Japanese Traditional Arts
Noh drama started in the 14th century, and since it was sponsored by the government, its audience consisted largely of aristocrats. Noh combines the artistic forms of dance, song and poetry into a unique and intriguing form of drama, and the actors wear colorful masks and move along with the accompanying musical instruments. Although Noh nearly died out after the start of the modern period (1868-1945) because of its lack of government sponsorship, dedicated supporters and performers have managed to find private sponsors and keep the art alive.
In contrast Kabuki has a much larger following today, and this may be in part because it was always been geared toward a larger audience. This form of drama started in the Edo Period (1600-1868) in the poor, riverside area of Kyoto, and it incorporates elements of dance and music into its performances. While both genders originally participated, Kabuki performances were increasingly being used as a front for prostitution and women were banned. Traditionally, only men perform in Kabuki dramas, and certain actors specialize in playing "onnagata", or female character, roles to make up for the lack of female performers. Tragic love stories or historical epics are common themes in Kabuki drama, and the stage has evolved in recent centuries to make use of trap doors, extending walkways, revolving capability and other mechanical innovations. The best place to see kabuki is at the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo, where headphones that play English translations can be rented and used as you watch.
You can also drop in and drop out if you do not want to stay for the entire performance.
Bunraku is a form of puppet theater originating in Osaka from the 17th century (Edo Period). Puppet operators (there are three for each puppet), chanters and "shamisen" (traditional stringed instrument) players are all involved in performances. The ability of puppeteers to use the puppets and create lifelike, detailed movements, even down to blinking the eyes, is amazing to witness. Each puppeteer is responsible for different parts of the device, and they must coordinate with the chanter who reads the story and the musician when controlling its movements. Chikamatsu Monzaemon is easily the most famous bunraku playwright, and his tragic stories about "love suicides" are famous. For viewing Bunraku, which is also quite popular even today, Osaka's National Bunraku Theater is the place to go.
Also of interest is the island of Sado which lies in the Japan Sea off the coast of Niigata. The island’s close association with Noh Drama remains and the island houses a number of museums about the Drama. This is also the place to come if you would like to witness Taiko Drumming. The Ondeko drummers have their base on the island and drumming is performed during summer evenings along with a form of dancing called Okesa.
INDIGENOUS AND GLASS BLOWING
For the pursuit of indigenous arts, the north island of Hokkaido will definitely be of interest. Ainu villages still exist where you can see examples of aboriginal costumes, dance, theatre and visual arts such as painting and carving. The Ainu have a long and fascinating history which has too long been overlooked. Their world is a magical one, governed by animal totems and spirits and this rich system of beliefs is more than evident in their artistic expressions.
AS WELL AS THE NUMEROUS FESTIVALS THROUGH OUT JAPAN FOR ALL SEASONS.
The most famous genre of Japanese visual art is the 'floating world' of Ukiyo-e prints which first captured the imagination of the west in the 1800s. Developed in the Edo-period, these prints capture the essence of the daily lives of many Edo dwellers and were originally produced as book illustrations. The best collections can be found in the National Museum in Tokyo along with excellent examples of costume and sculpture.
For Modern Art, the place to head to is the National Park region of Hakone to stroll the Open Air museum, a large open space where a fantastic and varied collection of sculptures is housed in a superb natural setting. Artists whose work is represented include Anthony Gormley, Henry Moore and Rodin.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Hiroshima where the whole collection is dedicated to works that have been influenced by the atomic bomb attack
The Miho Museum is also worth the detour off the beaten path...
This is a commercial museum featuring the Japanese Animi work or Studio Ghibli Located in Inokashira Park in Mitaka.