Jodie Chiemi Ching

For the first time in over 50 years, a presentation of Japanese kabuki will be staged in Hawai‘i. “Kabuki in Hawaii 2019” is being presented in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Honolulu Festival and the 150th anniversary of the 1868 arrival in Hawai‘i of the Gannenmono, the first Japanese immigrants who settled in Hawai‘i. The seven Hawai‘i performances are also being held to commemorate the name succession of kabuki actor Shikan Nakamura VIII and his three sons: Hashinosuke Nakamura IV, Fukunosuke Nakamura III and Utanosuke Nakamura IV. Similar performances were also staged in Beijing and Paris.

Six performances will be held at Kennedy Theatre on the University of Hawai‘i’s Mänoa campus between March 2 and 6. The seventh and final performance will be staged at the Hawai‘i Convention Center on March 8.

“The people who planned Kennedy Theatre must have had kabuki in mind. So we have to do it there,” said “Kabuki in Hawaii 2019” executive committee leader Tobaya Sanemon at a Nov. 29 press conference announcing the plans.

In an English-subtitled video screened at the press conference, Nakamura VIII said he was excited about the upcoming performances. “The first performance in Hawai‘i was held in 1964, the year before I was born, when my great-uncle Utaemon Nakamura VI participated. Because of this, I feel a very strong connection with Hawai‘i,” he said, adding that if the performance is successful, “it would be great” to perform kabuki in Hawai‘i every year. “Everyone should have an opportunity like this, as Hawai‘i is a dream destination for
Japanese people.”

Tickets are available only through internet sales

A performance of kabuki is even more enjoyable to watch if the viewer understands some of the more unique aspects of the art prior to attending a performance, although not all of these features will appear in the Hawai‘i performances. Much of the following information is from the website,

Kabuki’s Unique Features. Onnagata are women’s roles that are played by male actors. Specialists in onnagata have dedicated themselves to this centuries-old art. A law enacted in 1629 preserved the art of onnagata, ensuring that no women appear onstage as kabuki performers.

Mie, a strong pose struck by male characters, expresses powerful emotion or conflict in the form of a stop-motion series of poses. For a more dramatic effect, the pose is supplemented by loud beats of wooden clappers.

Men in Black. The stagehands, or kurogo, are dressed in black and support the actors by helping them with their props and costumes. Their task is to help the actors perform seamlessly.

During a performance, you may see special staging techniques that will both shock and delight you. For example, there are times in dances when the onstage costume changes are so fast you will wonder how it was done. The world’s fastest quick-change was performed in three seconds in a kabuki performance.

Costume, Makeup and Wigs. Some of the world’s most stunning costumes can be seen on the kabuki stage during a performance. The exaggerated style of costuming and makeup is what makes kabuki so visually spectacular. These costumes are not easy to wear, however, requiring great skill to manipulate them and to move about with grace.

The most mesmerizing costumes and wigs belong to the top-ranking courtesans with their extravagant obi sashes and dazzling hair ornaments. They are handmade by the most skilled artisans who often use real gold and silver thread to make them. Some costumes are worth a fortune.

Prior to the press conference, Sanemon honored the memory of the Gannenmono by offering flowers at the Gannemono monument at Makiki Cemetery. He also sang a song he had written under his pen name, Sanjin Kantoku, to express his gratitude and to receive blessings from the spirits of the Gannenmono ancestors for “Kabuki in Hawaii 2019.”


The vast, briny deep. Relentless waves.

O’er the crests . . . humble shacks.

Kimonos shed along with tears.

The blood and sweat of trailblazers.

Like windswept pines steadfastly cling.

A century and a half.

O blessed ‘äina.

May you forever and ever thrive!

This is my prayer.


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