Slept late and spent too much yesterday, so I’ll just walk around Akiharaba and Shibuya, see some kabuki, do laundry, and get an early night.
Wild and sexy, yeah? I’ll miss Shibuya’s bright lights, which is one of the perils of being a middle-aged solo female traveller in a very youth-oriented, male-dominated city. Perhaps I’m making more of it than it is and I’m just tired. I feel safe but isolated. The idea of going to a bar on my own feels weird. I can do it at home, but in a foreign city… If I were younger, that might be different. If I were a middle-aged male, it would be fine. I think travelling is different for men because they take a lot for granted. Maybe if I were in an English-speaking city or country I might feel more comfortable going to a bar and seeing a band. I don’t think they do that here. Tokyo seems very clubby and EBM oriented. That’s not for me.
Japan is so contradictory. On one hand it’s very formal and conservative, and on the other is utterly sexually out there—and not in a necessarily health egalitarian way. Akiharaba is a good example, as it houses not only loads of electronics and anime games but also lots of sex shops where the three mix. Tam told me about this yesterday, so I thought I’d see for myself. I found one shop, but wasn’t allowed past the second floor. Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed. Why can’t I see if the goods involve women? Maybe I’m being heteronormative and they were male/male, but so? And what about the top floor with the “big” products? Big what? I wanna see! I didn’t bother with the BDSM basement.
To clear my head, I take the subway to Shibuya. It wasn’t as crowded at is it was in the morning.
Also, for the record, there is a women’s car.
Shibuya is known for its shopping but also for its scramble crosswalk, a model that Toronto has copied.
My main task was to find a Tower Records and get a CD for my friend Allan, who asked for something by a group called Funassyi. Never heard of ’em. Even the shop clerks had to look it up, which may simply have been a result of my terrible phrasebook Japanese. In the end, they found two discs. Hurrah! Score a point for the white lady! I wandered around for a bit, overwhelmed by the amount of music, then paid for the CD.
As I was leaving, I noticed the Tower Records Bookstore. My kryptonite.
After lunch I decided it was time to pick up a kabuki ticket.
Like noh, kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theatre, but it’s considered more accessible to Westerners. Apparently, audience participation is encouraged in the form of yelling at the actors. I’d been looking forward to going; even bought a little black dress for the occasion.
“Ichi kippu kudasai.”
I really shouldn’t bother with Japanese.
“Hai.” The theatre sells single-act tickets to tourists and other kabuki newbies. It’s less expensive for us, and I suspect it keeps the riff raff away from the veteran theatre goers.
We exchange yen.
“Please be here ten minute early. Show start this time,” she points to the clock.
We bow. I have just enough time for a coffee. So much for the LBD.
I return early and join a crowd of well-dressed (compared to me) Japanese theatre goers. I really doubt I’m supposed to be here, but I don’t see a line. I do, however, see audio guides. I’m addicted to these things, by the way. They interpret everything: from Japanese to modern art.
“Sorry. Japanese. English in other line,” the clerk smiles sweetly.
“Okay. Sumimasen. Arigato.” I wish I had a yen for every time I say these words.
A uniformed usher sees me and quickly escorts me to the proper line, which is through the side door (not the grandiose front one, alas) and up the elevator. The doors open on to a narrow hall crowded with foreign tourists. My people. I’m handed a number and politely asked to wait.
Eventually we’re escorted into the upper balcony of the sumptuous theatre. I settle in with the audio guide (actually a subtitle guide) and the lights go down.
According to the flyer I was given, Keian Taiheiki, by Kawatake Mokuami, was written in the Meiji era when kabuki would show historical events. The main character, Marubashi Chuya, is plotting to overthrow the Edo government. He shows up drunk at a tavern near Edo Castle (the flyer says he feigns drunkenness, but the subtitler says he’s sloshed) and spouts off. His father-in-law spots him drunk and overhears his plan. Chuya returns home to sleep it off. As he snores away, his beleaguered wife must host two officials of the shogunate. After they leave, Chuya and his wife discuss his plot and his mother overhears. In shame, the mother kills herself, leaving the missus utterly distraught. Her distress is compounded when the army, having been informed by her father, shows up to arrest her hubby.
Then it gets interesting.
Up to this point the play has been dialogue heavy, so I’ve watching and reading simultaneously. Now we go into full action mode for the rest of the play! If you like realistic fight scenes, you’re in the wrong place. The combat is so utterly choreographed that it makes absolutely no sense in real life. But who cares? It’s theatre! I’m in Japan watching one man take on the entire Edo army with a two by four! Screw reality! I’m also fascinated by the contrast: a play about a flawed protagonist fighting the government and winning against all odds shown in a country where obeisance is so ingrained.
Something else for me to think about, Japan.