Star Advertiser: Kabuki’s return to isle marks anniversaries

(Source: Star Advertiser)

December 10, 2018

By: Allison Schaefers



Japanese Kabuki will return to Hawaii for the first time in more than half a century to mark the 25th anniversary of the Honolulu Festival and the 150th anniversary of the first organized Japanese group to immigrate to Hawaii.

Six performances are scheduled for March 2-7 at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Kennedy Theatre, which is one of the few venues outside of Japan with a stage built to accommodate Kabuki.

A March 8 performance at the Hawai‘i Convention Center will be a major highlight of the Honolulu Festival. The theme of the festival, which takes place March 8-10, is “Looking Back to Create the Future: 25 Years of Aloha.”

The festival’s goal is to perpetuate “strong cultural and ethnic ties” between the Asia-Pacific and Hawaii. Since its start in 1995, the Honolulu Festival has brought tens of thousands of visitors to Hawaii, bolstering tourism during what is generally an off-peak travel period. Some 5,500 visitors, many from Asia and the Pacific, and 150 groups participated in last year’s festival.

Tatsuo Watanabe, director of the Honolulu Festival Foundation, said festival organizers anticipate 150,000 participants to attend the festival, which will also include a Waikiki parade and an extended 25-minute Nagaoka fireworks show. About 4,500 Japanese visitors already have committed to attend, he said.

Part of the reason is the timing of the festival and the Kabuki performances, said Koichi Ito, consul general of Japan to Hawaii. Ito said both fall at the end of the Japan’s fiscal year 2018, some 150 years after the ship Scioto came to Honolulu from Yokohama carrying 150 Japanese passengers. This first organized group to emigrate from Japan to Hawaii were called Gannenmono, or “people of the first year,” because they came to Hawaii in Meiji Gannen, the first year in the reign of Emperor Meiji of Japan, who rose to power following the surrender of the government of the shogun.

Another reason is that authentic Kabuki is a novelty seldom seen outside of Japan. Kabuki is a traditional form of Japanese theater, a stylized art form that dates back to Japan’s 17th-century Edo period. The all-male productions are performed on special stages that incorporate revolving platforms and trapdoors that allow for quick plot changes and dramatic entries and exits. Productions feature actors in dramatic costumes with heavy stage makeup. They are known for using exaggerated movements as well as song and dance to convey themes that often incorporate comedy and heavy drama.

Sanemon Tobaya, chairman of the Hawaii Kabuki Executive Committee, said the upcoming performances will be a “rare opportunity to experience the soul of Japanese theater in Honolulu.”

Tobaya said authentic Kabuki is only occasionally performed outside of Japan. A troupe of Kabuki legends came to Honolulu in 1964, the same year Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics marking its transformation from a war-ravaged city to a major international capital. The star was Utamemon Nakamura, a favorite “onna-­gata,” or female imper- sonator, who was recognized as a living national treasure by the Japanese government.

Authentic Kabuki by Japanese entertainers was last performed in Honolulu in 1967 when the Tokyo Grand Kabuki Company visited as part of the 15th annual Cherry Blossom Festival. A year later Hawaii commemorated the centennial of Gannemono by placing memorial plaques at Honolulu International Airport, a Buddha statue at Foster Botanical Garden, a five-story stone pagoda in Honolulu, a stone Buddha in Lahaina, stone lanterns at the Lili‘uokalani Gardens in Hilo and the building of Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe.

“I expect Hawaii was chosen because of its large Japanese-­American population,” said Tobaya, whose grandfather performed Kabuki in Hawaii. “Since that time Kabuki has certainly made its way around the world. I myself have performed in places like Brazil, where there is a large Japanese-­Brazilian population. But whenever I would come to Hawaii, it would cross my mind that there was an unsatisfied need that Kabuki be brought here (again). I’m just so happy that it’s finally coming true.”

The upcoming performances will star Kabuki actor Shikan Nakamura VIII and his sons, who are descendents of Utamenon Nakamura. The Nakamura family is well known in Japan for their proficiency and devotion to Kabuki, which they have passed from generation to generation. They will perform the popular Japanese Kabuki story Renjishi, about a lion that must teach his two cubs the importance of courage and strength.

Tobaya, deemed a living treasure by the Japanese government, will lecture in concert with the performances to help audiences understand what they are watching and hearing.

“I want to give these performances as a memorial to the ancestors who (immigrated) to Hawaii in 1868 and who continued to pass on the Japanese spirit despite facing many troubles,” he said.


Performances in 2019 will take place at the following dates and times:


>> March 2 at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

>> March 3 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 1 and 5:30 p.m.)

>> March 4 at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

>> March 5 at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

>> March 6 at 11 a.m. (doors open at 10:30 a.m.)


>> March 8 at 7:15 p.m. (doors open at 6:25 p.m.)

Tickets range from $80 to $100 plus taxes and fees. For more information, visit


Via: Star Advertiser

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