Imperial Palace, Kabuki and Rizal

Fujimi-yagura Keep - reconstructed in 1659 - is one of the
oldest remnants of Edo Castle in Tokyo

While Japan's Imperial family may not be as highly visible as the other 'royals' elsewhere in the planet, it's interesting to note that the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and some other Imperial properties scattered in the country, are open to the public. Best of all, they're free. All one has to do is apply in advance online through the Imperial Household Agency.

Tours start at the Kikyo-mon Gate
The Imperial Household Agency Building - constructed in 1935 - temporarily replaced the
Imperial Palace that was totally destroyed during the bombings of World War II

The Imperial Palace was reconstructed in 1968
Fushimi-yagura Keep and the Seimon-tetsubashi Bridge
Babasaki Moat separates the Imperial Palace from the skyscrapers of Marunouchi district

The tours - all conducted in Japanese (English audio guides are available for free) - are held on weekdays, except national holidays and between December 28-January 4. It runs for a little more than an hour, covering a distance of 2.2 kilometers. Even if the tour do not actually go inside the Palace (only within the grounds), the guided walk is still a great peek beyond the forbidding moats that surround the palace.

Subway signs lead us to where we're going
The National Theatre of Japan
Theater lobby
Just before curtain time

Nearby to the west, past the Sakurada moat of the palace, lies the National Theatre of Japan. Managed and operated by the Japan Arts Council, its two theaters are venues for kabuki, Buyō, bunraku, gagaku and Shōmyō - all forms of traditional Japanese performing arts. Lucky for me, there's an ongoing Kabuki Appreciation Class for July. What this means is that prior to the actual  show, one of the Kabuki actors will go onstage to explain what's to be expected during the program, from the music to the dialogue down to the highlights of the performance.

Kabuki program for "Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura"
(thank goodness for the English audio guide!)

What makes Kabuki so unique is that only male actors portray both male and female characters. The make-up employed is distinctly heavy and the costumes worn so very elaborate. Sets onstage are changed from very minimalist Zen to truly very spectacular.  The performance can last up to a whole day, divided into different acts. We didn't have the luxury of a whole day to watch nor would I want to - but the one-act program "Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura" (with two scenes) was perfect for my time and a great introduction to Kabuki first-timers.

Hibiya Park
Kabayan in Japan

South of the Imperial Palace grounds is Hibiya Park, Japan's first "westernized" urban park. What might interest Pinoy travelers to this green lung in the city is a bust of Jose Rizal. He visited Japan for about six weeks, part of his round-the-world journey at the time. At the same spot as the bust was the old site of the hotel where Rizal stayed. Having just celebrated his 150th birthday in June this year, it was just fitting that I pay tribute to him by visiting his bust.


  1. Wow, you actually attended a kabuki performance! Awesome! When I was there in 1995-2000, I've only seen a few performances on TV (via the educational/culture channel of NHK), and I always wondered what the actors were mumbling about. As a teenager, I've always found myself bored and changed the channel.

  2. scary talaga para sakin ang Kabuki.
    so why cant the women perform?

  3. When I was in Japan (I was there for 6 months), I had a chance to see a Kabuki performance but I elected to see the Nichigeki dancers (are they still around?)pranching topless (bottomless dancing was still in the minds of the depraved then LOL) on the stage and I never regretted my choice since. Now that I'm as old as I am, I think I will settle for a Kabuki show because my doctor said I have a weak heart and anything exciting other than waking up in the morning with all my body parts working, will probably send me to join my ancestors prematurely LOL. Just teasing.

  4. Jeruen,
    Watching Kabuki was something I really wanted to do so I was glad they even had the 'appreciation class' as a bonus - it helped me understand & appreciate this classical Japanese dance-drama.

    Kabuki originally started with female performers - called 'onna-kabuki'. The shogunate (or earlier rulers of Japan) banned this style for being too erotic and thus ended the careers of women performers. Somehow, the all-male kabuki persisted!

    lol! 6 months of watching Nichigeki dancers was something your wife probably was not amused with either - whatever it is these dancers do onstage (since I never heard of them till you mentioned it) hehehe!

  5. somebody just last week asked me if ive been to imperial palace, i said not. too bad. i never learned about this when i went there.

    very similar to osaka castle.

  6. what you made the most of your stay again and you're not done yet, right?

    kabuki experience must be outstanding. wanted to see that as well.

  7. lucky you, you watched a kabuki. i think we passed by that theater too but my colleagues didn't want to go inside the theater, haha! we also strolled and took some photos of the imperial palace but we missed that rizal monument too.

    after imperial palace, we strolled to ginza. can't wait for your ginza post; one of my favorite places i've been to. para kasi syang ibang dimension! haha...

  8. oh my, the kabuki photos really gave me goosebumps. *sadako in my mind* lol.

  9. dong ho,
    I really owe it to guide books - I wouldn't have known either if I didn't read before checking things online.

    Photo Cache,
    Watching kabuki is a rich cultural immersion - and being a culture vulture that I am, all I wanted was a taste but it felt like I got a feast! I'm already back working my butt for another trip hehe!

    I did go to Ginza. Visited the Sony Building with its showroom and had Udon lunch at a restaurant in the Ginza branch of Mitsukoshi Dept. Store. Unfortunately, this won't be featured in my blog - Tsukiji is up next!

    That's from the program. As always, photography during performances are not allowed.
    You mean Sadako, the girl from Hiroshima? I read about her during my visit to Hiroshima - which will come out later here.

  10. I would love to watch a live Kabuki performance, hope to catch one when I visit Japan someday.


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