Kabuki Firm Shochiku Offers English Audio Guides in Tokyo, Interpretation Event in Osaka to Draw Foreign Visitors in Japan

The Japan News
Foreign visitors inquire about English audio guides at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo on Oct. 6.

As foreign visitor numbers continue to recover, efforts to attract tourists are increasing, such as kabuki production house Shochiku making the traditional performing art more accessible to non-Japanese audiences.

This month, for the first time in about eight years, Shochiku Co. resumed renting out audio guides that provide brief descriptions and a synopsis in English for each kabuki performance being staged at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo.

In January next year, a kabuki viewing event catering to overseas visitors is scheduled to be held at the Osaka Shochikuza Theatre.

The audio guides are easy to use. Just by plugging the earphone provided into the palm-size machine, an explanation of the background to a performance and the gist of what the characters are doing is given. The extent of the descriptions depends on the show.

Joao Matos, a 35-year-old tourist from Portugal, watched kabuki for the first time at the Kabukiza Theatre on Oct. 6. He found out about the audio guide on the official website in advance and rented the machine.

Matos said that he didn’t understand the Japanese dialogue, but the guide helped him to understand the general plot by providing an explanation regarding the scene about to unfold.

The guide is limited to summarizing the progress of the story, without any translation of the dialogue. Matos hoped that English translations of the lines spoken by the actors would be provided in the future to make the audio guide more useful.

The Kabukiza previously had English audio guide rentals. After the 2013 opening of the latest incarnation of the Kabukiza, the theater rented out terminals that displayed English captions. However, the venue withdrew the service from May 2015.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought such a steep drop in foreign visitor numbers from 2020 that the rental of the English caption machines were suspended. There is no indication that the caption rental machines will be resumed anytime soon, a Shochiku spokesperson said.

Entry restrictions as a measure against infection with the novel coronavirus were significantly eased last autumn. Combined with the weak yen, the number of foreign tourists has been recovering.

The number of foreign visitors to the Kabukiza has returned to the level before the pandemic, according to Shochiku, leading the company to reintroduce the simplified audio guide in English. The company anticipates a further increase in foreign visitors attending its shows.

Ahead of the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo, the Osaka Shochikuza Theatre will hold the event aimed at foreign visitors called “Night Kabuki in Osaka Dotonbori” from Jan. 22-28, 2024.

The event will include “Introduction to Kabuki,” which will explain the key points of viewing kabuki in Japanese with English interpretation. This will be followed by “The Marionette Sanbaso,” a Japanese buyo dance performance.

To make it easier for tourists to visit, the performance time has been set for 6 p.m. on each day, with an additional show at 3 p.m. on Jan. 23.

“We’d like to create an environment that makes it easier for foreign visitors to watch and enjoy kabuki, one of Japan’s representative traditional arts,” the spokesperson said.