Kabuki & Art, Difference & Similarity

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On Friday evening, I attended my first kabuki performance with my Practical Japanese classmates. During Discover Kabuki, a limited-time program offered at the National Theatre of Japan, a kabuki actor and an English-speaking TV personality walked us through the components of the traditional Japanese art before our show. Performed exclusively by men (although interestingly, it originated with women actors in roles for both men and women), kabuki incorporates elaborate makeup, costuming, and a dramatized style of acting. Both the on-stage movements and the dialogue were delivered very deliberately, with a great emphasis on sound effects (made with both a hidden orchestra and a simple wooden instrument called hyōshigi). This was certainly different than any theater-going experience I’ve had thus far. I felt very lucky to experience such a vital tradition with the help of an English audio guide, as well my language professor.

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In this picture, a painted screen is descending over the kabuki set. The curtain behind it displays black, green, and orange – kabuki’s trademark colors.

Some of my best adventures have come from tagging along on my friends’ school or work assignments. This weekend’s adventure took place at Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art. For the very reasonable fee of ¥250 for college students (¥500 for full admission price), we traversed the museum’s four floors of paintings, photography, and other mediums by Japanese and non-Japanese artists alike. Aside from contemporary Japanese artists like Tsuguharu Foujita, MOMAT also had collections that featured famed Western artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. This didn’t come as much of  a surprise, considering that much of contemporary Japanese art, and contemporary Japan in general, is inspired by or viewed in proximity to the West (according both to my classes and a MOMAT plaque that I read). What I was surprised with, however, was the extreme quiet we found there, especially compared against a typical weekend at the MoMA in New York City. Yet, I noticed a similar pattern in museum layout and content that felt a lot like home.

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This plaque hung at the entrance to the museum. Although photographs are allowed inside, I made a conscious effort not to focus too much on capturing the experience on my phone.

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It was a beautiful day in Chiyoda, where we walked around as my photographer friends took shots. Here’s one of my own along the Imperial Palace’s East Garden.

Thus far, much of my blog has included my feelings on cultural differences and vulnerabilities, but I’ve also found some things to be universal, even aside from those found in art. Waiting on the platform for a JR train, I witnessed a toddler throwing a tantrum. I’ve also seen kids out cold across train seats or their parents’ laps. In these instances, I feel like I could have been in any country. You can always rely on children to feel and express emotions without restraint. Observing this has been amusing as it’s been interesting. Since arriving in Japan, the awareness of my difference has been the most striking thing, definitely the focus of my observations – and anxieties. As I spend more time studying and living in Tokyo, I feel this is giving way to awareness about similarities. I’d like to think that both are necessary to understand the place of my peers and myself as we study and explore.

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About Ariel Kovlakas for Temple Japan

Hi there! My name is Ariel Kovlakas, and I’m a senior majoring in Communications (Media, Culture & Society) and minoring in Sociology. As a student at Fordham University's Manhattan campus, I’ve been grateful to live in a hub of opportunities and experiences that have never failed to expand my worldview. In a very real way, my time with TUJ will be a defining and final chapter in my undergrad career, as I’m heading out into the world directly after my abroad experience. And what a way to go – studying in Tokyo, Japan with Temple University. As (extremely) excited as I am, I’m even more grateful to participate and record my experience. I’ve always had a passion for Japan (its food, art, architecture, festivals, you name it). My hopes are that the more I explore Japan, the more I’ll be able to uncover about myself and what comes next.

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