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Minami-za Theater - Continually Evolving Traditions

The logo of the Minami-za Theatre Kyoto.

Kabuki is one of the great Japanese performing arts - and it was born in Kyoto! Experience these dynamic plays at the Minami-za Theater, which is almost as old as the art itself.

About Kabuki

Kabuki goes back to Izumo no Okuni, a miko shrine maiden of Izumo shrine who, in 1603, came to Kyoto and created a new style of dance drama. The elaborate costumes and the somewhat suggestive themes made kabuki an overnight success amongst the merchants and lover classes, so much so, that Okuni was even invited to perform for the emperor. The budding Tokugawa Shogunate, however, was less enthusiastic about the women's theater. First, women were barred from performing, and shortly afterwards, the young boys who replaced them as well. Therefore, until today most famous professional kabuki actors are male, even though some smaller troupes do have female members.

In any case, kabuki became a staple of the so-called floating world, the red light districts, and over time heavily influenced other Japanese art forms, among them ukiyo-e, books, and magazines.

Although kabuiki is more than 400 years old, it keeps evolving and incorporating modern approaches to its performances. For example, plays based on contemporary anime are popular amongst the younger generation, and the so-called "Cho Kabuki" even features modern ICT projections.

Find out more about kabuki, which has been on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2005, on the dedicated website by the Japan Arts Countil. Or see what's on at Japan's major kabuki theaters in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka on the kabukiweb.

A kabuki actor in full regalia.

About the Minami-za Theater

The Minami-za is the last surviving kabuki theater in Kyoto, and the oldest kabuki theater in the world. It still stands on the very spot on Shijo dori where it was founded in the early Edo period (around 1610), just a few meters from Kamogawa river, where Izumo no Okuni performed. The current building was built in 1929 and showcases the original style of the Momoyama period (1568 - 1600). It was recently renovated and earthquake-proofed. Since 1996 it is a Registered Tangible Cultural Property and it is a Structure of Historical Design in Kyoto as well.

The stage of the Minami-za features a hanamichi runway that leads through the audience and has a trapdoor at the end for extra dramatic entrances (or exits). Together with the revolving stage that allows for smooth changes of scenes, these features are unique to kabuki and make the performances even more exciting.

The entrance to the Minami-za theatre.

Minami-za Special

Audio Guides: At selected performances, an audio guide in English is available for rent. It gives not only the synopsis of the play, but also explains other features of kabuki. The guide is perfectly timed with what happens on the stage. See this page for more information.

In line with tradition, you can buy food and drinks at the cafe (1st floor) or the Japanese restaurant (2nd floor) inside the theater during intermissions. There is also a souvenir shop on the second floor.

Minami-za Spotlight Event in September 2022

Flyer for Cho Kabuki.

Thu. 8 - Sun. 25. Cho Kabuki

This September at the Minami-za is all about Cho Kabuki, an exciting new innovation where real kabuki actors play alongside animated ones - in this case with the virtual diva Hatsume Miku. Enjoy a dynamic performance that pushes not only the boundaries of imagination, but that of reality!

You can choose between two different programs, depending on your time and budget:

The regular program starts with an introduction to Cho Kabuki and is followed by two plays.

The limited program only includes one play.

See the website of the Minami-za for more information and to reserve tickets.

Minami-za online: Website (in English) and twitter and instagram and youtube (all social media in Japanese).

Address: 198 Nishiiri Nakano-cho, Shijodori Yamatooji, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0075 (Google Maps)

Directions: Take Kyoto City Bus 10, 11, 12, 46, 59, 86, 106, 201, 203, 207 to Shijo Keihan-mae.

Opening hours: Ticket counter daily from 10:00 to 17:30. Other opening times according to program.

Seats: 1082 on three floors.

Reservations: Recommended. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket counter in front of the theater or online, see the respective page for the event.

Food & Drinks: Food and drinks are available during the intermissions at the Japanese restaurant (2nd floor) or the cafe (1st floor). Note that to prevent the spread of COVID-19, eating and drinking inside the theater is currently not allowed.

Photography: Not during performances.

Smoking: No. A special kabuki-themed smoking room is on the 3rd floor.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes. Special seats for wheelchair users available - please indicate at booking.

Parking: No; but paid car and bicycle parking nearby. Please consider public transport options.

The stage of the Minami-za Theater.

All photos courtesy of the Minami-za Theater.