Ichikawa Ebizo already sets sights beyond Olympics in promoting Kabuki

Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo said Wednesday the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo will be an opportunity to try and capture the hearts of international audiences, but that is just one part of his lifelong endeavor to spread the Japanese theater art.

In a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Ebizo, the son and successor of the late Ichikawa Danjuro XII, said he is already exploring ways to maintain the Olympic legacy and keep kabuki fans from turning away after the Games.

«In 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, we will see an influx of foreign visitors to Japan,» Ebizo said.

«In July we hope many people will be coming to see kabuki, and we are now discussing which performances would be attractive to such audiences. The question is not what kind of plays we can have during the Olympics, but more how to promote kabuki after the Games.»

The 41-year-old, who is known for sticking to a strict diet and workout regimen, says it is important to keep traditions going, but looking at just preserving the classics could be «egoism» on the actors’ part.

«We need to recognize the changes in Japanese aesthetics,» he said.

He addressed the aging population phenomenon, saying some of the challenges Japan faces are also seen in the world of kabuki which has an older fan base. There is a need to make kabuki more enjoyable for its devoted fans while at the same time playing to a younger audience.

With many similarities to opera and ballet in terms of training, kabuki, according to Ebizo, is not a profession suited for anyone who does not have a strong body and a strong mind.

«Kabuki is very labor-intensive. It is grueling both physically and mentally, and something which cannot be done by someone who is weak in either of these respects,» said Ebizo, who will undertake a three-city tour in February and March.

Ebizo wears costumes that weigh 40 to 50 kilograms (88 to 110 pounds) for certain roles, and performs for 25 consecutive days during a kabuki program.

For spectators encountering kabuki in the theater for the first time, Ebizo suggests starting with one from the series «Kabuki Juhachiban» — or the 18 kabuki plays showcasing the Ichikawa Danjuro line of actors.

«I believe that many people from other countries have a certain image of Japan — Mt. Fuji, geisha, ninja, and so on. Many kabuki plays refer to those aspects, but of course there’s also the language barrier,» Ebizo said.

«I want them to enjoy the visuals and the music. There’s a particular kind of kabuki called the aragoto, a rough style of kabuki which shows the power of performance. I recommend that first-timers pay attention to these aspects. Please come and see one of the 18 kabuki,» he said.

All — Kyodo News+

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