Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Kyogen We Do Go - Hi-Ho-A-Merry-O...

21st October, 2006 - Departing from the world of bamboo and dragons, T-chan and I made our way down to Hozugawa... past a crowd of unlikely spectators. It was as if the local Buddha club had come to watch a great show. Hopefully that was a good omen... but then again, perhaps it wasn't.

Near the temple of Tenryū-ji lies the river known both as Oi-gawa and Hozu-gawa. Across this river spans the bridge known as Togetsu-Kyō which was originally constructed in 1606. Nowadays however it is a normal thoroughfare, more prone to traffic jams than the flow of history.

We had booked to see a Kyōgen performance on the Hozu-gawa river. From the promotional material from the previous year, it had looked like an impressive show. Even if I didn't understand much of it, we thought that the atmosphere would be worthwhile. Last year they had 20+ boats floating in front of the stage under lamp-light... when we arrived at the boat berths, it appeared that we were early....

There was a small crowd milling around the boats... 

It's funny, but we had organised tickets for this back in Adelaide... when we arrived to pick up our tickets, the woman at the tent had given us a small gift of a furoshiki (wrapping cloth) because we had come so far. We had felt quite special - and indeed it appears as though we were...

As it transpired, the crowd we'd seen before was there to see an actress that was going for an (unrelated) evening cruise. With the actress gone, there was an embarrassing lack of crowd remaining. It turned out this year there would be a lone solitary boat to watch the Kyōgen - and with only 6 passengers all up. We were very special indeed.

The boat made it's way slowly down through the valley (up-stream)... the cool mountain air refreshing and yet with a hint of the winter snows to come.

The trip took perhaps 15 minutes to reach the staging area; and whilst the light was a struggle for my poor camera, it was quite scenic as twilight turned into night.

As we arrived at the stage area refreshments pulled up along side of us. Now that's what you call a convenience store. Something hot was in order.

T-chan had some yummy dango (a Japanese dumpling).

Finally we had arrived - and the stage was set. The performance would last over an hour - with two small plays.

Now a word of explanation... There are many different types of theatre within Japan, coming from both foreign influences (such as Kabuki, and Kyōgen) and native influences (Bunraku). Kyōgen is also synonymous with Nō, originally being a form of farcical comedy that was used as intermission for the very subdued Nō plays. They are much simpler in both form and formula... but all are meant to be somewhat light-relief. Yet there was also a component of social satire within the then improvised plays.

The straight lead.

The comic relief.

Having been to the Kabuki-za in Ginza, and thoroughly enjoyed the very physical humour and story-telling there, I had been expecting something similar with Kyōgen. It was certainly exaggerated - especially the method of speaking, but it's still very language driven... There are about 260 different Kyōgen traditional plays, and can be roughly split into: "lucky people, gods of good fortune, farmers, daimyo (feudal lords), the servants Taro Kaja and Jiro Kaja, sons-in-law, wives, demons, warrior-priests, Buddhist monks, blindmen, thieves, or con-men." That should just about cover every possible scenario.

Still - there was an attraction to seeing this on the banks of the Hozugawa... even if the performers almost out-numbered the audience.

It was late by the time the performance had finished... and thankfully they had provided both blankets and heat-pads (one of Japan's great secrets) for keeping us all warm.

We left tired... it had been a long day that had started in the hustle and bustle of Toji-markets. The first full day in Kyōto!

On our way back to the train station, we got to talk with one of the other audience members. Apparently they had known one of the performers (who we suspect had provided free tickets)... that meant other than us, there were only three other paying customers (at most). Kawaisou! 

She had also said that we had come at the best time... She looked very sweet when she told us that later in November (for Autumn Colours) it would be hell in Kyōto as it was so crowded! Whilst the day had started crowded in To-ji, it ended anything but crowded on the late night train back to home. It was a big day... and we were both exhausted. Whew! Keep it up, T-chan... you did very well.
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  1. Sounds great! I've yet to see kyogen though I've seen lots of kabuki (kabuki-za RIP, wah) and some bunraku too. Need to check this out!

  2. I think it's definitely worth looking out for some for the cultural experience alone. This event was a bit of a gimmick (on the banks of the Hozugawa) - but I'm sure there's good opportunites in Tokyo as well.

    It's definitely very stylised... given it's roots are in the more "stand-up" style, and I have to admit most the detail was lost on me.