see why. A Noh stage juts out into the audience and has its own walkway and roof, just like a traditional Japanese house. The entrance for performers, like in the tea ceremony rooms, is low (about chest-height) so that you have to bow to enter.

The audience, in this theatre anyway, sat on chairs, while those in the cheaper seats sat on cushions in two tatami-floored booths at the back. There was a place for leaving our shoes just before we entered. If I’d known I was going to the theatre that day, I would’ve worn better socks!

Anyway, we had the cheaper seats, so we grabbed a cushion and got a place at the front of the booth. Just before the performance started, however, a clique of three women and their three children entered. From that moment, they treated it as their personal playroom. Toys were brought out and huge packets of sweets were thrown all over the room. The children screamed and cried and ran all over the place for the next hour or so. These women were utterly oblivious! One even decided to change a nappy (diaper) in the corner of the booth. The children were so loud, I didn’t hear much at all -- I certainly couldn’t concentrate on the rakugo storyteller’s dialogue enough to understand the story. And, despite what I thought beforehand, his voice was clear enough to be able to hear every word. What I did hear was funny, but I didn’t hear all that much. In front of us, in the main area, at least three people walked out because of these mothers.

(And if you’re wondering why no one said anything, it’s because it’s traditional not to be confrontational in public. People attending such a place are likely to be even more traditional that most. But I saw lots of people handing in their questionnaires at the end, which is how complaining is properly done in such a situation,)

Speaking of the storyteller, they brought him a mat and a white lumpy thing that they placed on the mat. He looked at it puzzled (that was an act, of course), then sat on it, adopting the seiza position over it. That is apparently the secret to sitting seiza-style for long periods of time.

There were other performances to follow. Luckily, the shamisen is a loud, percussive instrument, and when one of the musicians stood in the centre of the stage and did this amazing shamisen solo, I could still hear it above the screams. It was incredible -- he played so fast and changed notes with ease. He even retuned half-way through.

There was a fifteen minute interval and we decided to move. The other booth had a restrictive view and we’d already got the best spots in the one we were in, but it didn’t have those people in it! Surprisingly, the many screen doors shielded us from all but the worst the children had to offer.

The final performance was short, but I really enjoyed it. It would be best described as contemporary kyougen. The story was that a man arrives on the islands of giants and oni, where a group of oni waiting with the oni princess (the part was played by Sensei's Sensei!). The princess is meditating and thinking of Momotarou, whom she loves. The man does a dance and distracts the drunk oni so she can escape. What was new about this was that the size of the giants was shown by using robots! They had a little robot dressed as the main character, that could do a limited number of traditional dance moves. The actor provided the voice from behind a bamboo screen. They also had giant props for when it was just the actor on stage. This included a giant calligraphy brush belonging to the princess. Anyway, it was a great story and very funny.

If you want to check out the company that makes the dancing Japanese robots, click here.

I came out of work a few nights ago and found myself watching a performance by Raycloudy. Unfortunately, not many other people stayed and watched. The band were nice and I thanked them at the end. The lead singer shook my hand and asked if I would be coming to their live on Sunday. I said I couldn't because I was working. He said he'd hold it on a different day next time and thanked me once again for staying to watch. They made my night!

Finally, today our fridge was delivered!